Besides „Let the right one in“ and „Hour of the Wolf”, how many more or less straight-forward horror films from Sweden will you be able to name? None? Probably. The home country of Bergman and Strindberg is famous for a sinister view on the human condition and hence should be predestined for the genre of fear. Surprisingly though, the problem is not an artistic one but a question of politics. Knowing this, filmmaker Filip Tegstedt decided to stay away from the omnipresent SFI und fund his feature debut „Marianne“ all by himself. With us he spoke about the current state of independent cinema in his country, working with Peter Stormare, sleep paralysis and why „The King’s Speech“ is a fantasy film.
screen/read: A scary one-sheet that is a little reminiscent of Dario Argento, images that could hardly be described as light-hearted, nightmares, funerals and grinding teeth in the dark – all in all, „Marianne“ conveys the impression of being a pretty dark movie.
Filip Tegstedt: It is dark. It’s very dark. I mean, it’s funny too. There’s a lot of comic relief in places, but it’s kind of anti-Tim Burton, if you know what I mean. Tim Burton makes movies that look very dark and feel very light. „Marianne“ looks very light but is really pitch black.
screen/read: That is the feeling the teasers convey. Both of them, as by the time we’re speaking you just put a second teaser out there. How is the response so far? How do people react?
Filip Tegstedt: That’s actually kind of interesting. I’m new at trailer cutting. These are the only ones I’ve ever made. With the first one, the response from people who didn’t know anything about what they were looking at was overall positive. But the highlights curve on the YouTube statistics showed that after about 30 seconds a lot of people tuned out. Right at the closeup of Marianne’s face in the car. With the second teaser, if you look at the statistics on the Viso Trailers YouTube channel, you see there’s a lot of negative reactions and thumbs down, but when you look at the statistics curve it hits the roof immediately and stays there. Almost everyone who sees it sits through the whole thing. And we’ve been getting views much faster on that one, like almost twice as fast I think.
screen/read: That’s an interesting observation. I personally prefered the first teaser, but I guess the interest rate for the second has a lot to do with the growing amount of press coverage online that has been going on in between. Which is remarkable as you probably haven’t done any further advertising or anything apart from actually being in the social networks, right?
Filip Tegstedt: Yeah it’s all social networks and bloggers / film sites picking it up, and news papers of course. Actually we’ve had a lot of press from the get go, starting when I released the pilot for the film online a year ago.
screen/read: It’s a good example for how independent filmmaking moves forward nowadays. How do you plan to proceed once the film is finished? Festivals, online releases, VOD, Netflix? What will it be?
Filip Tegstedt: I hope to get into some great festivals. VOD is still very underdeveloped here in Sweden. The thing about independent filmmaking is, it’s very easy to make a very good looking film nowadays for very little money. So production isn’t really the problem. If you focus your attention on the screenplay, get great actors and make the type of film you’re actually able to make with the resources at your disposal, you can do some really interesting things on a low budget. Marketing is becoming easier. We’ve been successful so far, and I’m hoping to get more attention in the mainstream press so we can reach a bigger audience, because the bulk of the filmgoers don’t read film sites. But yeah, marketing is becoming a lot easier to do on a low budget as well with social media. The problem for independent filmmakers in 2011 is distribution. We’re not quite there yet where distribution is in the hands of the filmmakers, so we’re dependent on old systems that aren’t as effective. There’s also a lot of prejudice among distributors when it comes to low budget independent filmmaking, at least in Sweden, because a lot of it is really bad. And I understand them. I’m sceptical too. But like I say, if you focus your energy on telling a story and have great actors you can do some really good things. – Anyway, you asked what I’m hoping to distribute on. I think festivals, Blu-ray, television, and VOD are probably the most realistic platforms. I’d love to show the film in theaters as well, but that system really requires a huge marketing machine that would mean I might not get the money back for making the film.
screen/read: You already put all your own money into the production if I got it right. It’s a major decision to to something like that and clearly shows how important this story must have been for you. What was the initial motivation to go all the way and put everything into this film, which is above all also your debut?
