Back in 2003, I had been wondering when Renny Harlin's unique and ambitious action thriller "Mindhunters" was going to be released. I kept track of the the film for quite a long time until the films' eventual and long delayed release by Dimension Films which was under the The Weinstein's banner of Miramax Films and who were notorious for shelving films filmed years earlier and then release it when they saw fit to do so. "Mindhunters" was amongst the flood of films that the company released before Disney bought it and despite some positive reviews, the film came and went pretty quickly with a DVD release soon arriving in the Summer of 2005 which I eventually purchased.
What was intriguing about the film besides the stylish direction of Harlin and the solid cast, the music really caught my ear as I watched the film. The music was original, unique and thrilling which matched the intensity of the film itself and Harlin's sleek vision. As another composer had originally been attached to the film and eventually let go, the name Tuomas Kantelinen stuck to me like glue. After a little research at the time, it was ironic that both Tuomas and Renny Harlin are both Finnish and that Harlin had been wanting to work with him for sometime as states his boisterous DVD commentary. As it turns out that he absolutely was the right choice for the film and his work has been one that soundtrack collectors do talk about frequently for a CD release and one that should've happend when the film had finally been released.
While Tuomas has worked on many projects since then including an epic score for the film "Mongol" which was Russia's entry for the Academy Awards, he has kept himself very busy and now is happily reteaming with Harlin on the latest incarnation of the mythical character "Hercules" in "The Legend Of Hercules" starring Kellan Lutz and Scott Adkins that was released by Millenium Films which was released earlier this month. For this very special interview with Tuomas, he candidly shares with us his musical upbringing, working with director Renny Harlin on "Hercules" and "Mindhunters" and revisiting his score to "Mongol". It is an honor and a pleasure to share this interview with this brilliant composer.
Hello Tuomas, how are you and thank you very much for granting me the time to conduct this interview with you today. It really is an honor to do so.
TK: Hi Danny, I am well! Thanks for your passion and insight in all things film music, I enjoy keeping up with soundtracks by reading your reviews!
Please tell the readers about what made you become interested in music and composing.
TK: I grew up under the influence of my amazing and strong grandmother, who was a music teacher and a fervent believer in 'education through music', so she had me and my three siblings all play instruments and sing and dance from morning till evening like we were the Finnish extension of the Von Trapp family... :)
Eventually most of us became professionals in different fields of music - my brother is a rock musician, my sister is a singer and ethnomusicologist and I became a film music composer... I wasn't forced into anything though - I did enjoy listening to and playing music from a young age, but really started pursuing it as a career when I was in my teens. I went to a specialized high school and university and started to find my own voice as a composer, and to score short films by film school students. Most of my composer peers at the Sibelius Academy were full-on into modernism which I also explored and greatly respect, but I found myself enjoying a very melodious and harmonious approach to orchestral music. I scored my first feature film in 1995 and have been steadily
working in films ever since, while also continuing to write concert and stage music.
Let’s talk about your recent work on the film “Legend of Hercules” starring Kellan Lutz which reteams you with Director Renny Harlin. What got you interested in this project?
TK: I was happy to work again with director Renny Harlin, who has been my good friend since we collaborated on Mindhunters in 2003. He was full of contagious enthusiasm as usual, we had lunch last February when he had been just offered the movie, and were excited at the possibilities of both explosive action music and heart-wrenching themes of loss and star-crossed lovers...
Let’s talk about the score. Was it easy for you to come up with themes for it or did that take a little time?
TK: I wrote the first theme before the movie was shot and Renny played it on the set when they were shooting a funeral scene. I was on location in Bulgaria and it was amazing to hear the music play for a full day and see the actors get into the sorrowful mood needed for that scene. The same theme is still in the movie, so it must be one of the fairly rare occurrences of the actors hearing the same music on set as the audiences at the cinema. After shooting wrapped, we spent some time with Renny at his countryside place in Finland, on a small island with no electricity or running water. I couldn't even power my keyboard, but we found a sort of organ in one of the houses and I actually came up with the love theme there, pumping away on this ancient thing. I took a bit longer with Hercules' 'Hero Theme' as I wanted to be able to make many variations, and it has an A, B
and C part.
When you spotted the film with Renny, did he tell you exactly what he wanted the music to sound like or did he pretty much give you the leeway to write what you felt passionate about the film?
