Hi Film Folk!
We talk to the film’s Director – Joachim Trier!
How did you end up making films?
I’m the kind of filmmaker that grew up with cameras around me. That may be usual now but it wasn’t for my generation. I came from a filmmaking family. I was on film sets from when I was born. My grandfather, my Dad, my Mum – everyone was making movies in different ways.
I did Super 8 films and shot on video before I could write, which is now not unusual but for my generation it was unusual. Cameras were an organic part of growing up. I filmed everything. I did skateboard videos when I was Norwegian champion skateboarder in my teens.
I was really into that lifestyle – filming, travelling – and suddenly I realised I can live off this shit and I want to do it and there’s nothing else that I know how to do.
It’s important to emphasise, though, that I come from the cinema seat. I really, really love watching movies. I don’t understand filmmakers who are saying “I watched movies when I was young but now I’m too busy because I’m making them”. I feel invigorated all the time watching them. I was watching Suspiria two days ago and I watched Don’t Look Now last week for the 12th or 15th time. I discovered Tangerine which I thought was a masterpiece, shot on an iPhone. I keep watching stuff, new and old.
That’s me as a filmmaker. I want to explore the form. Music matters to me. I grew up on hip-hop and punk and I thought this form of breaking things down and putting them back together differently creates an interesting emotion.
That’s what I’m into in movies; playing around and experimenting. Not in that avant garde way like ‘Oh, this is too difficult for you to watch’. I want to include people in a discussion.
So how did you go about working on Louder Than Bombs in terms of it being an English language production? Was that something you were pushing to do yourself or were pulled into?
First other people pulled because after ‘Reprise’ got picked up by MiraMax and was rather a cult hit in America a lot of people were offering me scripts and I was flown out and met executives. People were very generous but I couldn’t quite find a project because, it turns out, I’m a very personal filmmaker. I come up with my own stuff. I learned a lot through that process. Realising I have a drawer full of ideas that I want to do.
Then we started writing and I ended up writing the most difficult type of movie you can ever do at this time which is like a family drama, on top of that a slightly experimental one and, on top of that, grief even. Jesus!
Most of those films made these days are more soapy. They’re melodramatic. They’re more soft, filtered Terms of Endearment things (Terms of Endearment is rather interesting but I find a lot of copies of that I’m not so keen on). We wanted to do something that had nuance and a closer to the skin reality to it. So that was us writing.
Was this story personal to you or something that you were passionate about more from an observer’s perspective (i.e. news clippings)?
It could be different things for different projects but for this particular film it came very much from Eskil Vogt, my co-writer, and myself.
We sat in a room and came up with stuff that we somehow, more or less consciously must have cared about. Ideas came up. Both formal ideas, characters and elements of family life.
So when you head into shooting, are you a heavy storyboarder or do you just get a sense of location and see what you think?
We spent time on location. I had a lot of pre-production time with my cinematographer – who I met in London at the National Film School. He’s a Swedish guy called Jakob Ihre. We spent time in pre-production just finding locations.
Location is everything. Then you know what you want. Of course we have ideas before that, of images or angles, but ultimately you need to find it there.
It’s a lot about light actually. ‘What’s the light situation? Where are the windows? How can we make this into the kind of space that we need it to be?’
How much time did you have to prep?
Much less time than we wanted. Louder Than Bombs we had about 2 months or 6 weeks. It’s a huge film. It was a 38 day shoot (US days with 12 hour shooting days). There was a lot of stuff to cover.
We shot in all boroughs. We shot Manhattan, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx. We were up at Colombia, Harlem. Tons of upstate. Long Island. Palisades. Everything! I think location, along with the actors, is the flavour of the film.
Did you get any rehearsal time?
I did. Good question. We did actually yeah. The actors were very generous and gave me rehearsal time. It was great.
I don’t do all the scenes, I don’t do big read throughs of the whole script. I do chosen moments. Sometimes moments that are not in the script but are a character beat we wrote that didn’t make it into the final script so we can explore dynamics between them. In this case it was important that all the family relationships had time to be worked on, to be believable and truthful.
It was good for the actors and you also come up with a way of communicating. They get to know me so that on the day they know how to talk with me and so that they feel safe with me and know that I really dig them.
I never choose an actor unless I’m professionally infatuated with them. You need dig them so you can support them through the process. Don’t collaborate with people that you don’t have a faith in because then you’ll start micro-managing and be distrustful and that’s the road to hell in a movie. You need to trust the people you work with when the pressure’s on.
You don’t need to agree. Disagreement is healthy but there has to be a trust there.
What did you shoot on?
35mm. I’ve always shot 35mm and am still doing it. We were doing parallels with Woody Allen and Steven Spielberg in the same lab in New York. When the three of us left, little me with those two masters, they closed down. We were the last people out.
It’s getting tougher but Kodak still makes film stock and I’m very happy that the American studios are still supporting it. Christopher Nolan does a great job of promoting it.
My next one – we’re shooting this fall – I think we’re going to shoot 35mm too. I’ve seen marvellous work on digital too, film is just right for the projects that we’ve done. This is a film that has a little homage to late 70s and early 80s Woody Allen or Ordinary People or Kramer vs. Kramer. That kind of Autumn leave celluloid feeling. The skin tones. There are a lot of close ups.
One of the real arguments for shooting on film is not just about the space and the light but about the skin tones. I like getting a real rich look at faces and I really care about close ups.
What advice would you give to a filmmaker who also wants to make a distributed feature?
If a filmmaker says they want to make films then I say don’t, but if they say ‘I need to make films’ then I say OK let’s talk [laughs]. There are a lot of people who talk about it as if it’s a funny pastime. Hang out with filmmakers and realise how messy it can get and how much you need to be willing to sacrifice in terms of your time and private life sometimes.
I hate being the rugged marcher of filmmakers: ‘Oh it’s so tough and you need to be tough.’ It’s not about being tough, you need to be willing to be vulnerable – the opposite of tough – and emotional and sustain that throughout your work so you don’t become a technical machine that gets employed to put the camera in the obvious places. It’s about really staying sensitive to what you need to tell. That’s the challenge.
It’s the same with actors. Some actors go into kind of a technical mode when they do their thing and they get popular and they’re not really there. There’s no sense of presence or vulnerability. Whereas the great actors are always at risk in their roles.
It’s healthy for directors to fall on their ass once in a while. It means they’re taking risks. They’re not doing the safe or proper thing.