Lotte films, television programs, and characters are so popular in Estonia that a Lotte Village Theme Park, Lottemaa, has been built. In an interview with Kaspar Viilup, Lotte universe creator Heiki Ernits talks about the brand.
Interview excerpts follow. The full conversation in Estonian is here.
Kaspar Viilup: My younger sister watched the "Lotte from Gadgetville" DVD so many times that it eventually stopped working.
Heiki Ernits: (Laughing) Well, there is a kind of magic – the music of Sven Grünberg, the calm flow, and the colors – it's magical and it works well. It just so happened that we struck gold. We closed our eyes, shot the bow, and hit the bull's eye.
KV: I think Lotte is a popular name now and there are many of them in Estonia.
HE: I'm sure there are some Lottes out there, but they must have existed before as well; we just hadn't heard of them. We quickly learned that Lotte is a large South Korean corporation with multiple rights to various products. For example, when Premia wanted to make Lotte ice cream, we couldn't just call it Lotte because the trademark had already been claimed. So there were little problems like that.
KV: [There used to be Lotte judo competitions,] so all of a sudden Lotte has also been a leader of the Estonian judo movement?
HE: Yes, that was a lot of fun. The judo in the film was a perfect fit and has encouraged many young people. I even know a child who advanced fairly far in judo as a result of the movie; they saw it, became fascinated and started exercising.
KV: Do you want Lotte to become even better known internationally than she is now? The books have been translated into several languages.
HE: One of Lotte's books has been translated into Italian, one into Finnish, and all into Latvian. But I am not sure what such international fame means. It would mean something if I were 30 years younger and I would be invited to speak somewhere in Rome, but now I don't want to go there; I'd rather go there alone and sit in cafes or explore the city.
KV: Lotte is definitely one of the strongest brands in Estonia, if not the strongest. Was it a positive thing for you to become a brand, or were you a bit skeptical at first?
HE: There's a kind of emotional connection if you have seen a movie or been to a foreign country where you would buy a mug to take home with you. It keeps our memories alive, and Lotte is also such a fun decorative element for our everyday lives.
I have also heard that there is too much Lotte and that it is way too commercial, but what does this really mean? Of course, rarity is a value, when there is only one of something, but a print is cheaper than a painting and you can make hundreds of prints. I think we fit in nicely with the Estonian economic way of life and our children having Lotte blankets, pillows and toys.
KV: Is there any product that you have promised not to put Lotte on?
HE: Yes, we have quite many of such products. We have a policy that Lotte products have to have value, not just a piece of rubbish. Well, even though, say, bubble baths are not valuable, they're such a popular product and so playful. Bubbles are always a hit with kids, so we agreed to decorate them nonetheless. We have also a variety of child-development toys, including board games, drawings and puzzles, as well as a "Lotte's Alphabet."
In general, we assess food goods in collaboration with recognized food technologists who "dissect" and study the product proposed to us to see whether there is anything suspicious with it. The rest of the products are usually beneficial, such as sports equipment or clothing; they are not harmful in any way.
We haven't licensed any meat foods either; we've been asked for fish balls, meatballs, and Lotte's vodka, but since Lotte's world is carnivore-free and all fish and animals are one huge friendly family, how would we claim that Lotte's fish balls do exist?
KV: What about some Lotte veggie steaks?
HE: Then it can't be a veggie steak because it's still a stake, right? So we didn't want that kind of thing either, because it's such a niche product and there's no point in embellishing it with Lotte.
KV: To change the subject, what is today Eesti Joonisfilm?
HE: In the past there were multiple feature film studios, several documentary studios and only two major animation studios: Eesti Joonisfilm and Nukufilm.
It worked very well, we had a house full of experienced people and anyone who wanted to make a film got a chance to make it. Well you had to go through a kind of ladder to check that your script was suitable and so on, but we made some very gorgeous, complex films.
But times changed, and many more filmmakers came who wanted to do something, and they could not all fit into Eesti Joonisfilm. At the same time, filmmaking became easier; technically, anyone with a computer, a mouse and a keyboard could make a movie.
The funds were then distributed to people who set up their own smaller studios. Now we have a studio that's making movies all the time, but we don't have as many people working at the same time, there's no one working upstairs and only two people working downstairs.
But films are made: Priit Pärn has just finished a very difficult film – he doesn't make anything easy, he always has some complications. And the quality of the films hasn't gone down with the down-scaling of the study practice.
KV: And how is Estonian animation doing today in general? What do you feel about what's happening now?
HE: I am not sure what is going on, but creators are traveling to festivals and win awards, so the animation business is still alive and doing well. I just don't know what is going on in detail, but everything seems perfectly fine and Estonian cartoons are widely anticipated worldwide.
We still have a unique way of thinking and an Estonian identity that always stands out at festivals. The young makers have also learned from professionals – Priit Pärn, Ülo Pikkovi and others – who are skilled old makers who have also been able to inspire younger generation to think differently.
Editor: Kristina Kersa