Interview with Bragi Thor Hinriksson, film director
To Cite this Interview
Magrin-Chagnolleau, I. (2021). Interview with Bragi Thor Hinriksson, Film Director. p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e.org, 6.
Ivan Magrin-Chagnolleau: Thank you for being here. My first question is, because you are usually not the writer of your films, I mean, this one and the previous one.
Bragi Thor Hinriksson: Yes. The one and previous one. Yes.
Ivan: Yes. I saw you wrote some of them. So, in that particular case where you’re not the writer, how do you decide to do the film? Like, how do you…?
Bragi: What is the deciding factor?
Ivan: Yes. Did you get in contact with the screenplay, first of all? And then, what made you decide that that was a film you wanted to make?
Bragi: Well, in this story, I got in contact with it because my wife wrote it.
Ivan: Oh, okay.
Bragi: But I was looking for projects. I mean, she wrote it and she asked me to read it. It was around 60 pages, she was thinking more towards a television special or something like that. And when I read it, I could really see a movie and I could see this was good levels.
Bragi: I could see the potential to be 85 minute length feature film. And I recognized that the topic was important. Because she already wrote a book and she’s an investigative reporter, she writes a lot of things and she shows me a lot of things. Yes. And I really thought the work was good. And we have our own production company. We produced it together.
Ivan: Oh, nice. In that case, it means that you have been like living with the story and the project for a while?
Bragi: Yes. For around three years or so.
Ivan: And even before you decide to shoot it yourself?
Bragi: Yes. Well, I think about a year after I read it and that we kind of started to discuss possibilities about it, we pitched it to an Icelandic network who put money into developing it, which allowed us to get a better screenplay written, explore all aspects and apply for the grant at the Iceland Film Center. And, right there, we knew that we could finance it locally. Totally. And we approached Studio Hamburg, pitched the idea to them and they said, “No, but let us see the film after”. Which we did. And they liked it enough that they purchased the world wide rights. And so, it’s our sales company, Studio Hamburg, now.
Ivan: And, do you remember, like, did you get ideas about the film even before you decided to direct it? Like, as you were reading it, the first time you read it?
Bragi: Yes. I always do.
Ivan: Yes. [Laughs]
Bragi: That’s what helps me decide that I want to make stuff, is when I read something, then I can immediately see images and see possibilities. And also, usually, I have somewhat different ideas usually than my colleagues, especially acting with children. I don’t agree with them. I think that it depends on the approach. And you should really do extensive auditioning and longer interviews than you would with normal actors. You can find out if somebody who might not have too much experience even, if he understands discipline, if he reads books, if he is a thinker, and immediately, if you can have a conversation with a child about things, then you can go to the next step of audition, which might be a camera setup.
Bragi: And maybe, what we did with Birta, when she came in auditioning, we had her do the scene with her mother when she comes home and says that she lost the money. I had to do it like seven, eight times with just not a man, you know, “Reading and yes sir”, but we had some lights in a little room, so it felt like cameras, it was kind of a spotlight situation for her. And I could just see that not only did she understand it, and she wanted it, which is like the best thing you can hope for.
Ivan: And do you remember the first ideas you had about the film when you read it?
Bragi: When I read it?
Ivan: Yes. The first images or the first…? You know, sometimes, I know when I read a story, I have usually one particular scene that I have in my head when I read it or something like that?
Bragi: Yes. What I first saw, which I related to is that I grew up in a apartment complex like this. We were always playing in the stairs, like five stories, lots of kids, always playing, and I just remember these moments where we were like in that conversation where we were like just playing about something and “No, no, no”, and the lights went out because they were on a timer. And you had to go like, “No, no, no, you had to do it”. And then, you go “Da, da, da, da, da, da…”, and it went on, on, on, and “No, no, no, no”.
Ivan: Yes, this scene is very funny.
Bragi: Like, on and on and on. You always have to take kind of…
Ivan: Yes. I have some memories like that as well.
Bragi: That was like the first spark that I saw. Yes. I wanted to kind of get to be a fly on a wall with these children and try to work with them in a situation that I could work with them, not write something for them, but have them be participating also in the dialogue. And also what I do, I have them sit around the table and we read the text and we immediately admit, “I’m a director, but I’m a grown up. You are kids, if there’s anything odd you feel in the text, mark it and we can discuss it later after the read”.
Ivan: Which you usually do with actors anyway, but it’s still important too.
