The “job” of being kidnapped?
Yes, that is a job. You have to fulfil your role as a guy who calls home and says “They want this much” and take care of each other and try to survive. And as a CEO, this guy is educated to make money and bring big boxes around the world on ships and suddenly he is in a negotiation about life and death -- he is not educated for that. His job is the same, but so different and that was the focus point of writing that story.
I read that you had considered setting the whole film only on the ship, without the CEO character featuring. Why did you change your mind?
There was no engine in that story -- there is no "will power" to the hostages, they could just sit there and wait. It would have needed some sort of escape story, something that would have been a lie. So we needed someone who could actually drive the story, and that started the negotiation room idea.
Søren Malling’s CEO character is himself a fascinating one.
My mother -- she’s a good old classic Northern European socialist, she’s totally wonderful -- but she raised me up believing that rich people have stolen their money from poor people. I realised that that wasn’t the full picture, but there is a cliché in storytelling that rich people are slightly more corrupt, and evil than poor people. It’s a romantic idea. And I just like to actually feel sympathy for the rich guy. So I tried to tell that story.
Was there a moment where the story fell into place? [SPOILER ALERT]
I didn’t know how to make the story, but then I wrote the scene where [the kidnapped ship’s cook] is calling his wife and they put a gun to his head. And you see the wife go to the CEO and you see the CEO losing the grip on the negotiation and hearing a gunshot, thinking he has killed him, and going back to the wife and saying “everything’s fine.” Then I knew I had a film, because I believe that’s the closest to a perfect middle point I’ve ever written. Everything changes from there. [SPOILER ENDS]
Tell us about shooting on board a ship. It must have been a pretty intense experience.
Yes. We had armed guards with us. We hired some soldiers in Kenya to protect us because we had to sail out from Mombasa and we couldn’t film if the engine was on, and so we just had to drift. And we drifted toward Somalia, just in the area where we could get attacked. But quite fast I started to think, “That’s not gonna happen.”
Then one day I was having a cup of coffee and two of the guards were standing there and they discussed how they would load their weapons and one of them said, “I always put a full metal jacket on top because it can go through steel and glass and under that I have hollowpoints because the Somalis are so small that if you shoot them with a full metal jacket it will just go right through them and they will keep on attacking you. So you need some hollowpoints that will explode their insides.”
And I was there with my coffee [shows his trembling hands] thinking, “Fuck, maybe I just should have done this in a studio.”
And how did you get that level of desperation from the actors?
It was a crazy time -- Pilou [Asbæk, who plays the ship's cook] gained 20 kilos for the film and lost it all during the shooting, because he didn’t eat and so of course he became desperate. And I would lock them into a cabin, 2, 3 hours before we started to shoot and then at half-time we’d be like, just stay in here another hour to get sweaty. Then we would open the door and put in like 500 flies and close the door again, and say we're not actually going to start for another 2 hours. So the feeling of wanting to get out of there, they didn’t need to act. It was already in the room, so they could spend their energy doing other stuff.
We tried to challenge [ourselves] yes, and I remember when we finished shooting, I had a hard time coming back home. It had been so intense, to come back and just relax and have a cigarette...I felt alienated. It took a while for us to get back home. But one of the reasons that we did it of course was the adventure. I mean, I live in Northern Europe. We have social security and I make more money than I ever thought I would (my mother probably thinks I’m one of the bad guys now,) and I’m living a very privileged life. And I think it’s good to give myself a little kick in the guts and see the world a bit.
As a writer, how did you develop the film’s visual style?
My DP has done a lot of documentary and I always find documentary films more interesting than fiction, because reality has this logic that just works…and he had the same idea. So of course it’s hand-held, it’s a very improvised camera you could say, but we made one rule, that helped us a lot, which was: “The camera cannot leave the man but the man can leave the camera.” Which means that if somebody would get up and leave the room, then the camera is just for two seconds a bit confused, what’s going on? What’s just happened? And that gives that idea that the plot does not exist…we don’t know what is going to happen next.
Then of course, I’m propped on the shoulders of the whole Dogme movement, as well as the Dardennes brothers, Cassavetes, guys like that -- that tradition of filmmaking.
So that’s now become your aesthetic?
So far yeah, but then I saw “Moneyball.” And it’s not handheld, or well, maybe it is but you can’t tell, and it’s very realistic. I tried to understand how the fuck they did it, because it’s a small trick, by framing unusually. Like in the first scene where Brad Pitt is talking to a guy, but you don’t see the guy and it seems like well, we just placed the camera here and something happened. And it really attracted my attention, so I want to try to understand that even more and try to explore even more, how can we make realism that is not handheld? We don’t want to plan the shoot, we don’t want to make storyboards, we don’t want to make marks on the floor and say the actor has to go there and there -- they can do whatever the fuck they want -- but at the same time we need to get away from the immature handheld Dogme thing with the camera like this [imitates ‘shaky cam’] because…
Because it makes me seasick?
Well yes! And then you mistake it for someone actually feeling something about your film! I had the experience of rewriting a script for Søren Kragh-Jacobsen one of the Dogme brothers [the film is “I Lossens Time” again with Søren Malling, discussed here] and what I saw was a director that actually knows the craft of telling a story with a camera and an actor. He’s really, really smart and I realised that what I did was just to throw a camera in there and force some feelings out of it.
I imagine Hollywood’s been calling.
I got some offers but I look at it this way: I live a more privileged life than I could have wished for when I grew up, and I make movies with my friends. I mean, you need to put something very good in front of me for me to exchange that. I’m not desperately going over there, but the idea of getting those casting opportunities, of course is tempting. But I’ve seen too many European friends spending way too much time there and not getting anything done or not getting the film that they dreamt of and I don’t want to do that. I would rather stay here and make the films I want to make from Denmark and travel the world with them afterwards.