How many years in the film business?
What is your current location?
With Swedish Director Hugo Stenson at Caviar Productions. A love story commercial for the dating site Zoosk. Hugo is amazing to work with and always knows what he wants. Great fun.
Best film production related memory?
Like everything else in life it would be fairer to list 10 of those since it all depends in what context you mean. I don’t like to rank stories but ok… here is a good one. A long time ago Thomas Skoging (Acne) directed a Dodge commercial that required a very complicated 35Ft vertical motion-control camera move. The US producer suggested to use UK based Grip David Cadwallader . Everybody who knows “2001: A space Odyssey” might also know that David Cadwallader was one of the main Grips on the movie back in the late 60s. I did not know this until I hired him again 7 years later on a job in London With Amir Chamdin when we did a 3 camera H&M shoot. David showed us pictures from the 2001 shoot with him and Kubrick and told us some really really interesting things that I off course cannot tell here. He told us how they created the “HAL’S EYE” lens. This is when one feels that the gust of the winds from the past are always present. I love that stuff.
One of the latest is when I got a phone call about a job in Diego Garcia, a tiny horseshoe Atoll in the BRIT (British Indian Territory). Off course I asked production to bring my Swedish crew to be able to accommodate all the crazy stuff: Nisse Wallin (Gaffer), Emil Hall (Grip) and Kricke Norman (Focus Puller/Cameraman). They said yes and a few weeks later we were at this paradise Island, standing next to an old Catalina wreck, surrounded with coconut crabs (claw pressure of 1000 kg), crystal clear blue water and Emil climbing 30ft up a palm tree to fix a 150ft cable for the camera. To top that they flew us in a C17 plane back to civilisation. That was one of a kind job.
Worst film production related memory?
When the client/agency told me to kick out the director from the camera car while shooting car to car material. Off course I told them I never ever ever would do such a thing. For me the director is the only reason I am there and it’s my job to execute the directors vision for all its worth. This was a horrible event and I am sure that everybody that was involved agrees that this was a low point in their career. It certainly was for me.
What do you miss from the past?
Sentimentality is relative I think. It was always long sunny summer vacations, wasn’t it??!! The times when we went to the Fuji Films office at Ynglingagagtan (Stockholm) in 1990 and bought 7 rolls of 122 m 16mm film T 125 ASA (still my all time favorite film stock) that were going to last an entire winter for our ski movies, that was something special. For you who don’t know how much screen time that is , it is 7 x 11 minutes. 77minutes of material to cut into a 15 minute ski movies. It’s not allot when one compares it to today when no one is cutting the camera….Or when one was sitting on the telecine at Fritjof film to video in Råsunda after a 48 hours shoot to watch your music video being exposed . That is kind of sentimental.
What do you wish of the future?
That the Alexa people build a smaller camera as well as all the others. The Alexa is ridiculously long and cumbersome. Why did they not keep the wonderful small shape of the 435 that actually fit right up against the windscreen of a car and you could film the passenger in the front seat.!!! When I started to hear about Digital I thought the cameras would get smaller and lighter. We always climbed mountains shooting with i.e. ActionMaster 500s or big BLs during our ski/snowboard movie productions. Of course we were tired but there was actually no other option so why bother at the time.
The Red has some interesting back plate now that makes is very nice and tiny though, but the Alexa friends need to look at something smaller. The Amira is still too long. I love the evolution with i.e GoPro 4/Blackmagic etc which allow us to show the big manufacturers that there are sometimes alternatives as well as SLR.
The item you never leave at home when you go to work?
Light meter & and walkie-talkie headset. Like sets that are quiet so the director can talk to their actors without shouting.The crew tease me for using a light meter, even on digital formats.
If you must choose, name the one most important thing for a good day on set?
What is your favourite format to work on?
Just like that?… well 35 mm and GoPro
Does anything scare you with your job? If so, what?
Responsibility for safety. It’s a bit unclear sometimes where the responsibility line is for the crew. This scares me. I have done stupid things but the crews safety always comes first.