Bragi: Yes. So, what’s the lingo? How would you say this? How would you say this and this? And would you pause? How would you say it? And, I think, this movie also is maybe… [inaudible]
Bragi: Yes. So, the last movie I did, which was my biggest film, it’s called “The Falcons”.
Ivan: Yes, “The Falcons”. It was there two years ago. Right?
Ivan: Yes. I saw it.
Bragi: That won the price.
Ivan: I remember, the soccer story?
Bragi: Yes. Where I was hired by one of the largest production companies in Iceland. So, I had producers breathing on my neck. I mean, can you imagine we shot that film, going to the Westman islands with all the kids coming back 34 days? I was watching a Danish film yesterday. Did you see that, “The World of Booster?”
Ivan: No, I haven’t seen that one.
Bragi: And it’s a very simple film. Two kids in a neighborhood, kind of like our film, it was shut 40 days. And I was like, “That’s just normal to them”.
Bragi: Also, what I wanted to do, I wanted to find a project that I could produce myself, because I am a creative producer also, I’ve done that before. We had some conflicts during my last film where there were definitely situations that could have been solved if I had been asked…
Ivan: Before? I mean?
Bragi: Yes. In the soccer movie, there were so many problems that could have been solved where there were like three producers who were, I don’t know, they were so busy being producers and telling me that they were the bosses that they didn’t listen to me, sometimes. So, I really wanted to make a movie that I could make those decisions.
Ivan: And do you feel like, because sometimes it’s good to have a sounding board, you know, someone who can reflect on what you are doing, because it forces you to like go further and kind of like be sure that this is really the way to go. But, in that case, you didn’t have anyone playing that role for you or did you?
Bragi: Well, I think there was a failure in understanding that having 18 children on your call sheet for 34 days, that’s like a curve that will go very up in energy, then it’s going to stop like this. And then, they realize it’s a chore and it’s going to go down like this, which it did. And, I was always addressing this. I mean, we had a game in rain, written for the rain. And I said, “Okay, there are 40 days until we shoot this. The rain has to be warm. We’re in Iceland, we’re going to do repetitious takes. The rain will have to be warm and there will have to be tents. There have to be hot drinks and then there have to be coats between takes”.
Ivan: And of course, none of that happened.
Bragi: You think so? And then, I got kind of the blame not making that day as scheduled for that day.
Bragi: So, that’s kind of what happened. And, the air went out of the balloon, and they were just like, “Why isn’t any air in the balloon?” It’s understandable.
Bragi: So, yes
Ivan: So, when you did Birta, you were your own producer?
Bragi: Yes. And then, I hired my own line producer.
Ivan: Okay. Did he have the role to also kind of like telling you, maybe you should do that or you shouldn’t do that?
Bragi: And he’s a producer and a line producer. He was strict. And I said, “You have to be strict. But, if I’m going over, and it’s important, I will tell you. And then, I will have some time and I know I can make it up in this scene and this scene. I can find better solutions”. Which we did. And we did that way, and it was beautiful.
Ivan: To get back to the creative process. When you shoot a film, when you are in the shooting phase, there is always a lot of compromises?
Bragi: Oh yes.
Ivan: And in particular, we are just addressing it, the schedule compromise where you often have to give up certain things to protect other things. How do you deal with that in relation to your vision of the film?
Bragi: By going to an extreme length of trying to make it not a compromise.
Ivan: No, I see what you mean.
Bragi: Yes. I put in the work. I mean, in this shoot, my line producer came in and said, “If we do what you are saying, we are losing this actor. We have to rehire him. This thing now is going to cost us X”. And, I could just tell him, “Fine”. Because, I’m the Executive producer. I knew what to do. I knew how to make it up. Immediately I knew that in three scenes that were going to take place in five days, I could make it up. This sort of situation that need a discussion, therefore I’m not putting anyone down, I’m not putting myself like I’m some emperor. I am a creative producer and I want to make the movie and I want to get the movie. And it’s interesting to me, having been a director under other producers, to find out that some of them are very creative and supportive and understanding in the field of film, and some of them are not, really. Some of them just love to have the title producer, but don’t know how to make a movie.
Ivan: [inaudible] [Laughs]
Bragi: Oh yes.
Ivan: But, there are some good ones. There are some good ones.
Bragi: Yes. It’s very interesting to see it on the field, in practice, when it happens, where the emperor is stripped of his clothes and everybody can see that it does not have any clothes on.
