- Children and Konsta in Particular
- Wildcat - How It Came to Be
- An International Homegrown Movie
- Working with Wildcats
- Making the Film in Ranua and Posio
- Lynx (Lynx lynx)
Raimo 0 Niemi about Directing
Children and Konsta in Particular
Casting in films for children and young people is dead serious. Depending on your choice, you will either get life into your movie or, in a worst case scenario, no maker what the director does he will have a flop on his hands.
When directing children, it is not a question of educated and experienced professionals but rather of amateurs who have to work in front of the camera and convey the same thoughts, emotions and actions as their highly educated colleagues.
Cast Konsta for the Main Part?
In this respect Tommy and the Wildcat was an easy case. Väinö had been chosen for the part of the wildcat before I took on the job. I discussed the role of Tommy with producer Hannu Tuomainen on our first visit to Ranua and he suggested Konsta. The boy had a lot of experience in performing, TV concerts, commercials, dubbing, etc. I had not met Konsta before although I had previously thought of asking him for screen tests. So we arranged a meeting and I got a good impression of the boy. Naturally, I did screen tests with other boys for the same pad but Konsta seemed the best of the lot. When we met for the second time, I made one more screen test and made my mind up. His sensitive face, good voice, experience in performing and the self - confidence that it ultimately brings counted. All in all, a very nice guy.
The Right Choice
There was no doubt as to the right choice having been made when we started shooting. Konsta proved to be very talented and in every respect a nice person to work with and he seemed to develop as an actor day by day. In the beginning, I might have had to say a few times to him that don't just do what I tell you to do but also think what you're doing, use your head! But towards the end I never needed to say so. Konsta had figured out in advance how and what he would do. And then suggested it to the director. A true movie actor! Marvellous!
In addition, he has a healthy working morale, is relentless and has a great sense of humour. The favourite of the whole crew and especially of the women members and co - actors.
And without a doubt, it was a sight for sore eyes when Konsta sang "Sealed with a Kiss" in the karaoke bar of the hotel in Ranua on an autumn night.
I am happy and proud to have had the privilege to get to know Konsta and work with him
Raimo 0 Niemi
Ville Suhonen "Tommy and the
Wildcat - How It Came to Be
I have always been a great fan of children's films and adventure movies. I got the idea for a boy and a wildcat in 1994 when I made a documentary about the relationship urban dwellers have to nature. Pretty spontaneously a classic tale about the friendship between a child and animal developed. An adventure film, with action, realism and great feelings.
In the background was also the knowledge that there are very few movies that families can watch together - and hence a great demand for them. There is hardly any better way of experiencing a film than watching it in a large group with people of all age, an experience shared by several generations, sharing feelings.
Children and young people, in fact most adults as well, want to see and experience their hopes and dreams, something larger than life, in films. When I began writing the story of the film together with Matti Haapanen, I wrote in the beginning the sentence: "Tommy and the Wildcat is a film about youth, friendship, nature and survival. I believe that everyone at a younger age has at some time or another experienced similar feelings as Tommy in our film. All young people follow dreams for which they must fight.
Tommy - the Primus Motor
We worked on the story for over a year, after which I began working on the actual script with the American screenwriter Martin Daniel. Our staking point was that the main character of the film, young Tommy, must be the primus motor in everything. He acts himself and makes things happen through his own decisions. And not so that the adults decide on the direction, and the child watches from the sidelines. Things were to seen from the boy's viewpoint, and in this respect it would be easier for the viewer to relate to him.
Gradually Tommy and the Wildcat began to grow into a Scandinavian film for young people, in which little things grow to great proportions in an honest way, and also at the same time into an American family adventure where the child is usually forced to take on the whole world (i.e. adult world). However, I wanted to avoid too light a touch or fantasy. The film would take place in viewer as forcefully as possible: the film would then affect the viewer all the more. It would tell about great things, friendship and trust. Life and death.
The Story Ends up on Screen
From the start it was clear that the wildcat would not be made too human. It would be seen from a human viewpoint and its actions would constantly be tied up to the story. The wildcat's role strictly conformed to how a wildcat acts in the wild. I was aware that we were not dealing with a circus animal but a wild animal.