Filip Tegstedt: Here’s the thing: In Sweden, we don’t have a studio system. All films are pretty much funded by the Swedish Film Institute, which gets its money from the government and has a deal with them on what types of films they can finance and what filmmakers. This is a system that was set up in the early 60s because there was a big attitude back then about what was considered „high quality“ and „low quality“ cinema. Because of the film institute, that attitude never went away. So even to this day, genre films like horror are frowned upon – not because of the quality of the actual films, but because they belong to a specific genre that is not „as good“ as other genres.
There are three ways of qualifying to apply for financing by the Swedish Film Institute: 1) You’re an established writer or director, and by that they mean someone who’s been funded by them before as opposed to someone who has made several films. 2) You’re an established production company, and there are only like a handfull of those. 3) You’re an independent producer. To qualify as an „independent“ producer, you have to have minimum three years of documented experience producing feature films in your company, before you’re even allowed to apply for financing. Most companies that get funded as „independent“ are well established major production companies. The Swedish Film Institute funds 14 feature films every year, and no more. Only a very few are what they call independent.
Another thing you have to have in order to even apply for any kind of funding is a distribution deal. The reality of the situation is that if you’re a filmmaker, and you’ve never made a feature film, and you take your idea to a production company, they want to put an established writer and director on the project so they can get a distribution deal and SFI funding. And you still haven’t made your debut. And if you do what I do, you can’t get a distribution deal, because distributors don’t make deals with low budget independent newcomers before they see a finished product.
screen/read: That’s pretty much a nightmare for aspiring filmmakers.
Filip Tegstedt: It’s not a nightmare, it’s Kafka. They have made a catch-22 to make it impossible for filmmakers to get into the business. I’ve had a lot of friends who have sat with their first feature for 5 to 10 years in development. After a while you reach your 30s, your girlfriend wants to have kids and you give up. Or you burn out. I’ve seen it happen to a lot of people. We’ve had this system for half a century and it really shouldn’t be like people being sort of „allowed“ or not to work with film. If that’s what they want to do, and that’s what they’re educated for, then that’s what they should do. There are no „good“ or „bad“ genres. There are just different types of films that appeal to different people and create different emotional reactions. Fear or laughter, it’s all the same.
But to answer your question, „Marianne“ takes place in the town up north where I grew up. That was a huge part of the idea for me. This area is very special. There’s a special feel to it and a special look. I took it to producers down south and they talked about letting their friends write and direct it and they wanted to shoot it down there and pretend it’s up north. That’s fine with other films, but „Marianne“ needed to be shot on location because the places where the characters live and move about are real. It takes place in a certain suburb in a certain town and you can go there and visit this place. It’s all real. That’s why I decided to fund the film myself.
screen/read: A very tough decision. But with that background in various ways the only real option you had it seems. Do you see any other filmmakers in Sweden who tried a comparable approach in funding and staying away from the SFI in order to get their debut done the way they wanted it?
Filip Tegstedt: I know a whole bunch, yes. Now with technology becoming cheaper and if we could just solve the low budget distribution bit, there might be a whole new wave of Swedish filmmakers and Swedish films that actually are interesting to young people. We have some very talented established filmmakers in Sweden that make great dramas and relation comedies and there are a lot of popular crime dramas, but none of those appeal to young people. We just don’t get genre films like action, sci-fi, horror etc.
screen/read: Would you say modern technology and media can cause a serious cultural revolution in your country (and others as well)? Or even: Is that the only way to change the system of funding and distribution under the current circumstances you described?
Filip Tegstedt: I think that’s one way. Right now it would be good for every independent filmmaker in Sweden to contact Lennart Foss, whom the government recently appointed to oversee their deal with SFI about how films should be funded. The deal is renewed every few years, and I think if people just contacted him and told him their stories about what they have to go through in order to work in this business, he might be able to help. I talked to him and he’s a really nice guy. He told me he’d be interested in listening to what filmmakers have to say.
screen/read: With all of that in mind, do you think it will be easier to sell and distribute „Marianne“ abroad and not in your homecountry first? Would that be a serious option?