Ivan: So, you’ve made several feature films. Do you have a process to make them, or is it really new each time or do you rely on some phases that you like to rely on?
Bragi: My films, you mean?
Ivan: Yes. Like, in the whole process of making the film, do you have some activities that you like to do to prepare for instance, or during the shooting or during the postproduction? Or, is it like, each time it’s like…?
Bragi: It’s different each time.
Bragi: And, it always depends on the project. And also, I’ve been doing a lot of family films, I’ve been doing a lot of children’s films, but I’m interested in other genres as well. And, like for example, my next film that we are developing now is a thriller that I’m going to produce and direct.
Ivan: So, no more Schlingel?
Bragi: No. No more. Actually, no.
Ivan: Not this one, at least.
Bragi: Only an infant in one scene. But a thriller based on a novel that we purchased the rights for. So, that is interesting, because I also want to develop as a filmmaker. And it’s interesting that people love to label you. Like, “Oh, he makes children’s films”.
Bragi: I just love films.
Ivan: So, what can you tell me for this particular film, about the creative process you had to make this film…?
Bragi: To make Birta?
Ivan: Yes, in Birta. And in particular, like, were there any particular challenges creatively and also any particular, like…?
Bragi: You mean, apart from COVID?
Ivan: Yes. Did you shoot before, after…?
Bragi: It was shot in October, one year ago.
Bragi: And what happened is, if there’s not enough challenges, we rented the whole apartment. We rented the apartment and we had the whole apartment, all the people living in the stairway in that unit, we had them on board, so we could open their doors, shoot in three of the other apartments, we invited them to lunch. You always have to do it in such a way that it’s a collaboration and it’s something creative for everybody to do. I mean, certainly for all these people who live their lives, not to judge their life, but they are low middle class people who go to work every day. This was like a sunlight in their life, especially during COVID.
Bragi: And then, there was an extra lockdown. Like, I think it was announced 10 days before we start to shoot. So, not only was the whole crew confined in the building, very tight quarters, we also had the possibility of losing the collaboration between all the other inhabitants, because they were unsure about COVID. So yes, certainly challenges, but we made it through that. I mean, I will have to give my producer…
Ivan: A bit of credit?
Bragi: Valdimar is his name, he’s a great organizer.
Ivan: Logistics is definitely super important.
Bragi: Yes. I mean, he’s the best I worked with. And we are actually, in our thriller, going to work with him again. And that is unbelievable what he did. So, that’s an interesting, maybe, setup for a film, that I am the producer, I’m the director, but I hire a very good line producer who is very strict and he’s a very creative man and very understanding of the creative process, but has this skill of, not only was there an A plan and a B plan, there was a C and a D plan, always, always, always. You know these moments when you think like, “Oh shit, we’re losing this”. I mean, I’ll tell you, one thing that happened is we cast some of Birta’s friends who were going to come in the scene and ask her to go for a movie. And, one of them, I think what actually happened, it was supposed to be on this shooting day, we moved it to another shooting day. And, in the meantime, she got sick by COVID. And we just realized that if we had shot this on this day, she had been in it and the whole movie would’ve been shut down. This sort of things.
Ivan: Yes. So, any creative ideas you are particularly proud about for this film that you can remember? Like moments where you had this creative idea and you thought, “Wow!”?
Bragi: Let me think. I mean, something that you can use in the moment, very small thing, but, let’s say, there’s a scene where Birta is calling her mother and she’s asking, “Did you not pay the fees?” And her mother’s like, “No, no, no”. We had already shot that because it’s written to take place on her way from the gymnasium outside, so we shot it.
We were shooting at the gymnasium, and it was a hard day, it was a really hard day, a lot to shoot, so people were kind of frustrated. And I could see Birta was kind of frustrated and kind of uneasy about all these adult crew members who were like, “Argghh, argghh, argghh, are we getting overtime?” And I was like, “No problem. Everybody’s getting overtime”. Everybody’s kind of pissed. And I just saw that she was kind of pissed herself. I said, “Can we re-shoot that?” And I just told her, “Can you take that and be this pissed? I know you’re pissed. It’s understandable, it’s a long day, I’m really sorry, but I want to ask you this one thing”. And we shot it again in the lobby of that house. And the performance is subtle, but it’s so time …, she’s pissed.