TK: Renny knows how to inspire and respect a fellow artist, so he gave me a lot of artistic freedom. He wanted the themes to be memorable and knew right away when he had heard something he loved. Our spotting session was long and very much fun, Renny has a great sense of humor and constantly made us laugh with his commentary on the happenings on screen. We also alternated between speaking English and Finnish, so that we really communicated the smallest details of what
he hoped for, musically, for each scene.
How much music did you end up recording for the film?
TK: The music is pretty wall-to-wall as is typical nowadays... We ended up having about 86 minutes of score and about 2 minutes of source music so a total of 88 minutes of music in a 91 minute film (without end credits).
What were the recording sessions like?
TK: We recorded with a big orchestra in Budapest and then traveled to London to record all the brass, and with a slightly smaller string orchestra as well. The ensemble in Budapest was really quite huge - 14 cellos and 10 double bass players etc. That kind of orchestra works well with the slower, broader cues.For more actiony stuff we relied on the accurate and energetic playing of the
London strings and brass. We recorded at Air Studios and engineer Geoff Foster mixed the music in record time, as we were in a hurry to deliver to the final mix. The film's release was moved from mid-February to January 10th, which lead to a bit of a time crunch on the scoring front, but luckily our hard-working team of trusty engineers and assistants was able to pull off this 'Herculean'
Let’s talk about a soundtrack album, will your epic music be released?
TK: Lionsgate released the soundtrack digitally on January 27th so it's available as
an iTunes download as we speak!
Let’s talk about your previous score with Renny Harlin for the long delayed action thriller “Mindhunters” which starred Val Kilmer, Kathryn Morris and Christian Slater. As I understand it, you were not the first composer on the project for this film. What happened that you got you interested in writing the score to this very entertaining thriller?
TK: Unfortunately, there is a lot of 'musical chairs' activity going on in productions and sometimes very talented composers get hired and fired - could be over creative differences, or sometimes just bad luck, timing or chemistry with the powers that be... So I'm never happy or proud to come in to substitute another composer - I think none of us are, because we all know what it's like to be on both sides of this drama. I really do respect my colleagues very much as I know how much work and dedication it takes to survive in this profession. In the case of Mindhunters I am not sure exactly what happened with the composer originally hired for this movie, but I was brought in very late in the process and had basically a long weekend before the first recording day with the orchestra, and then another recording the next week and so on. All in all, I didn't sleep much nor leave my hotel room other than to go conduct my cues - it definitely was intense and also gave me my first glimpse of dealing with a US based production. It was also exhilarating and an opportunity to score both
suspense and fight action, which is fun!
What was your approach to the score after viewing and spotting the film with Renny?
TK: We were both staying at the Charlotte Street Hotel, so the second I arrived, Renny and the editors came to my room and we started spotting as time was really short. I made notes and remember them saying the music should be 'sparse' in a of scenes - I had to look that up in the dictionary afterwards, but of course I pretended I knew exactly what they were talking about... :) As the film is a whodunit, sort of variation of 'Ten Little Indians' really, it was crucial not to give too obvious musical clues about who might be the killer among them.
Did the tone and themes of the score come to you instantly or did you play around with the music until you found something that both you and Renny liked personally?
TK: Renny made himself available 24/7 and gave a lot of instant input, so we were able to get cues signed off quite swiftly. We wanted to keep the action set pieces exciting, so some of them are pretty complex with lots of variation as the music has to keep the audience at the edge of their seat during long scenes - like the one in which James Todd Smith's (LL Cool J's) and Clifton Collins Jr's characters are in jeopardy in a corridor full of water and severed electric cables. For the end, we wanted something hopeful yet a bit sad to both celebrate the heroine's survival, but remember those characters who didn't make it.
How big was the orchestra that you used to record the score?
TK: For Mindhunters we had a pretty big orchestra, around 65-70 players in total maybe...
What was recording the score like, if you remember?
TK: As said, I was working day and night to have music ready for the recordings, so most of the time I didn't even know what time of day it was... I spent over three weeks in my hotel room and only had room service meals because I couldn't even stop composing to go out and have dinner. When I was checking out I almost fainted when I saw the bill for all this in-room dining - in the end the production graciously paid for it all. They had a good laugh when they looked at the invoice, since I ate the exact same thing every single day - halloumi salad for lunch and a soup for dinner, as well as had about 10 coffees a day... :) But when I went out to record I was so stoked to be working on the movie and it was so much fun to conduct the London musicians, they are just so good!