Filip Tegstedt: Oh absolutely. It’s much easier to get distribution abroad than in Sweden.
screen/read: Now with Peter Stormare you are in the lucky position to have a cast member with an international reputation. How did that come about? And do you think it will help to promote the film and get a distribution deal easier?
Filip Tegstedt: It absolutely helps in every way. Plus, it was fun to work with an actor who’s done films with Terry Gilliam, Ingmar Bergman, the Coen Brothers, Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay, Lars von Trier etc. etc. etc. Peter’s a really cool guy too. He does these sort of things, he likes to support independent film, which is like I said before, something not even the film institute wants to do. The way I got him was a combination of luck and the fact that we were so small, because that made it possible for us to adapt to his schedule. I knew he was filming a film called „Jägarna 2“ further up north, which is a sequel to one of the most successful and best Swedish crime thrillers ever. So I contacted his agent and explained that we’re a small production and we can do it whenever he’s passing on the way up if he’s interested. Luckily, Peter’s interested in Swedish folklore as well, and he’s a northlander. He also played the lead role in another film that was shot in this region a few years ago called „Varg (Wolf)“. And that’s how it came about.
screen/read: So actually an easy deal so to speak, and very effective at the same time.
Filip Tegstedt: Yeah. Well, I didn’t even know if we had him or not until a few weeks before the shoot was over. I had scheduled the last day for his scenes and if we hadn’t heard from him I would have gotten another actor for the part. I also re-wrote the scenes for him, obviously. And there was a lot of improvisation when we shot it. We’ve got a whole bunch of really funny takes of Peter and Thomas Hedengran just adlibbing. Some of it is just hilarious and really needs to get out there.
screen/read: How about the other actors? Thomas Hedengran was in the original „Jägarna“ and is well-known in Sweden. Did you write with him in mind?
Filip Tegstedt: Thomas had parts in both „Jägarna“ and „Hamilton“ starring again Peter Stormare as an action hero and Mark Hamill as a great main villain. He’s also done a lot of other big movies in Sweden like the vampire film „Frostbiten (Frostbitten)“ and the original version of „The Invisible“ before it was made into a Hollywood remake by David S. Goyer. My script consultant knew Thomas and suggested him to me for the part. Thomas was doing a stage play that summer on the other side of the country but we worked the schedule around it, and so we shot all interiors in May and all the exteriors in July. He couldn’t shoot anything in June because of rehersals, and in July he was performing thursday to sunday in Falkenberg, which is way down south like 900 km or something. So he was working hard that summer, shooting the film monday, tuesday, wednesday, and doing the stage play thursday, friday, saturday, sunday.
screen/read: That’s quite some commitment for a well-established actor to be put into an independent debut film. He must obviously have liked it a lot.
Filip Tegstedt: Thomas loved it immediately. I think he also liked the part and the journey that Krister, the main character, was going through. Krister is also kind of an asshole so I guess that’s kind of fun to play probably. Actually that was one of the things that was important to me about the character because you have to see where Sandra, his 18 year old daughter, is coming from. She really hates his guts, and it’s important we understand why. She had a much bigger role in the beginning but I changed it to focus on Krister because he’s the one experiencing the nightmares.
screen/read: Let’s talk a little about the story for those who haven’t heard anything about the film. Can you describe it in a few sentences?
Filip Tegstedt: I’d pretty much describe it as a psychological horror drama about a broken family. Krister is trying to reclaim his family because after having been absent when his daughter grew up he suddenly notices what that has done to her and how unhappy he is. So he gets back with her mother Eva (played by Tintin Anderzon) and they end up having another kid. Then, on their first night away from the new baby, Eva dies in a car crash and that’s where the movie starts. The story follows Krister in the wake of what happened, his mental and physical illness, and how he gets haunted by nightmares and the Mare, a creature of the night.
screen/read: It’s sort of based on a popular folk myth in Sweden. What’s that about?