We worked on the script for three years and even modified it between the autumn and winter improvements were made and the dialogue was worked on. However, the basics had been ready all the time and hadn't changed. For someone who always has to explain the meaning and message of his films, it was nice to note that no one asked why Tommy and the Wildcat should be made. It was clear to everyone from day one. This was a story everyone wanted to see on screen.
Co - director, screenwriter
An International Homegrown Movie
- Arranging the Financing
- Two Cameras - Two Languages
- Two Languages and Two Movies
- In English as well!
- Careful Realization
- To Canada... and Proper English
- Finding the Right Voices
- Was It Worth It?
The best things are simple: we decided to make a traditional adventure about the friendship between a boy and a wildcat that would touch audiences. But so much for simple things, especially when viewed from the production side: it took three years of hard work to remove all the obstacles and problems that loomed over our beautifully clear central idea.
Ville Suhonen's first one - page synopsis indicated that making the film would require a large - scale production. At the same time, it was also clear that the basic elements of the story offered an immense potential for a great film, which would really touch audiences. When the first more detailed treatment of the story was completed, the producer considered whether one should cut out parts of the story or just go for it, despite the knowledge that one would not get enough financial support from Finland and probably not from the other Nordic countries either. Going by instinct, the producer went for no compromise: the film would either get all the financing it required or else it would not be worth the effort to make.
We followed a highly unorthodox strategy for a Finnish film company: we treaded resolutely but softly. Several versions were made of the script itself, first in story form and then divided into scenes. It took almost a year before the first detailed traditional script was completed. During that process, we had already begun to look for a suitable wildcat and were lucky to find at Ranua wildlife park a young wildcat named Väinö, which had been abandoned by its mother and had to be reared by people.
Arranging the Financing
The training of the wildcat began immediately, shooting locations were agreed upon, a contingency plan for the wildcat was made - and all this before we had a clue as to where to find the financing for actually making the film. We roughly estimated a budget of slightly over 10 million Finnish markka: we had already invested hundreds of thousands of markka on researching and working on the production. Fortunately for us, the Finnish Film Foundation and the Nordic Film and TV Fund understood that the project required more time and money than usual to develop.
Before we ventured out to look for international financial support, we made our package as attractive as possible. We had with us film about working with a wildcat and what a wildcat looks like in its natural habitat. We also had footage of the most important locations: unique scenery of the Northern wilderness, which would set the tone for the adventure.
We finally found the right partners through a variety of financing combinations: our final budget was to the tune of 13 million Finnish markka (2.5 mill. USD). Over half of this came from outside Finland. The budget was 2.5 times greater than that of an average Finnish film, but we also knew that we could now offer investors value for their money: we could afford 60 days of shooting, a sufficient film crew, at its best (or worst) the crew numbered over 50 - a cohort of people, truckloads of technical equipment and in front of the camera there was often only a little boy. It goes without saying that the nucleus of the film crew was made up of the best in their field - and this applies to both the Finnish and Danish crews.
Two Cameras - Two Languages
An enormous amount of film was needed for shooting the Tommy and the Wildcat: all in all some 56 kilometres of it, i.e. 20 times more footage than the actual film. But cutting down on film might well have resulted in discontent among audiences - a foolhardy savings measure. Throughout the shooting, we had two cameras at our disposal; after all, you can't tell a wildcat to do a scene in exactly the same way if you want to shoot a scene again from a different angle. We also had a so - called second unit, which focussed on certain wildcat and action shots.
The budget ultimately rose to 13 million FIM because we decided to make an English version of the film as well - as if we hadn't had our hands full with the wildcat and child shots, extreme wilderness conditions, exhausting winter scenes and the ins and outs of international co - productions.
Nonetheless, this entire complicated project moved in the same direction: we made a touching adventure of the friendship between a boy and a wildcat. If we hadn't initially thought about the idea in such simple terms, we might have got lost during the process. After all, the best things are basically simple.
