By Junsui Films | August 2012
The Director talks exclusively to Junsui Films about the recent Scandi revolution, channelling the Coen’s, and tells us all about his collaboration with acclaimed author Jo Nesbø for his latest film, JACKPOT…
Junsui Films: You teamed up with author Jo Nesbø for Jackpot; how did the collaboration come about?
Magnus Martens: My producer Martin Sundland had tried for ages to get the rights to one of Jo’s books, so in order to stop his endless calls, Jo gave him a story called 12, which he had written, but never released anywhere. Martin gave me a call, as he knew I was working on a crime-comedy at the time.
JF: Tell us a little bit about the writing process; were you ever apprehensive about adapting a [Jo] Nesbø narrative into a screenplay and what sort of creative input did he have on the script?
Jo gave me more or less total freedom. I knew that I needed to make this story my own in order to make the film. I changed a lot, but the premise was so strong that no matter what I would change, it would still feel very much like a Jo Nesbo story.
Jo was incredibly helpful throughout the whole process with his input, suggestions and ideas. He is so strong when it comes to comedy and especially plot twists and turns, so I was in an ideal position.
JF: How helpful was it having Jo’s [Nesbø] name attached to the project when seeking and securing financing for the film?
It was helpful, no doubt. But at the same time, I think the producers also knew that since this wasn’t out there, nor based on anything familiar we needed to sell the film on its own merits.
JF: Jackpot evokes a Coen Brothers-esque sensibility with its blend and balance of genre, violence and humour, while it’s complex narrative structure also draws comparisons to The Usual Suspects. How did you go about infusing such well referenced influences with your own unique style?
I love the Coens, and I do hope that the film shows just how much I appreciate them. I’m not afraid to say that certain scenes in Jackpot are true homages to some of their earlier works. As for The Usual Suspects, I knew that since Jackpot also has a retrospective narrative, the similarities would be there. So I just tried not to think about it and write whatever I felt was best for the film, and in turn what I feel is my natural style as a storyteller.
JF: At what stage did Kyrre Hellum and Henrik Mestad become part of the film, and were they always in your mind for the roles of Oscar and Detective Solor?
They were always on my mind, yes. I had worked with Henrik before and I knew that he was a master of downplayed, quirky comedy. He is a very serious actor and doesn’t tend to do much comedy. All the actors have a couple of things in common: none are famous for working in the genre, but they’re all exceptionally good at forging characters and have great timing. And comedy demands good timing. I tend to like films where the comedy doesn’t feel forced, but instead where the characters are taking everything seriously.
JF: Tell us a little bit about your choice of locations and the visual flair they added to the narrative. It’s certainly hard to imagine the film being set anywhere else.
Oh, that’s nice to hear. You know, I think this story basically could be set anywhere. The premise is quite universal. Living in Norway with our beautiful landscape, nice fjords and whatnot – it could be tempting to add that kind of Norwegian flavour to the film. But I wanted the opposite. I wanted the boring Norway, the grey, industrial Norway. The no-man’s land. The idea of setting the story close to the Swedish-border came later in the process, but it just felt right. Where we filmed, I like to think of it as Norway’s answer to New Jersey.
JF: Let’s talk about the shoot. What was your budget and schedule? And how challenging was it staging and capturing such contrasting scenes in such limited time?
Very few films in Norway have any budget to brag about. The budget for Jackpot was around 1.3M. Our shooting schedule was 26 days. So not a lot of money or time. Having worked a lot in television with even tighter budgets and schedules, I’m aware just how important it is to prepare really well. Cutting pages from the script before shooting is a very good tool.
The hardest part while shooting was definitely trying to find the dynamics between the comedy and thriller elements. It’s so easy to just keep the comedy going, because that’s so immediate, whereas the thriller elements demand a whole other kind of focus.
JF: Did you test-screen the film at all? And tell us about the first time you watched the movie with an audience.
Yes, we did test-screen the film. Mostly to see if the jokes and comedy worked. It was scary as hell. I remember not sleeping the night before. But as soon as the first laughter came at the exact moment I hoped for, I pretty much knew that we were onto something very good. The screenings went very well, but I was sweating like an old pig and couldn’t focus the next day.
JF: The Scandinavian industry is thriving at the moment, having worked in both film and TV, what would you attribute this recent success boom to?
There certainly is a focus on Scandinavian crime at the moment. And we do have a long and proud history of both TV-crime and crime in book-form. Obviously Stieg Larsson paved the way for other authors, and to a certain degree TV-crime. I think it’s so wonderful that UK audiences don’t seem to have any problems with a subtitled series such as The Bridge.
When it comes to film, we seem to be more open to making genre-films that we used to do, and we do have quite a few filmmakers that have grown up with American films, so they understand genre quite well. But since we have quite modest budgets, and need to fight a little more for attention, those filmmakers aren’t afraid of adding something new and fresh to the genre. Which is what I like to think we did with Jackpot.
JF: What can we expect next from Magnus Martens?
In Norway I’m working on a new crime-comedy with Henrik. I’m also developing more straight comedies. I’ve also started developing a few things in the US too, so hopefully something will happen there as well. In September my TV-series The Nightshift will premier in Norway. It’s very dark, absurd and sometimes a cruel comedy. I have no idea how it’ll be received, but I do like it myself… but then again, I’m pretty dark-natured.
Jackpot is out now.