Filip Tegstedt: Sort of, yeah. The Mare, or „Maran“ as we say in Sweden, is related to the succubus, a female christian demon, because that story comes from the same physiological phenomenon. There’s a thing called sleep paralysis, which is something that happens to everyone. When you fall asleep, your body shuts off so you won’t live out your dreams when you sleep. Sometimes, you wake up before your body does, and that happens to a lot of people. Like 60% at least experience this during their lifetime. It often comes with hallucinations, like you’re half dreaming and you feel like someone is in the room with you, watching you. It’s really scary, one of the scariest things that can happen to you I think. It’s like when you get so scared you can’t move only it’s the other way around – you can’t move so you get scared. A lot of people feel a crushing weight on their chest too, like it’s hard to breathe. This is where the Mare comes from. People used to think that the Mare was a woman who was cursed, and her body would transport without her knowing it and she would sit on the chest of men and give them awful nightmares. Hence the word „night-mare“ or in swedish „mar-dröm“ (mare-dream).
screen/read: „Nachtmahr“ in old German.
Filip Tegstedt: That’s where it comes from and that’s why the film is called „Marianne“.
screen/read: I totally agree on the scariness of the phenomenon. There is this famous painting by Johann Füssli that I think Ken Russell sort of re-imagined in „Gothic“.
Filip Tegstedt: Yeah, a scary movie, I can see the inspiration from the painting, I never made the connection before though. It’s pretty cool.
screen/read: You called the film a psychological horror drama, so no classic horror, no classic drama. But still it does have a ghostly monster creature, which is a genre defining element. What was the idea behind that?
Filip Tegstedt: It’s not really a classic anything. I think post modern is a better description. The Mare is the monster in the film, yes. I would guess she’s based on the creatures of three films combined. There’s an icelandic TV movie from 1985 that’s not even on the IMDb called „Draugasaga“, then there’s Hideo Nakata’s „Dark Water“ and Murnau’s „Nosferatu“, they all influenced the creature concept of the Mare. About the genre, well, I say it is horror. The only thing that shifts the borders and wouldn’t make it horror is the atmosphere. Because in that respect it is more of a drama with some mystical elements to it. Something between „Donnie Darko“ and „American Beauty“, but more in a sense of Swedish independent kitchensink realism.
The scary parts have a typical horror atmosphere, but all in all, the film borrows a lot more from „An American Werewolf in London“ than from „The Grudge“. You know how the John Landis film feels more like a drama/comedy with horror elements? There’s no horror atmosphere or horror music in that, but there’s some uplifting humor and a touching drama and it’s about a guy who doesn’t know if what’s happening to him is real or if he’s going crazy. „Marianne“ is kind of like that. But the structure and everything is still very much horror. It’s got all the ingredients that a horror film has. So it’s a post modern spin on the genre, a little like „Let the right one in“, although more like the book than the film.
screen/read: And it’s got the scariest sound effect ever. The grinding teeth are really memorable and even if someone would find nothing else interesting about the trailer (which is hard to imagine), this would stay with them and keep them reminded. I think it’s a very key element in marketing the film.
Filip Tegstedt: Everyone who lives with someone who grinds their teeth knows that sound, and everyone who does that and wakes up while in sleep paralysis after having seen the film will have a great time.
screen/read: Is the broad range of fantasy in the more horrifying sense the central genre type that you see yourself going for as a filmmaker in the future?
Filip Tegstedt: You know, I always say there are only two genres in film: documentary and fantasy. Anything that isn’t a documentary is fantasy. If it’s „Star Wars“ or „The Neverending Story“ or „Frozen River“ or „The King’s Speech“, it’s always fantasy. Because as soon as you start creating the world, you have to at one time or another make the decision of what laws of nature will apply. If it takes place in a world where people can fly, that’s a decision. If it takes place in a world that’s just like our own, then that’s a decision too. So it’s all fantasy. As a filmmaker I like to be able to bend the rules of our world when I create, because that frees up a lot of possibilities. „Marianne“ is kind of exploring the territory where fiction fantasy meet the cold hard reality we face every day. But if you look close enough, there’s no fine line between what’s real and what’s imaginary in general. It’s actually a very fuzzy border. Talk to someone coming down from hard drug abuse and let him describe the world he lives in. It’s not like our world. And so genre is just a form.
screen/read: Filip, thanks for taking the time and good luck with getting „Marianne“ out there.
Recommended LINKS for further reading:
[Images provided by Filip Tegstedt]