TNT: Merchants of Death | Product notes

When we started working on TNT: Merchants of death, it was right after we had finished the youth drama short "Friday", which, despite being successful among the independent movie audience, wasn't really what I wanted from moviemaking. With TNT it was obvious from the beginning that this time I would do the kind of movie I want to watch. The script was written very fast in april 2006. I drew inspiration from PM entertainment films, early 90's Steven Seagal movies and the Lethal weapon series. The movie was to be a mix of nonstop action, bonecrunching violence and over-the top buddy cop dynamics.

We started shooting in spring 2006 with a very short preproduction, even though this was the biggest thing we had done so far; my first full-lenght movie, and one with complex CG and FX work, lots of action and copious shooting locations. On indie scale, we really set out to make this movie big. The shooting locations were probably one of the most demanding parts, if not the most demanding part, of the movie. We had more than 40 different locations, most of which required shooting permits. We were out to do shootouts in the middle of a downtown street, gunfights in bunkers, action scenes in high-class houses... Luckily for us, because of Friday's success, we had gotten large public interest towards our movies; getting actors and crew together was easier than ever.

Shooting the movie

For a few days of shoot, everything went smooth as silk. The actors were 110% in for it, we had great action coreographies and I was using a style of shoot I hadn't tried before, sort of an pseudo-documentary look, that gave the movie similar look as the tv-series "24". The first problems came when we went out to shoot a nighttime alley fight between the main character and a bunch of thugs. Note, this was almost summertime, around May, and there's not much of night during finnish summer. So we had to wait 'til 11pm until it was dark enough to shoot the scene. The shoot went fine. What happened after that almost trashed the movie.

30 minutes after the shoot I get a phone call from the then-designated editor Kuisma Väänänen. "There's nothing on the tape". The camera had crapped out. There was no footage of the days shoot, and the camera was generally kaputt, we had to take it to repairs, which could take up to two months, and we had to shoot scenes and cameos with people outside our team within the next few weeks! To call the situation disastrous would've been a gross understatement.

So, I did a somewhat desperate move; I picked up my old Sony Hi8 Handycam and we shot the compulsory scenes with that until I was able to get a better camera. Yeah, not very professional, but it probably saved the movie. A 1-2 month pause on the shooting, and the movie would've been dead in water. In a week, I was able to get my hands on a Canon DV cam... the problem? It was 1CCD, so we could use it only for daytime outside scenes.

We got our main Panasonic camera back from repairs after 4 weeks, and finished the movie with it and with the Canon cam as a backup camera.

The principal photography wrapped in august 2006 (we didn't get to shoot even nearly every day... the movie had approx. 25 days of principal photography shoot altogether). The last scene we shot was the opening scene of the movie, and it was a hoot. The weather was great, we were permitted to an awesome location and everyone had a good time. I think that shows pretty nicely in the scene as well. But even with the principal photography done, the movie was nowhere near finished.

With the tight schedule we were working on, many action scenes had to be shot without any FX work. I'm talking squibs, blood flying, stabbings etc. All these had to be added to the movie to make it complete. After the principal shoot, I spent over a week shooting different FX inserts with small sets I had built to fit them seamlessly to the movie. I did all kinds of stuff, from bullet wounds to exploding heads and closeups of knifes piercing almost every imaginable body part.

Post-production hell

On the "Cutting TNT" documentary I comment on editing TNT with something like "Editing TNT... Editing TNT was fucked, total pain in the ass". It really was. We had a strict october deadline for the movie, I had taken the editing out of Kuisma Väänänen's hands and did it all by myself, while working at a day job simultaneosly. With materials from three completely different cameras that all had to be synched, numerous sound problems, literally hundreds of CG effects and hours and hours of raw material, it was very little short of epic. When the movie premiered at the Helsinki finnish independent movie festival, I had completed it only a few days prior, and it was obviously rushed. Composer Jussi Huhtala was forced to do the movie soundtrack in less than a week, and the movie was plagued with terrible sound problems. To put it blunt, the movie was unfinished. Still, TNT got positive reviews, but it was obvious the technical level of the movie was unacceptable.

So, what I did was take the original edit files, and rebuilt the whole movie, even shooting some new inserts and scenes to make the movie more graphic. The sound problems were mostly fixed, and I reworked large parts of the CG. When the finished DVD edition of the movie came out, it was greeted with a lot better reviews. I myself am fairly satisfied with TNT, yet know it could be a lot better. Working on Parasite Q, which surpasses TNT in every single way, it's impossible not to feel like TNT is the inferior movie. But that's the way it is; with every new title, you're improving, and you see more and more flaws in your older movies, even when others don't. Despite my own criticism, TNT remains a valuable lesson in moviemaking, and an entertaining movie, which is something you can't really say about too many low-budget films.

Written by: Esa Jussila