Ivan: Yes. That’s very interesting you say that because something I’ve learned about having kids, having children acting in films, and I’ve been told that a lot by people who are more experienced than me, is that, a lot of the time you need to use something that is not necessarily what is actually going on in the scene.
Ivan: And, it’s kind of like tricking them, but in a good way, you know?
Bragi: In a good way.
Ivan: That happens a lot.
Bragi: Because, I’m not lying to her. We’re playing a game. She’s an actress. She knows we are pretending.
Bragi: So, what I do to approach her with this is that I am really honest with her. I say, “Christine, I can see it’s a long day. We’ve been really working hard, you work so good and blah, blah, blah. But, I can just see visually how irritated you are, and that’s exactly how you would be with your mother, remember, when you call her”. “Yes. Yes. Yes. I understand”. “Okay. Would you like to shoot again? I want to shoot it just like that. So, if you just remain this, I will give you permission to be pissed at everybody here, now”. And, we made it a game and we shot it.
Ivan: And, do you find, you have that possibility often in a shooting schedule or more difficult sometimes?
Bragi: If I’m the producer, that’s what I’m saying. This was the experiment.
Ivan: Yes. Yes.
Bragi: So, it meant overtime. It cost me money, but, I could make it up somewhere else.
Bragi: It gave me another task of finding a way or finding somewhere in the budget that “Okay, it cost more. So, what?” We have a better movie, we have a better performance, we have a better scene, it’s going to be a better movie that way.
Ivan: How do you work on your breakdown? Like, do you use a storyboard?
Bragi: Sometimes, I use a storyboard, yes. But I like to go in to the set, a day before, two days before, I mean, if you have the opportunity, and to find the angles on a camera, preferably with the same lenses you’re going to use, and just explore it, explore everything, I mean.
Ivan: So, you do it as you go along more or less?
Bragi: Yes. I find the angles, I try to maybe print them out or just look at them with a DP, I’d like to do it “This way, this way, this way”. And then, on the day, when we start to shoot, we might even throw it all away. But, I don’t think that’s a useless work though, because…
Ivan: It gives you ideas and something…?
Bragi: Yes. Something has happened. Subconscious is at work. You’ve given the subconscious something. And also, you are thinking about the story, you’re feeding your mind with the story, you’re always thinking about,”Okay, the last scene before that, they are frustrated. How would they enter the scene? Okay. Let’s try it this way. You know, just do it in the wide shot”. Remember that scene when she comes home to listen to her mother? We had looked at that from various angles. Have her come in and then cut and close up and all that. And that’s one of those days that we were running behind and I had this idea that “What if it’s all one shot on a truck?” I mean, we had a little slider, three feet slider. And, that’s maybe a good example for the creative process. We just had to put the slider in a certain angle that it would be able to go start here, move here, she opens the door, and then you turn the head and you move. So, we have another direction tracking shot here. She comes here, looks into the kitchen and we move on the same track. Here, see the mother and her, she says, “There’s not going to be Christmas”, she turns her head, focus pull, so we have like the fifth angle on the same shot.
Bragi: And then, she slowly creeps back here, smashes the door and we have a whip pan here. All in one shot. And, that just made the day, just that little solution. But we had thought of shooting it from various angles, which maybe might have been interesting, but this was much more interesting to me in hindsight. And her performance was great in it.
Ivan: How do you collaborate with your cinematographer, because the cinematography was very beautiful in that film?
Bragi: Thank you. Yes.
Ivan: Is it like, did you work with him already or?
Bragi: Yes. We did.
Ivan: So, you kind of knew each other already?
Bragi: We knew each other. Yes.
Ivan: He knows kind of like what you like, what you want or you trust him?
Bragi: I trust him totally. Yes. And, we have, what do they call them? What do you call when people almost can read you? I know what he’s thinking and he know what I’m thinking. It’s very easy. And, we love to try to use practical lights. We always try to make it as realistic as possible. We look at the rooms, say, “Okay, what time of day is it? The light is coming from here”. We try to use very small lights here and there. And, it’s all about character. We’re always looking through the character’s eyes and trying to fish out the look and light from there.
Ivan: There is something that I realized when I was watching the film because the day before I had dinner with Christine and her dad, so, we talked a lot about Iceland and everything. And at some point, when she goes to the bank and it’s night, I mean, it’s very dark.
Ivan: And, of course my first reaction is, “But, it’s closed”. And then, I remember what they told me the day before that at this time of the year, you only have like three or four hours of light.