Describe what you think is the difference between the film business in Sweden compared to other countries?
Feels like the responsibility is greater here in Sweden in all the departments during a film shoot. To me that is a big difference. People seem to speak up when stuff is not as it should be. Love the film business here in Sweden. It’s my preferred place to work. Great crew, Professional Production Managers and Producers and of course the super talented Directors.
How do you cope with the paradigm shift we experience right now?
Is it about Digital?….well it’s for the good. Its impossible to stand still and hang on to the past ! Think about it from a producers stand point – you shoot for 2 days on film that costs 1 million, than send it with a driver that has been up all day to a lab in Denmark and you will not know if it’s ok until 2 days later….scary and also with the extremely short turn around these days digital is most of the time the only option. The bigger aspect is that it gives access to everyone to be able to make any type of film or project. That is so cool, no one need to ask a film commissioner for funding to make a short film or music video anymore. So happy to see that this evolution basically made anyone into a filmmaker.
Your view on analog vs. digital?
I use the different Digital cameras as if they were different film stock. Otherwise I treat it as with film even if the digital seem to see a bit darker than the 35 mm neg. I like the grain free look of the RED when that is appropriate and I use the Alexa when we want more of grain for our product. If I would do a smaller dialog based film I would suggest to do it on 35 mm film. With rehearsals it will keep the amount of takes down low so in the end it will not be much more expensive than digital. And film does not need that much light. When we shoot Amir Chamdins ”CORNELIS” 2010 , I barely had any lights. That was Panavision Anamorphic and 35 mm film. Most of those scenes were shot in available light and with the right lenses you have a wonderful canvas. I hear sometimes that I use a lot of equipment but that is not really true. It depends on the story. But I keep working on that, to convince the PMs that I don’t use a lot of equipment. On my last Zoosk job with Hugo Stenson we shoot Digital and I had no lights. Only my own set of Old Cookes and that is it .
Tell us your story about how you ended up in the film industry as a DoP?
Do you really have time to read this???? It will take a few minutes but its probably quite a few of us out there that can relate to it. When I started, Film was a “closed circuit”. It was expensive to make anything, there was this kind of special thing and institution about it. Not like today (as in the question above) where anyone can buy more or less professional equipment and start to produce and shoot.
2 major factors made me a Cameraman: Through skiing as a snowboarder and telemarkskier and the fact that TV4s lawyers, around 1992 , managed to get around the law and air commercials on TV!
The Advertising creatives at the time were fearless as were their clients. Suddenly there was great demand for directors (and dp’s) that had a wide open tray of endless opportunities to explore fun and crazy storytelling. No boundaries . The Spirit around this time was fearless advertising creatives (Paradiset, Rififi) where anything was possible. The ideas and the content explored all the old TV commercials as well as film genres and mixed it to a new edgy formula to fit the market. Pioneer Companies like Traktor ploughed a trench for all of us and suddenly everyone wanted Swedish directors !! And in the aftermath we, the DP, flew alongside them. Remember NO director No DP.
My background started as a Skier/Snowboarder in sports movies that was showed in movie theatres called ”Film du Glisse” in France. I was soon doing 2nd unit camerawork since I could access the areas and film the other athletes. My friends and I started a production company and started to film ski movies for our common ski gear sponsors, it was a way to pay our bills. Of course during the editing part of the movie in late summer early fall I was still working as waiter at Restaurant Grodan or as a carpenter, but soon got fired in favour of more film work. We produced and shot the snowboard movie Scands featuring Terje Håkonssen, Ingmar Backman, Joahn Olofsson amongst others and it was one of the bigger successes we had. During this production I teamed up with my friend and Director Henrik Sundgren (Giant and Toys).
