Tomi Petteri Putaansuu, also known as Mr. Lordi, is the lead singer of Finland’s most celebrated, and decorated, metal band, Lordi. After being severely bullied in school, Tomi channeled his pain, and his love for KISS, into an elaborate monster fantasy world. From creepy figurines to horror movies, his artistic vision led him to form Lordi in 1992. Fast forward to 2006, when Lordi was the first hard rock band to win the Eurovision Song Contest. (They remain the only Finnish artists ever to win the award.) A huge welcome home concert in Helsinki took place, and, for a moment, the band members were national heroes. Lordi even landed a movie deal, starring in the horror film
Fast forward to 2006, when Lordi was the first hard rock band to win the Eurovision Song Contest. (They remain the only Finnish artists ever to win the award.) A huge welcome home concert in Helsinki took place, and, for a moment, the band members were national heroes. Lordi even landed a movie deal, starring in the horror film Dark Floors. But a few years later, when the hype had worn thin, and the screaming crowds were long gone, Tomi, on the advice of Sony Music Entertainment executives, decided to participate in a reality television show called Clash of the Choirs. This is when Lordi took the inevitable turn from unfettered artist to a corporate entertainer.
Anticipating ‘Monsterman‘ at the 2015 DOXA Documentary Film Festival on May 9, we spoke with the film’s Director Antti Haase about making a documentary in Finland, the importance of Eurovision to the continent, the Heavy Metal tradition of Scandinavia, and more.
The 2015 DOXA Documentary Film Festival runs April 30 – May 10, 2015 in Vancouver, Canada.
Find more information & tickets to ‘Monsterman’ at the 2015 DOXA Documentary Film Festival – HERE
When did you first decide a feature length documentary on the subject of Lordi was something you wanted to pursue?
It started with Tomi, when he called me one night, close to midnight, and asked me to make a documentary about him. I guess the reason he called me was because we used to live very close to each other and he knew I made documentary films.
It sounded very interesting, but I wasn’t quite convinced. If you look at my music collection, I had no Lordi records. I was familiar with a very different kind of music. Bands like Simple Minds and U2. He asked me to come and visit him. I discovered he lived in this 40 sq. meter house full of snakes and lizards. When I saw that, I understood he hasn’t changed at all since he was a child. He wants to live in this fantasy world of superheroes and monsters and snakes. This convinced me.
Now that you were convinced you want to make the documentary and have to make narrative decisions, how do you approach constructing a cohesive documentary story?
It was a long process to come up with key concepts to the film. The main realisation was that he was a Heavy Metal Peter Pan. He is a boy who wanted to be a monster. Even though he is now a middle-aged man he still is that same boy. I could never understand why he didn’t want to have kids, for example. I have three kids myself and its the best thing for me. Then I realized, if you want to remain a child yourself you can’t have kids. You need to take responsibility and a child is a big responsibility. These kinds of psychological things opened up when I realized he was this Peter Pan character.
The story developed when he told me about his debt and the tensions in the band. I immediately understood this was a from riches to rags story. Here was a guy who won Eurovision and now is at the bottom. We started to follow if he can keep the monster alive. Of course, at that point, I didn’t know all the events that would transpire. That is the beauty of a documentary film.
How did you keep the documentary objective, especially as you had a past with your subject?
Even if you don’t know the subject you would become attached. I spent more time with him than my family. It’s crazy how involved you get with these projects. I literally knew every aspect of what was happening in his life. On the other hand, that is the difference between news items and documentary films. You create through empathy. The good thing was I wasn’t his best friend as children. We knew each other but were not too close. If that had been the case I probably wouldn’t have made this film.
Since we are a New York publication, some of our readers may not be familiar with Eurovision. Can you explain a little about the contest, especially since Lordi was Finland’s first ever winner? What did their win mean to the country?
Eurovision is the biggest song contest there is. Firstly, there are competitions in every country where one winner is selected. 30 or 40 countries then compete and 1 wins. This has been going on for decades. It is a shared memory that once a year you watch with your family and see if your country wins. Finland had never won.
Perhaps compared to the Americans, Finland’s national identity is not one of high self-confidence. We are quieter, and not so great at marketing ourselves. When Lordi was selected, the first reaction was embarrassment, as they would be the face of Finland but when they won everyone celebrated. This was one of the key victory moments for Finnish history over the last 100 years.
What does the win say about the tradition of Heavy Metal in Finland? Lordi seems more playful, in the tradition of Gwar, but I know some bands from Norway, for example, burn churches and what not. What is it about Scandinavia that embraces Heavy Metal to such a diverse degree?
Good question! To have a Heavy Metal band like Lordi in Eurovision are two things that just don’t go together (laughs). You usually get ballads, folk songs or women in bikinis. Then this monster comes in and makes it all so strange. The Scandinavian Heavy Metal world thought that Lordi going into the contest would make the scene lose its credibility once and for all. Lordi managed to turn it into a protest though. Like, they were an uninvited guest to the pop world. They managed to get a lot of Metalheads from around Europe to watch and vote. They had an “I Voted For Lordi” campaign. In a way, they wanted to ruin Eurovision.
You mentioned Black Metal in Norway. To them, I am sure they think Lordi is a joke but that is where Lordi comes from. It comes from a place of entertainment. He is a fan of Alice Copper and Kiss, Glam Rock coming from America.
At a practical level, how does a documentary like this get made in Finland? Can you give me an idea about the Finnish filmmaking infrastructure?
I shot a few scenes by myself, like the horror restaurant closing down and showed it to a production company Illume Ltd and Finnish broadcast company. It was one of the best days of my life because I got both companies on board. They were immediately convinced this was going to be a good film.
After that, it took 2 years to get the rest of the funding together. We were lucky we were selected to some prestigious European development workshops where we received great support from high-level film professionals. Then, we pitched the films to different film forums. This is actually a Scandinavian co-production with Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian money involved. I got to travel to both places and work with some great people.
In terms of the Finnish film indusry, it is pretty small. I had maybe 6 or 7 people in mind for Cinematographer and the same with virtually every role. You usually have worked with people before so you know who to call.
-Interview conducted, edited & transcribed by Steve Rickinson
About The Filmmaker
Antti Haase, born in 1972, is a Finnish director and a script writer who lives in Tornio. He holds a MA from Australian Film and Television School. He is known for directing feature documentaries, and his work has also brought him a Film Australia Documentary Award.