Chapter I: Presenting «Sagas Øy»

 – Film is distinctive because of its nature, of its being able to cut through time with editing. Oliver Stone 

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I thought I’d use this corner of the internet to let people know what I’m working on and on the creative process involved in making a film. I was going to blog about my current writing projects in today’s blog post, but changed my mind because I’m almost finished with a new short film which will premiere next month and thought I’d let you get a glimpse into the process of making this film (to the best of my recollection).

The film’s called “Sagas Øy” (Norwegian title, the English title is “The Girl on the Pier”) and it’s been a time consuming project (as making most films are). Looking now at the near finished result, I’m very happy with it and can’t wait to show it to the world!

Saga på bryggen
Saga on the pier

The film began as a part of a bigger project, where we were three directors and two writers (among them, Linda May Kallestein whom also have a blog here on montages) who decided to create three 30’ min. stories that would fit into a grand multiplot-type feature film narrative. The stories didn’t have much in common but a thematic connection (which had something to do with the loss of innocence, a longing for something etc) and children in the leading roles. This was mid-2009, and we developed these stories for about a year. The idea behind the concept was that, as first time feature film directors, it’d be easier to get financing for 3 x 30’ min. short films, and if we could somehow tie them together, we would have potential feature film for cinema release under our freshmen belts.

The script, which I co-wrote with a Finnish scriptwriter named Jenny Dahlstrøm I met through a writing workshop called Engage (which I highly recommend btw), went through several revisions during this year, and by mid-2010, we felt we had a decent story to be captured on film. The story took place on an idyllic island and had fantasy elements (or magical realism if you will) and two big storylines that would eventually meet by the end of it.

Saga og moren
Saga and her mom

By the time we got this far in the process, we realized the stories worked best on their own, and as directors, we naturally all had our own unique visions for our stories which would be hard to weave into a natural “whole”. So we, the collaborators, left the development having learned a lot from the process and with a three decent 30’ min scripts as a result.

Jenny and I decided to let our film rest and perhaps make it at a later stage as stand-alone short film. We both had other things going on by this time and I had forgotten about this film by December 2010, when I got a phone call from producer Geir Netland at Phantomfilm. He was interested in working with me, having seen my thesis film Løshunder and said he had read our script and liked our story. He proposed we rewrite the script for an even shorter format.

I contacted Jenny and asked her if she was interested in rewriting the 30 page story into a 15’ min. film (a challenge that would prove more complicated than it may sound). Jenny declined, as she was working full time on a feature film, but she gave me her blessing to go ahead and do a rewrite to get the film made.

Saga with her uncle Vidar played by Glenn André Kaada

It took me about four months to cut the story from 30 to 17 pages. I wrote about five drafts in this period. Phantomfilm wanted to try to do a back-to-back production with another short film and a shooting date was thus set in April of 2011. So while I began the rewrite in January, I also did location scouting and casting simultaneously, which was something I had never done before.

The casting process was very interesting, with over 220 girls between 9 and 11 years showing up for the open casting call. We saw them all, and went about choosing 50 among the 220, and then 5 “finalists” from those 50 girls. Finally, the role was landed by Frida Marki Helland, a girl with no previous acting experience, but with natural charm and audacity that the role required.

Frida Marki Helland as Saga

Shooting commenced in the beginning of April, with one extra day scheduled for May (since some scenes required a summer-type atmosphere with better weather, which would be shot on 16 mm film). We edited the film through June and were done with the sound mix and colorgrading by July of 2011. The film ended up being approximately 25’ min. Not an ideal length for short film festivals but then again, my last film had been 38’ min. and gotten into many festivals so a story needs whatever time it needs to be told, I thought.

So why the delay between completion and release? Because in the subsequent test screenings we did, there were a few comments we took to heart, and we felt by doing the changes suggested (or, at least trying them out in editing) we would have a much better film on our hands. The budget for the film was by now depleted however, so we had to seek out some additional financing first.

Saga discovers something in the water.. 

Time passed and as November drew close and we were still seeking financing, we revisited the film and saw several things that could’ve been done differently, in addition to the things we had already decided to change. I must admit I was a bit reluctant at this point to go back to the project. I just wanted to get the film out there and show it to the world!

However, in December of 2011, I changed my mind. It happened as I was invited to be in the jury for the short film festival in Sandnes (KORT) and spent three days devouring all kinds of short films. What struck me with most of the films was one common problem. They were too long. They were short stories trying to be something more. It happens to most short film directors I guess, since most of us want to make features, so maybe we try to squeeze in this or that because we love the stories we tell so much. Problem is, as an audience member, you don’t neccessarily feel the same way. If there is one thing that’s important in filmmaking, it’s to respect your audience. Keep them entertained and guessing or, at least interested in what you’re showing them. Less is more.

Line Husa as Sagas mother

So when we finally secured additional financing this year, we reopened the project in order to create a shorter (and thus better) film. That’s why this project has taken so much time to be completed and that’s what I’ve been working on this month: pulling out some scenes and adding a few shots. Of course, it’s not as simple as that. When you start meddling with a locked cut in this manner, you also have to do a new sound mix, additional color grading and effects work..

Triple T. Things take time .

But we’re (almost) there. The film is now trimmed down from 25 min. to 20 min. Some additional color grading and VFX work remain, but we’re well underway to have a premiere in the cinema in Stavanger very soon. Then hopefully the film will start doing the festival rounds so people all around the world can enjoy it.

This became a longer blog post than I intended, but to sum up: I’ve learned a lot from making this film and can’t wait to share this film with you and I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I have creating it.

While I’m at it, I’d like to say a big thank you to all those involved in making the film, both in front of and behind the camera, and also to everyone who offered moral, emotional and financial support. You all know who you are and you know this wouldn’t have been possible without you!

 


Prologue – So you think you can blog?

 

I decided to create a blog.

Why, some may ask, when the world is already full of them? I can think of a few reasons and my first blog post will be about why I’ve started blogging.

First off, I’m writing this blog primarily to keep people updated about what I’m working on at the moment. It dawned on me when I attended the 10-year reunion for our secondary high school last weekend that a lot of people had kept themselves updated via facebook on what everyone else was doing. Facebook, however, doesn’t allow you to go in depth in most cases.

Most people at our reunion knew what I was doing, but very few knew what I had done (i.e. seen any of my work or knew much about the filmmaking process).
So my hope is with this blog to write more in depth posts about my work and the process of creating audiovisual stories. When I get around to it, I also hope to include some of my finished work in my blog posts.

Second, this blog is a tool that will allow me to document the process while I’m writing, shooting or editing films. I believe the best way to grow as a filmmaker is to learn by doing, and concequently from the mistakes one makes in the process. It’s easy to forget one’s mistakes once the film is released and starts travelling, and you’re already on your way to new projects. So it’d be nice to have an archive of notes, thoughts and comments to go back to, in order to learn.

Last but not least, I want to blog about other people’s work as well, be it books, screenplays or films. As I’m writing this, I’m reading a great script and it’d be great to have a place to share and discuss such things.

It’s my hope that this blog can help other filmmakers get ideas and inspiration, and I hope to get the same in return from you, the people reading this.

So there you have it.

Now let’s get to it, shall we?