This work in the mountains naturally lead into Music videos. Here I could explore all sorts of mood, light colours, genres and develop my style which was necessary for the next great transition into the more demanding advertising world. Henrik Sundgren and I produced a bunch of videos where we constant where trying new things. So much fun. Music videos will always play an important role in my “research” for understanding the impact of this artform , the moving image. One day someone called me up and wanted me to shoot a musicvideo for Infinite Mass, one of my favourite bands , still are, and the track “Area Turns Red”. That is when I first met Amir Chamdin. This video was very much inspired by the movement in the US Rap scene at the time and had a very strong blue tone. All of a sudden Sonet Films calls me for a meeting regarding a feature film. I had barely seen a 35 mm camera before but somehow Director Peter Lindmark had the guts to hire me for his new featurefilm – 9mm. A great fun adventure for me to create something for the longer format. Thanks so much for that Peter.
I can only speak for myself but I believe that I owe a lot to those brave swedish advertising agencies and directors like Acne, Jesper Kouthoofd, Henka Sundgren, Johan Tappert, Amir Chamdin , Molly Hartleb, Björn Stein, Max Vitali, Jonas Åkerlund, Johan Renck, Andreas Nilsson, Fredrik Bond, Emil Möller, Peter Lindmark among many more. Without these people there would not be anything to write here.
These factors and the directors opened up possibilities outside Sweden.
What is the key to your world wide success?
What I just wrote above ,the phenomenal skill of the Swedish Directors and Swedish Advertising founded my platform: My ability to understand the essence of the story and create visual concepts for it. It’s not me it’s the teamwork through all these years with Directors , Set Designers, Colourists, Art department, Artists and my love for colours . I love colours and what they do to how we perceive an image. Movement also plays a big part in that for me. Because I did not know any better in the beginning of my career about composition, I probably hid the art effects in a drastic camera move with a stedicam, crane or whatever we could afford. I remember running around Strix Television at night training with a stedicam rig to learn how it worked, kind of lonely and sad…but it was that love for motion (from skiing and skateboarding ) that I think made me do it.
What is it like to work with big brands and world famous artists?
Artist are like us and they know what they want and if not we are there to create what they want. Sometimes there is some tension but that is most of the times created by their peers like agents. I spent 2 days in telecine with Bruno Mars that directed his own video with Dir Cameron Duddy, and Bruno told me that he cannot even go to a restaurant without being harassed by fans. So sad. Another cool thing is that you learn so much from these amazing talents. Robyn told me a very interesting thing during the shoot of ”call your girlfriend” . The video is a 4 min one take video and if I miss we basically have to stop and start again. I am used to memorising paths from my former Ski racing and I like those challenges but that does not keep me from being nervous. I remember it was take 4 and I said to Robyn that I was nervous, Robyn told me this:”it’s only you and I who can do this best in the whole world right now”. I thought that was spot on. She was right. That kind of mind set sets these artists in another league and that is why they are making a huge difference.
Is there something you miss from your early years in film making?
No, its always a progress forward.
Do you have any dream project you want to do?
It would be so much fun to do a featurefilm In Sweden – Soon – send scripts
What does the future look like, any new challenges big or small? Can you let us in on something the rest of the world does not yet know about?
Like many of my fellow Cinematographers , we are always working with stuff that have to be ready for a certain campaign, airtime, etc. where the timing of impact is super important. Therefore it’s not possible to say too much about things that are in production. Sorry. I want to express my deepest respect and regards to all the amazing crew members here in Sweden and all the Directors. Without them there would be no article! Eternal thanks to Jörgen Persson, my mentor at FSF.
I also would like to take the opportunity and make a tribute to the fantastic, talented and professional Swedish female DoP’s like Ragna Jorming (Julkalendern 2014) and Frida Wendel among all the other female cinematographers that are now killing it out there. I have crossed the path of these great professionals several times during the years and I think its very important to show the industry the power of these female colleagues that are playing a very important part of Swedish Cinematographer (R)evolution. I would personally love to hear their stories.
We are now in the end of 2014 and despite all discussions about equality, men still dominate the stories of the industry which is strange. It’s time to work even harder to change that image as well , cinematography is an art form that has no boundaries.
Get fearless again folks!