Two Languages and Two Movies
The story of the boy and the wildcat contained great cinematic promise right from the start. A universally understandable theme with a rich local flavour. A wildcat in one of the main parts, the scenery of Finnish Lapland and a snowy winter in particular were the unique things we had to offer.
After the first versions of the story were completed, an American screenwriter Martin Daniel was" hired. Daniel had a strong background in traditional dramaturgy and narrative. Hence the script Language became English. The financing for the project had from the start been planned on an international basis, and thus also the production language was English.
In English as well!
At one stage it was uncertain whether we could find financing for the film if it were only made in Finnish. Finland has a population of five million, so the domestic audience is very small. Finally the decision to make the film in English came naturally as a part of our effort to attract a large audience - and the producer had no illusions about the distribution possibilities of a Finnish language film. None of the financiers demanded an English version, but it was clear to everyone that, if successful, Tommy and the Wildcat in English would reach many times the number of viewers a Finnish version would and consequently increase its market potential.
Experiences of making two movies at the same time, so - called double shoots, were not encouraging. Filmmakers generally agreed that both versions tended to be failures, and that the version meant for international distribution didn't even cover its own costs. In other words, one could say we were faced with quite a challenge...
After we decided on making two versions, we made sure that the English version would be made with as much devotion to detail as the Finnish one. The American scriptwriter naturally saw to the dialogue and its fluency. We tried to check all last minute changes to the script with him.
For the shoot, we hired a dialogue coach, Kati Laasonen, to act as an English teacher of sorts and support the Finnish actors. Together they carefully went through the dialogue before the shoot so that the actors could feel at ease with a foreign language.
In practice, the dialogue was first shot in Finnish and then again with the same Finnish actors in English.
During the first days of the shoot, the method felt strange but soon it became routine, the project's own waking method at which no - one laughed anymore, and neither did the actors need to feel nervous about it. Also Konsta, 13 years old at the time, managed well with English: with a child's openness and ability to repeat language phonetically, even though some of the words were strange. It could be that Konsta's relaxed attitude and good head for languages spurred on the adult actors to try their best as well. Antti Virmavirta, "Tommy's dad", noted that acting in English felt rhythmically and physically easier for himself.
Thus, the dialogue was shot twice, action by action, During the laboratory stage we took a duplicate copy which was then edited into the other language version, while the other used the original footage.
Thus, the film was edited twice. First the Finnish editor Jukka Nykänen made a version in his own language, after which the English dialogue scenes were edited into the optimal version.
The Finnish and English version of Tommy and the Wildcat are not quite identical: the duration of the dialogue differs slightly, as does the actors rhythm and sometimes expression. We decided on different editing solutions in only a few parts, owing to the poor quality of one or the other version.
To Canada... and Proper English
When the film had been edited director Raimo 0. Niemi travelled to Canada together with the Danish sound specialist Per Streit. We chose Canada as the recording country for boo reasons. Firstly, Canadian English may be the most universal type of English. It is close enough to American English but has a "Northern" flavour, which suited the film. By slightly adapting the story and nature the film could just as well taken place in the northern parts of Canada. Secondly, the high degree of cinematic professionalism in Canada as well as the ease and economy with which one could work there all made it the evident choice.
Finding the Right Voices
The Canadian casting agent Stephanie Gorin received a raw copy of the film in advance and was commissioned to find suitable voice actors for post - recording the dialogue in a studio. Stephanie was also given a free hand to pick a completely different kind of voice from the original if she saw fit. Which she partly did as well, with excellent results.
The post - recording took three weeks in Toronto, at the McClear - Pathé studio. There was sufficient time to work on the dialogue both in a technical sense and expressionwise.
A special thanks goes to Michael Caloz, who plays Tommy. The boy did a fantastic job. One could never guess that the English voice doesn't really belong to the boy in the film. A funny coincidence is that Michael is similar to Konsta Hietanen: he is Canada's best - known "child stair', an experienced and popular performer, who is in fact trying his wings in Hollywood. Michael just came to do a fun gig in his former home country.