Were you disappointed that your score didn’t get a soundtrack release?
TK: Frankly, I wasn't expecting anything, I was just overjoyed to be working and enjoying the process so much. So everything was just good news to me and I don't remember being disappointed about the soundtrack, just happy that I had made the music for a movie that was in theaters!
If there was a soundtrack release of Mindhunters, how would you assemble the album?
TK: If I did it now I would probably go with my gut feeling and just compile it so it makes musical sense. Usually the cues also end up nearly in chronological order, maybe because that's how I remember them from the movie that I saw dozens of times. I have a hard time making playlists for soundtracks as I think they often feel a bit fragmented because cues are quite short and even if they're glued together to make 'suites', it's still a mishmash of different themes and feelings. But I guess people who love soundtracks know this and they don't mind. Ideally of course it would be nice if people first saw the film so they could hear the music in the film's context, and that would help to make sense of the soundtrack as well.
You also scored the film “Mongol” which featured a terrific score by you. Looking back on that film, please tell us your experiences on it?
TK: With Mongol's director Sergei Bodrov we decided, for obvious reasons, to fully embrace the ethnic tradition of Mongolia, but in a cinematic sense. It was pretty exciting as I had a big orchestra in front of me, as well as Mongolian throat singers and players of traditional instruments. We would play from scores, but also do a sort of improvisation based on melodies that I would sing and then have the different elements come together in one piece. For ‘Mongol', I ended up recording in Moscow, London and Hamburg so it was a real journey in itself. Sergei was very hands-on, we sat for hours and hours looking at the movie, listening to cues and just talking. I tend to be very chatty on coffee breaks, and Sergei is more of a silent, peaceful person - he was just listening to my philosophical ramblings, smiling and reminding me to keep it simple, keep everything in proportion - small and subtle music when it's a small scene, huge and epic when a big battle unfolds.
Was writing a theme for this score for you very easy and simple?
TK: To me, writing the thematic material is what I love the most, so I always immensely enjoy that phase of the process. After the themes are there, it's just endless 'mining' for cues and variations based on those, which is also very fun and more relaxed as by then one knows that this is going to be all right! All in all working on 'Mongol' was a very enjoyable experience, also because it enabled
me to explore a very interesting ethnic tradition. It was inspiring to collaborate with Altan Urag too, they are an awesome band and added a great modern vibe to the end credits song, for instance.
The score is massive sounding. Was that your intention to write a grand, epic work?
TK: The 'size' of the music is mostly defined by what's going on on the screen. Since the wars in 'Mongol' are quite massive with hundreds or even thousands of extras, the music too could be very big and epic. But if you look at scenes in which Ghenghis Khan is in the steppes with his family, or when he is looking for his future wife as a boy, the music isn't that big at all. As Sergei would
remind me time and time again: "Proportion, proportion!"
How did you feel when the acclaimed label Varese Sarabande released a CD of this score?
TK: It's always nice to get a soundtrack out there since that enables friends of film music to revisit a score they liked or thought was interesting. For us composers it's obviously very important to keep receiving those comments from the people who listen to our music, and we are pleased if they are enchanted or at least intrigued! Varese Sarabande is of course a very respected and legendary
label, so it was a privilege to work with them on 'Mongol'.
Do you like to orchestrate your own scores or do you find it easier to have help?
TK: I love orchestrating, and have fully orchestrated some of my scores, but there isn't always time to wear all the hats. My go-to guy then is the one and only Matt Dunkley from the UK, a great friend, orchestrator and composer in his own right, too. We started working together on ‘Mindhunters' and have been enjoying our collaboration ever since. I tend to write in quite a bit of orchestration
detail, and Matt knows how to make the most of whatever line-up we have, so I know that the music will always sound as lush as it can. He is also incredibly fast, which is a great asset in this fast-moving mine field of deadlines and delivery schedules! In my classical work I naturally do all the orchestration myself, I find that in that context an orchestrator would be 'cheating' - it's all in the details of the orchestration that make a classical piece.
Was there a director that gave him (or yourselves) a difficult time on a project?