Bragi: I think it gets lighter about 10:30,. And, when you go to the bank before it closes around four, it’s going to be dark.
Ivan: Yes. So, that’s very interesting. And so, it must be a challenge also to shoot a film because you don’t have a lot of daylight, I mean?
Bragi: Yes. I mean, that was another experiment, though. What I wanted to set out to do is that when you shoot in October, it’s still kind of fall, but it’s transitioning into winter. And then, what I wanted to capture was the seasons in a five week period towards Christmas. So, it was supposed to happen in like end of November towards December. And, yes, we had, I think, a 16 days principal photography period, then we had five extra days, which we saved for November and December. And, in the meanwhile, because I’m the producer, I have the production company, all the equipment that we own.
Ivan: Okay. So, it’s not like…
Bragi: We were going and shooting drone footage, like, let’s say very often, every week, just going over the buildings, just collecting stuff. Because, when we were editing, I wanted to be able to have enough footage, have enough stuff to create these seasons. I wanted to feel how it’s Fall, and then it starts a little bit snowing. Usually, it happens like the first snow comes and then it goes again, and then more snow, and then Christmas it’s coming to stay for a few months.
Ivan: And that’s something that if you were not your own producer, maybe you wouldn’t be able to do it.
Bragi: I don’t think I would’ve been able to do that, which is interesting.
Ivan: So, yes, it’s a creative choice that really impacts the film certainly, but in a very important way.
Bragi: Yes. So, it’s important to me. For me, it’s just like, either you care about the movie or you don’t care about it.
Ivan: Yes. Absolutely, yes.
Bragi: Or, it’s just a project in an Excel file. “Oh, you’ve finished it? So, it’s done?” “No, it’s not done. Look at the footage. But, the shooting schedule is done”. Not like that.
Bragi: If there’s more to shoot, I mean, there was an extra day that it was such a beautiful snowy weather forecast. I had like three days before Christmas and we shot all the stuff with her coming out of the bus and walking towards town to the Christmas trees and coming back to the bus and walking back to the flats. We shot that in one shooting day, two days before Christmas. So, it’s real lights, real snow, real Reikjavik in the Christmas time. So, it’s like being patient and passionate enough to go after these moments.
Ivan: So, how did you, like, work on the visual of this film, for instance, as opposed to the previous one, “The Falcons”? Like, did you have some particular visual ideas in mind, some different ways of doing things that you talk with your DP about?
Bragi: Yes. I just wanted to feel the smell of my old appartment building. kind of. So, I wanted to find colors, coolness, kind of colory feelings that, I think, are very Icelandic, that people recognize, and the Iceland audience, I think. I mean, I’ve heard in the test screenings, there were people that were really intrigued and really impressed, really emotional about all this, how they had a flashback about when they were kids playing in those buildings and this neighborhood.
And also, what’s interesting for me is that, I don’t, there are so many… Now, I’m going to talk about the film industry in Iceland. I think the focus is very much on making landscape movies that people are trying to go to camp and trying to have, you know, movies that happen in a farm, and it’s about the farmer and the hard life. Kids movies are rarely made and there are hardly any movies made about ordinary life in the city.
Ivan: That’s something I like, particularly in your film, is the fact that, it was very clear whose story it was, and it was always from her point of view.
Ivan: And, a lot of the time there are some good stories, but you get a bit lost because the point of view is not always very clear.
Ivan: And I like that because that’s really her going through that story. And we all have examples of how kids can misinterpret something and give it some huge importance when in fact it doesn’t have that much importance. But, for them, it becomes very important.
Bragi: It’s the world to them.
Ivan: It’s the world.
Ivan: And, I found you capture that in the script and the way you treated the script, really capture that very well.
Bragi: That’s just the best compliment I can imagine. So, thank you. Because, that was the goal.
Ivan: Yes. And I can see how everything contributed to that. And also, I was wondering about your relationship to the sound, like the work of the sound. I mean, even though we were in a very special situation… [Laugh]
Bragi: Yes, we were.
Ivan: We actually already touched a little bit about it, but still, I mean, I always pay attention to that. Can you say a word about that, how you collaborate with your sound engineer?
Bragi: Yes. Well, the way we work is that we tend to use a very good sound recorder on set and a boom operator. And the goal is to get as good a sound as possible with the dialogue. And if there’s any room tone we absolutely need, or the specialty sound that happened in the scene, we shoot that as well.