The Danish sound designer Kristian Eidnes Andersen then did the finishing technical touches to the film - and naturally he first worked on the English version, on the basis of which he did the final touches to the Finnish version.
Was It Worth It? Yes!
There are two versions of the same film now on the market: we call the English version "revoiced" and not "dubbed". The "lip synchronisation" (i.e. the mouth seems to say what we hear) is in place. Although the film will be dubbed in many countries, there are also regions where it is important for the viewer that the mouth is synchronised with the speech. It is important that the language is not a strange one such as Finnish, but rather the prevalent language of cinema, English.
The method we chose was of course expensive: the cost increased during the particularly expensive shoots, through the consumption of material, as well as during the postproduction phase in material and salaries. We have not made any exact calculations but estimate additional costs of 20%. Was it worth all the effort and investment?
Yes, it was. We successfully did what we set out to do. Besides the aforementioned material investments, producing two language versions required a certain attitude. All members of the team had to take both versions seriously, believe in them and consider both just as important.
Now distributors have two equally good films to choose from: the Finnish Poika ja ilves and English Tommy and the Wildcat. Different countries can decide the best way to present the story: in Finnish, English or dubbed in their own language. Tommy and the Wildcat tells a story which is meant to touch the viewer, and in this way it can reach its goal in as great a forum as possible: universally.
producer, Wildcat Production Oy
Working with Wildcats
When we planned a Finnish family adventure about the friendship of a boy and wildcat, we noticed that never before had any Western film featured a lynx, or wildcat, as the main animal. What is more, wildcats are intriguing creatures: on the one hand docile like pets and on the other hand predatory beasts, which demand respect from people. Last but not least, some 700 wildcats live in the wild in Finland. Therefore, a wildcat was a natural choice for an adventure taking place in Finnish Lapland.
We notified all the wildlife parks in Finland that we were looking for a wildcat to star in our film. In spring 1996, we received a call from Ranua Wildlife Park, where a recently born wildcat called Väinö had been abandoned by its mother. The park keepers had adopted Väinö and begun to feed it with a nursing bottle. The intendant of the wildlife park, Elina Torvinen, had earlier reared a wildcat named Cat, which still lived at the wildlife park. So, Elina had a lot of previous experience and knowledge about wildcats. We agreed that she would begin to train Väinö for our film.
"Cat" also played an important role in the sidelines. To be on the safe side, we needed another wildcat besides Väinö that we might use as a "stunt actor" if need be.
According to Elina Torvinen's recommendations, the shooting of the film was scheduled between Väinö's first and second birthday. In this respect Väinö himself decided the production schedule of Tommy and the Wildcat.
Stunts from Sweden.
During the autumn shooting, Väinö remained the only wildcat on the set, but for the winter scenes we began looking for "stand - by" wildcats for Väinö's stunts at an early stage. Fortunately for us, pair of twin wildcats, Isa and Bella, were born at Parken Zoo in Sweden in summer 1997. They shared the same fate as Väinö and were abandoned by their mother. Animal trainer Elisabet Jonsson, who had a wide range of experience in training animals, reared the wildcats. She had, for instance, trained tigers, leopards and other wildcats. Hence, we hired Elisabet to train Isa and Bella for Väinö's winter stunt scenes.
Playing with Wildcats
We soon learnt during the shooting that we were not dealing with "Lassie" or "Rintintin" in front of the camera. Anyone who has any knowledge of cats knows that you cannot order them around.
However you can always play with them! But when the cat decides that the game is over, there is no changing its mind. This also applies to wildcats.
Väinö and Konsta got along famously from the start. Konsta soon learnt to trust that Väinö didn't regard him as a potential snack. However, Konsta was reminded that you can never fully trust a wild animal.
For the shooting, Väinö had to become accustomed to noise and a lot of people around him, not to mention riding in a car - or on a snow mobile! The director's order for silence during the shooting was diligently obeyed: since the wildcat was usually able to concentrate for only about half an hour at a time, the film crew had to be particularly efficient when the wildcat was in a cooperative mood. The crew was kept to a minimum while shooting the wildcat, because Väinö always had to sniff everyone around him to ascertain that they were friendly.