TK: I am too sociable a person to be the kind of hermit composer who just sits alone with his music, so I enjoy working with other people and have had a good relationship with all my directors. Sometimes when it’s stressful it might be hard to reign in your inner artist and take notes from multiple sources, but in the end it always pays off.
My wife is a director and everyone always asks us if we argue a lot when we work together. We never argue - but it can be quite funny to have her wake me up in the middle of the night just to suggest a musical style for this or that scene... But it helps me understand directors, who are fellow artists going through a very intensive creative process, and it's normal that they are unsure, or need options, or change their mind etc - I am there to help them with their vision and hopefully also make their lives a little easier by providing the music they need for their movie.
What’s is your favorite film score that you’ve written?
TK: My favorite is usually the one I'm working on, as I'm very invested into the movie, its director, and just fully immersed in whatever world we are creating... Currently I fervently love my themes for Hercules, of course! Another movie that I'm very proud of is 'The Italian Key' - I personally think I
have done some of my best work for this very sweet and romantic feel good fairytale, probably because I was whipped/inspired by my director wife Rosa Karo... :D The movie will be released on iTunes on Valentine's Day. Some of my other favorites include 'Arn, The Knight Templar' (on Netflix), 'Mother of Mine', 'The Year of the Wolf', and the Finnish drama 'Purge' with violin solos played by the wonderful Viktoria Mullova.
What is your favorite film score that you haven’t written?
TK: Ah, that is a good question. I don't want to have too many expectations as I
really believe that what is meant to be, will happen. I do sometimes pursue
films that I'm really passionate about, but most of the time gigs come to me and
I learn a lot from each of them, so I hope I can continue doing this and grow as
a composer and human being.
Who is your favorite director that you’ve worked with?
TK: This is such a tricky question and honestly, I couldn't even answer that. Being part of a movie is a little bit like being in love, you live in the moment and while you're at work you enjoy the people that have been brought on your path, and learn from the experience. Many of the directors I have worked with are my personal friends, and we share the joy if the film does well and gets good
reviews etc. I've learned that it's not enough to be able to compose good music - working as a film composer requires a set of skills that is probably a quite rare combination - in addition to writing music, you also should know how to produce it, have the kind of character that likes to embark onto new adventures many times a year, it helps if you love to work with others and understand their
needs, opinions and preferences... You have to have the stamina, be tirelessly enthusiastic even in adverse circumstances, be able to take criticism, stay humble, deal with the business side of things - the list goes on and on. Everyone has their fortes - I am definitely not a great businessman, but I am a people person and am thrilled to be part of a team - I go to work every morning like a little boy who knows he will have fun playing with his friends all day!
Please tell the readers about your future upcoming projects.
TK: I am currently working on a Russian epic and a Swedish satiric comedy. After May...I don't know yet, but I trust something great will be thrown my way, as always!
I really want to thank you once again Tuomas for granting me this interview and I really honored to meet you and everything.
TK: Thank you, Danny! It's been super nice to chat and I hope we'll get to do this soon again with another new score!
Very special thanks to Tuomas for being so grateful for his time with this interview and you are truly a class act! The best! Also very very special thanks to fellow Mets fan Beth Krakower, who always an amazing job with these great composers. I owe you big time!
Please feel free to visit Tuomas' official site at http://www.kantelinen.net/ for info on his latest projects and upcoming ones as well as his samples of his music.
"The Legend Of Hercules" soundtrack is now available on Lionsgate Records download via iTunes. https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/legend-hercules-original-motion/id805689154
Tuomas' Bio Is Here:
"Film music composer Tuomas Kantelinen studied classical composing in his native Finland and continues to make music for both cinema and concert audiences.
He has scored orchestral film music for over 30 feature films, including Klaus Haro's awarded "Mother of Mine", Renny Harlin´s dark thriller "Mindhunters" and Sergei Bodrov's Genghis Khan epic "Mongol".
Mongol was shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film this year and will be out in theaters June 6th.
In addition to film scores Tuomas has written news and program jingles and scored the music for many television shows and movies of the week. He has also worked on dozens of ads, including brands like Coca-Cola and major European banks.
His classical credits include Paavo Suuri, an opera that was performed on Helsinki Stadium for the Cultural Capital of Europe festivities of 2000 (and broadcast by Arte TV channel throughout Europe), piano and guitar concertos as well as pieces for symphonic and chamber orchestras."