And then we go to the sound designer, whose name is Gunnar Árnason, who is really, really, really good in collecting sounds. He has of course a huge Icelandic sound library. In a break, he actually has a motorcycle. And we were sound editing the film and his assistant, we were doing ADR, and he was going away. And I said, “Where are you going?” “I’m going up to the volcano. I need a volcano sound just for the library”. Yes. And he did it in one and a half hour. He went up there with his surround microphones and just shot the sound of the volcano. So, he does that. He went into the schools, all sounds are authentic, all atmospheres, all the reverbs in rooms and very, very thorough work.
Ivan: Even, the handball scene, I was really struck by it because I used to go to some handball games when I was younger, because it’s a long story. But, the brother of my girlfriend at the time was playing at a very high level as a junior.
Ivan: And it’s really that. I mean, these sounds that are kind of like resonating, and then you hear all these shoes sound…
Bragi: [lip sound]
Bragi: It’s kind of empty. There are not too many people watching. It’s kind of a reverb-ish.
Ivan: Yes. It’s kind of. And also, this ball sounds always because, I mean, you probably know they put some kind of…
Ivan: Yes. On the hand so that the ball sticks, so it goes [lip sound]
Bragi: Yes. [Lip sound]
Ivan: [laughs] yes, I found it really realistic, the scene, even though it’s not a long scene.
Bragi: Right. That’s great. So, yes Thank you. Yes, he’s very good. I like to use him. I wouldn’t take a science fiction film to him, or maybe it’ll be a nice thing to do, but…
Ivan: Maybe it would bring some realism to it.
Bragi: Reality. Yes. And he is the best dialogue mixer in our country.
Bragi: Because it’s dialogue first. You can hear always very good dialogue. And a lot of the movie is ADR, and I always do that in all my films. And sometimes, I realize on set that a performance is not as good as I would have hoped, but visually, it looks okay, I’m going to fix it in ADR or editing. And I have no reservation about bringing kids into the ADR room and directing them.
Ivan: That’s a very interesting point because does it mean that you take that into consideration when you shoot to have like, as many shots as possible where we don’t see the lips too closely, or like this kind of thing?
Bragi: Not necessarily like that..
Ivan: Not necessarily?
Bragi: No. It’s maybe more. I’m always trying to make a kind of a harmonic sound. Sometimes I have to say “No, no, no. Take that word and lift it”. It’s like, “[foreign language]”, you know, it does sound different. “[Foreign language]”.
Ivan: So, it’s like about prosody, like the way you want the actor to say…?
Bragi: Yes. And sometimes, some takes, like my editor was saying, some, some takes are not just slated takes. Sometimes when the take is over, and “Okay. Back up. Don’t stop. Go back”. Because, it’s rolling and they are in it, and we’re going to go to the start point. “Okay. Do it again. Do it again”.
Ivan: Which we can with digital filming?
Bragi: Yes. And, there was one line that I didn’t like, and I just stopped by that line and I help him and I say, “Say it like that. Say like that. Be like that. Okay, we got it”.
Ivan: Well, you can do that with kids, but can you do that with adults? Does it not interfere with the acting process?
Bragi: No. I do it another way.
Ivan: Yes. With intentions always… Yes.
Bragi: Yes. I do it another way. I try to have a discussion where I feed them the problem or what I’m seeking after, and usually, it ends up with them thinking that they came up with the idea so I kind of plant it. But I have a collaborative discussion about what I want from the scene, and usually that’s the best way to go.
Ivan: So, do you approach like dialogues, like kind of a music somehow?
Ivan: Yes. That’s what I get from what you’re saying.
Bragi: Yes, sometimes.
Ivan: So, it’s really about rhythm and prosody and the whole like… And so, how do you incorporate ADR into that scheme? Is it like ready for the moment that are not working yet for you? Like, how do you make these decisions about what to do in ADR?
Bragi: I edited with that in mind, sometimes, I just shoot a voiceover, plant it there, and so, it’s there in the editing and I mark it and I know we’re going to fix it in ADR. Sometimes, I try to find a sound take from another take and put it on this take. That sometimes work. I mean, that’s done in the film, the urine back. And there’s a take of her asking that the [foreign language], he said, “You have to pee in a back”. But, it’s the best visual take of her. But, she’s saying it in a way that when it’s cut to her, the harmony that the sound in her lips was in a way that it either you get a laugh or you don’t. And, it was in a way that it kind of didn’t, it was kind of a forced joke. It’s a silly joke.