The first thing to keep in mind was that you can't give orders to a wildcat or force it to do what people want, but through games and playing you could achieve what was desired. Most probably the film's wildcats had a great time during the shooting of the film: they got to play all kinds of games, the people around them were calm and the wildcats received lots and lots of attention - which is, after all, what all cats thrive on. One might even write in the end titles of the film that "The wildcats appearing in Tommy and the Wildcat had heaps of fun." In first, the most difficult thing was to make the wildcats look dangerous or aggressive. Under no circumstances did we want to arouse the wildcats' wilder instincts.
Chicken the Brave
We made use of Väinö's apparent interest towards the larger fowl in the wildlife park when the wildcat's interest in acting flopped. In particular, "Chicken the Brave" was a source of amazement for Väinö. However, Väinö hunting skills remained dormant: while filming in the studio Väinö and the chicken suddenly disappeared while everyone's attention was elsewhere. Our first thought was that Väinö had devoured "Chicken the Brave". However, after a while, they were found behind a cupboard sitting side by side. They were just taking a break and having a "chat".
Now that the film has been completed we can proudly state that the scenes with animals in them are for real, they have not been created with computer animations. TOMMY AND THE WILDCAT
is unique, our film.
Producer Hannu Tuomainen
Wildcat Production Oy
Making the Film in Ranua and Posio
Since the events in Tommy and the Wildcat were originally meant to take place in the North, Ranua Wildlife Park was a natural choice for us - after all, "the world's most northernmost wildlife park" is one of the film's central locations. Ranua is located in the Finnish province of Lapland. The municipality covers a vast area but is largely marshland and flat. However, the film was shot in the impressive wilderness scenery.
Already when we were only developing the story, I toured Ranua together with Matti Haapanen and the neighbouring municipality Posio, where there were greater differences in elevation. There we found a good setting for the story: Korouoma, which is one of Eastern Europe's largest depressions. Korouoma canyon is at its deepest nearly 100 metres deep. It is almost 20 kilometres long.
When the financing for the film began to be secured, the directors inspected shooting locations at Korouoma with cinematographer Kari Sohlberg and production designer Pertti Hilkamo. We were convinced of its beauty. The only worry was that it was so far away from everything. Far from Ranua, far from Posio, far from the main road. The highest cliffs and deepest canyons were over ten kilometres away from the main road and more than a kilometre away from the nearest forest road.
Moving Limb and Equipment in the Wilderness
It was awkward moving in the forest during the autumn. Enormous boxes of equipment had to carried to the site since all - terrain mobiles simply couldn't get past the marshland, precipices and rock clusters. Dragging a bullcrane (camera crane) to the highest point of Korouoma, Purnuvaara, was an immense undertaking that required a group of 20 people and took one entire day. And when the cameras and actors arrived, the sky began to cloud over. At the last moment, we got the camera running, the "crane" reached out toward the sky and we caught the last rays of sun on film. The take only required a few minutes. And then we carried all the equipment back again.
During the winter shoot, it was slightly easier to move. One could reach even the more inaccessible places without having to carry any gear. Snow mobiles took us virtually anywhere we wanted. But riding a snow mobile could be tough going: at high speed the wind and snow whipped your face. And if you were being pulled in the sled behind, you got exhaust fumes in your face and your rear beat against the ground in uneven terrain. The local reindeer herdsmen who drove the snow mobiles had to make dozens of new paths to our locations.
However, the snow mobiles were at the mercy of the weather. When temperatures fluctuated the snow mobile paths became so soft that the heavy vehicles would get stuck in the two - metre snow drifts. We had to reduce the payload, which meant even/thing took more time. The snow mobiles and sleds behind could only take a limited number of people and as we had to transport our equipment as well from cameras to tracks, and not forgetting food for 40 people, the reindeer herdsmen were constantly driving back and forth.
