by Jorn Rossing Jensen
- Finnish screenwriter-turned-producer Mikko Tenhunen, who has already produced several local blockbusters, will shortly be ready with two new films
After finishing his studies at the Helsinki Film School, Finnish producer Mikko Tenhunen had already started as a screenwriter for local television, when he produced Finnish director Joona Tena’s romantic comedy FC Venus (2005), which was not only a hit at the Finnish box office, but also toured the world with the EU Film Festival: The Best of European Cinema, and was remade the following year by German director Ute Wieland.
He continued backing local blockbusters – Finnish directors Hannu Kahakorpi’s The Novelist (2008), Kari Väänänen’s Backwood Philosopher (2009) and Tena’s Body of Water [+see also:
film profile] (2011). In 2014, he joined Helsinki’s Mjölk Movies, and has since produced Finnish directors Mikko Kuparinen’s English-language debut, 2 Nights till Morning, and Aleksi Salmenperä’s Distractions.
Canadian actress (and Cannes winner) Marie-Josée Croze will star with Mikko Nousiainen in 2 Nights till Morning, a romantic drama based around a one-night stand between two strangers in Vilnius, which takes an unexpected turn when an ash cloud from a volcano prevents all flights from taking off. Distractions follows Mr Makkonen and his comrades, whose lives are interrupted, from cradle to grave, by an uncontrollable world.
Tenhunen also has four films in development: Finnish directors Paavo Westerberg's adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, this time as seen by Sonya (played by Finnish Berlinale Shooting Star Emmi Parviainen), Aku Louhimies’ The Unknown Soldier, Paavo Westerberg’s The Lie and Teemu Nikki’s My First Exorcism.
Cineuropa: Finnish audiences seem to be flocking to cinemas to watch local films – what is happening?
Mikko Tenhunen: There have recently been some changes in the rules for public film financing, which has encouraged us filmmakers to work with projects both for very low- and very high-budget productions, in Finnish terms. The local audience has always loved Finnish films, and now there is a bigger variety of them available.
How did you yourself get into film? Did you always want to become a filmmaker?
I have always loved watching movies; filmmaking as a profession wasn’t something that I had in mind when I was growing up in a small town, Rovaniemi, on the Arctic Circle. When I had already moved to Helsinki to study economics at university, I started thinking that maybe filmmaking could be a job after all, so I went to the Helsinki Film School. Through the contacts I made there, I got my first screenwriting assignments, and moving from writing to producing stemmed from wanting to make things happen more quickly.
What sort of films do you want to produce? What do you look for in a project before you say, "Yes, I will do it"?
I look for strong emotional action. If the story makes me cry, laugh, feel scared or thrilled, or simply react physically, I will be interested, regardless of the genre. What’s the director’s vision, do we see the strong points of the story in the same way, and why does he want to make this film? If these points are clear enough, I will surely find a way to help him or her.
And then you pick the hits?
I don't recognise a hit that early. I try to find quality, and then I work as hard as I can to enable it to find its audience.
How do you work with the director on the set?
I am a loving, caring, encouraging producer. Sure, I am strict on the budget, but I also expect an open and lively discussion with the director about how we are to serve the film in the best way, with the resources available.
You have already signed a few films - which production do you consider your best achievement so far, and why?
They all have a special place in my heart; I can’t place one above the others.
What was your biggest challenge during a production, and how did you overcome it?
With every film, I have had to learn new things. Maybe that is the biggest challenge in general: how to keep learning and not being satisfied with the old ways of doing things. The ”one size fits all” attitude will never give you the best results. So what did I do when I realised that? I swallowed my pride, kept my mouth shut and listened even more carefully to learn more.
What do you think you are particularly good at – and what certainly not?
I am quite persistent, and I believe in collaboration. When I have confidence in a project, I’ll keep on working for it. On the other hand, I am not good at taking risks when I personally don’t clearly understand why this specific film should be made.
What’s next on your agenda?
We have just completed two films, 2 Nights till Morning and Distractions, and my next step will be to find the festivals where we can open these films. For Distractions, we are also looking for the sales agent, and for 2 Nights till Morning, we are happy to have Wide on board already.
The other film projects, including Uncle Vanya and The Lie, we are just introducing to possible co-producers and financiers; while the first is Finnish and almost cast, The Lie is an English-language film, so we will be looking for international actors.
What do you hope to get out of your Producers On the Move experience at Cannes?
I hope to meet a lot of people, to be inspired by them, and hopefully be able to inspire them as well.