Bragi: So, she had said it in such a brilliant way in another take. So, I took that sound take, put it on the take and it brought down the house. Always works.
Ivan: Yes. And now they also have, like they can sort of align the sounds with the lips.
Ivan: It’s like, wow! Few years ago, you couldn’t do that without sounding too…
Bragi: It’s more of an exception than a rule, but it’s a great rule.
Ivan: Yes. You cannot always do it and it doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does.
Bragi: When it does, it’s beautiful.
Ivan: And so, tell me a little bit about editing. Like, how do you approach editing from a creative point of view? Are you like a lot in the editing room?
Bragi: Yes. But I respect the editors. It’s like casting, you could have a good editor who gets what you’re doing, who likes what you’re doing and likes children’s film. Sadly, there are, number one, too few editors in Iceland, and there are too few children’s films. And children’s films are sadly looked down at as…
Ivan: Like, almost everywhere.
Bragi: Like everywhere.
Ivan: Yes. I love them, that’s why I come here often.
Bragi: And so, you are in danger of getting an editor who will treat this just as the project that pays the bills and he is going to go through it fast. And so, I had a great collaboration with Steffie (Stefanía Thors) who has children, who loved the concept. And so, she made her edit, and then she sends me because I am an editor too. The thing is that, I have her make the edit, we discuss it, I give her notes, and at the end the project comes to me and I have a project files. Also, I make my changes, I send it to her, we have a discussion about that. We might disagree on some things. We definitely disagree on some things. And the final say is mine. That’s kind of the way. I mean, …
Ivan: I often edit my films. I mean, I have only made short films so far, but I usually edit them. But I find that a lot of the time, because I edit them, if I leave them like a few months on the side and I take it back, then, I see a lot of things I didn’t see. And so, I’m now starting to think that it’s actually a good thing to work with an editor just to be able to have like fresh eyes and someone who can tell you, “Yes, this take is better, but this part of the take is much better there”. And, it’s something you could just overlook because for you, this is better… You know what I mean?
Ivan: These kind of things are not always…
Bragi: I agree.
Ivan: But then, I’m kind of like you. I’ve tried to work with someone on one project that was not mine, but I was like in charge of the post production, but I always end up doing the final editing because usually, I find that the editors are not doing such a, I mean, they are doing a good job, but I want a great job. You know what I mean?
Bragi: You want your job. It’s your movie.
Ivan: I mean, yes.
Bragi: And, they can’t read your mind. But they can read the material and they can make the best cut they possibly can edit, but it’s not a holy thing. I mean, after all, it’s my movie. I mean, I disagree with her on a lot of things, but she gets the credit, even though I don’t want to be credited as an editor. I just want to have an editor and then I want to…
Ivan: Fine tune.
Bragi: Yes. Fine tune things. Right.
Ivan: Yes. And, you’re right. I think that in editing, there is two steps of the process. There is a step of editing and then there is a step of fine tuning.
Ivan: And I think I have a feeling that fine tuning is extremely personal, but editing is probably more, like, a good editor can do a good editing, but unless like, if you take the example of Scorsese and Schoonmaker, his editor, they know each other so well, that I’m pretty convinced that she knows exactly how to finish the editing.
Bragi: What you want, which is very rare, is your editor to deliver something that is beyond what you would think. I always have a very clear idea. Even when I shoot something, I kind of know how I’m editing. Sometimes, I’ll make the decision on camera angles. Especially, I have a strict rule about not crossing the line. But you can cross the line if you decide to and where is it done. Yes. So, that you’re thinking editing. So, it has to be done on this edit point here.
Ivan: Yes. Otherwise, it doesn’t work. Yes.
Bragi: Right. So, you want your editor also to think out of your box, to just deliver some ideas I didn’t even think of.
Ivan: Yes. Because, otherwise what’s the point? You can do it yourself. I mean, no, because it takes a lot of time. You know what I mean?
Ivan: Yes. You want someone who really bring something on the table, otherwise what’s the point?
Bragi: Yes. Not just edit the pieces together by the script and numbers, but to feel the material and see what the possibilities are.
Ivan: The stories I love about editing is that, it’s when something unexpected is found in the edit room.
Ivan: When you take a piece that’s supposed to be there, and actually you find out that putting it there is just so much better. But there are not so many editors that can really do that.
Bragi: Yes. Go the extra mile. I love that too.