Conditions in winter were much harder in more ways than one. We were prisoners of the snow. We needed shots of untrodden snow on which a person or animal walks, or a snow mobile drives. This meant there was not much chance for rehearsals. The first take became really vital. If we failed, it meant shifting location and finding a new suitable snow drift. There were no great disasters with people but when the wildcat was supposed to stroll into a wide shot, jump or run from point A to point B, the whole camera crew held their breath and were prepared to promise anything if it did what it was supposed to do. Well, it didn't work out many times, but the effort put into it can very well be seen in the film.
Co - director, screenwriter
WWF Page about Lynx
Lynx (Lynx lynx)
- Classification: mammals
- Division: predators
- Species: cats
- Length: 70 - 140 cm, tail 15 - 25 cm
- Weight: 8 - 26 kg, male larger than female
- Life expectancy: 14 - 17 years
- Under Threat: rare species, to be monitored
- Population in Finland: about 750
Finland's fauna includes four large predators: the bear, wolf, wolverine and lynx. The lynx is Finland's only indigenous cat.
The lynx lives in forests and prefers variable terrain. It can be found almost throughout the country. The range of its habitat is determined by the availability of food. The yearly habitat of a female is at most a few hundred square kilometres. Males roam a larger area, which may include the habitats of several females.
A lynx's diet consists almost exclusively of the prey it catches, for the most part rabbits. In southern Finland, lynxes also hunt white - tailed deer. In addition, a lynx's diet includes fowl, domestic cats, squirrels, foxes and raccoon dogs. In northern Finland lynxes may also hunt reindeer.
The lynx's short snout is an indication of the cat's poor sense of smell. It locates its prey with its excellent hearing and good sight. A lynx can hear a policeman's whistle from even a distance of 4½ kilometres.
The female gives birth to one to four kittens in April/May. The kittens stay with their mother for nearly a year and are ready to mate on their second year. The male lynx searches out females only during the breeding season. It does not participate in rearing its offspring.
A lynx kitten weighs only some 70 grammes at birth. After three weeks it is over 300 grammes and after two months 1.5 kilos. Lynx offspring grow slower than other predators.
Hunting Exterminated the Lynx Already Once
In the late 19th century, many species were over - hunted for fur or meat, this also applies to the lynx. During the 1950's the lynx in Finland was almost extinct. Fortunately lynxes came from Sweden and the Karelian Isthmus in Russia, and in 1960 it was confirmed that the lynx was definitely making a comeback to Finland.
The lynx was completely protected at times during the 1960s. When the population grew, hunting was again permitted, e.g. the government's hunting quota for winter 1997 - 98 was 81 lynxes. The lynx is protected from early March to late October.
Wolves and wolverines are the lynx's natural enemies in Finland, but its greatest threat comes from man, who has already once almost exterminated Finland's lynx population.
Folklore has it that a lynx may jump from a tree on a person and claw him or her. This is not based in fact. A lynx would never attack a person unless provoked and it doesn't jump from trees on its "natural" prey either. It climbes trees only when pursued. Albeit a wounded and cornered lynx may defend itself fiercely against heavy odds, similarly to many other species, such as the rat.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is involved in European cooperation which aims at creating better conditions for the survival of large predators in Europe. Humans and predators must learn to adjust to one another so that the needs of both are taken into consideration.
Finland is a unique country in the sense that compared to the rest of Europe it has quite large predator populations. Bear, wolf and lynx populations have strengthened during recent years, and there has been debate over whether people and predators can peacefully coexist. Especially the wolverine still suffers greatly from persecution and its population has dwindled. The Finnish ministry of forest and agriculture's publication (Luonnonvara 1/98) wrote that reindeer herdsmen want to eradicate the wolverine from northern Finland.
The most difficult aspect in predator protection is the wolf since hatred against the wolf dies hard. In practice, coming suddenly face to face with a bear in the forest can be far more dangerous than meeting a wolf.
Large predators try to avoid direct contact with people if they can. But injured or surprised predators will defend themselves to the best of their ability if they think that the person threatens either it or its offspring.
For more information: WWF, Lintulahdenkatu 10; 00500 Helsinki, tel +358 - 9 - 774 0100, fax +358 - 9 - 7740 2139, internet: www.wwf.fi and panda.org