Ivan: So, maybe we’re going to complete it soon, I think. I don’t know what time it is. That’s a bit more than an hour. Maybe, just to conclude, if you could tell me some moments in the film that you are particularly happy with, for various reasons, maybe because you had these interesting ideas visually or on the sound, or something, because it was unexpected and that happens in the edit room? Like golden nuggets?
Bragi: I think, I’m extremely happy with the chemistry of the sisters. And that was, of course, I mean, it’s an accident, you hope that to happen. And they started improvising in a lot of scenes in the movie. Like, when she’s there knocking, let’s say they’re selling the fish and then Carter says like “Good evening, old lady, aren’t you dying of…”, In Iceland, I think it’s [foreign language], “Are you dying of hunger?” Which is like an old Icelandic saying. That’s why people saved fish, and that’s why they made food out of lamb to save it for the winter because people were starving. She’s actually saying, “[foreign word]”. It was like an improvisation on her part.
Ivan: Like, did you cast them, and then before making the final decision, have them be together and improvise together?
Bragi: Yes. A little bit,
Ivan: Because, Christine said, I remember, the first screening, the one where we went, where there were a lot of kids and they were all asking very interesting questions, she spoke about that, that in fact, that her best moments were with her sister and they laughed a lot together.
Bragi: They were.
Ivan: And they had some big laugh and you captured it a little bit in the film. I saw it. [Laughs]
Bragi: Yes. And also, they could display the fun and the humor, but they could also create frustration together, which is great.
Ivan: Which is what happens between sister.
Bragi: Yes. And they were really in sync. And great actresses, both of them. I mean, let’s see that when old Gretta has a heart attack. That’s a hard scene to shoot. Everything is very happy, go lucky and happy in the other scenes. And now, they’re watching their mother giving her CPR, and I realized that it was the most serious moment, of course, in the movie, and they were crying almost. But, I said, “But this scene is about you looking at Supergirl, which is your mother. You are frustrated with your mother. She works so much. You want her to be more home and there’s all sorts of problems, and you have problems with your mother, but she is amazing”. And I could have a discussion with both of them, because… “I know I’m just going to have one lens on you. I’m going to have to track the camera towards you and back and forth”. And I did discuss this with them, and I got the moment, and it was perfect. You don’t have to say anything. You can just see how Birta is admiring her.
Bragi: Like, “This is my idol. This is, oh my God, my mother”, without saying words, just look. Yes. Those kinds of things, during the creative process that I absolutely love, working with them.
Ivan: Because I remember I went to a talk that Claude Lelouch, the French director, Claude Lelouch, gave. And he said that he loved digital camera because he has always loved improvising and having the actors improvising, and not really telling them when the camera is rolling. And so, he said with a digital camera he can do that basically all the time.
Ivan: And, by doing that, he captures a lot of very good moments. And of course he can do it also because he’s often the producer of his films, but also because he’s often the person holding the camera in his films, so when he sees something happening, he can make the decision right away to go and film it.
Bragi: Yes, he can just push the button.
Ivan: So, when you have someone doing it, then you need to tell them, and then it’s a bit more obvious in a way.
Ivan: But, that’s true, when you have this freedom during the shoot to do things that were not necessarily planned or do it in a way that was not necessarily planned, that gives you a bit more freedom.
Bragi: In a way, I mean, creatively, I think this was one of the most satisfying experiences, even though it was a short period of time and during COVID and all that stuff. But I think I’m looking more into having a say in the production department, more and more.
Ivan: That’s an experience you’d like to renew, presently?
Bragi: Yes. Hold on to.
Ivan: Hold on to. Yes.
Bragi: But I’m open to anything of course, because obviously I want to develop my career further and I need co-production, especially. In this film industry, in Europe, we need each other. But the only thing that I can maybe say is that at least I have the courtesy to be a producer who understands the creative process. So, I can justify it that way. I will never do anything, but think of something that is of benefit for my film. I’m not going to rewrite the script on site and just like jump into the wood with the camera because I’m on acid or something, because I’m an economic… Also, I’ve learned to be an economic producer as well. I respect the process. I respect the whole filmmaking process. I am in absolute love with the filmmaking process. From all aspects, I love it.
Ivan: One last word about the creative process on this film? One last word, something you want to share about your creative process? Something that’s important for you or something you would give as a piece of advice or?
Bragi: Like a piece of advice for…? I’m not sure what it would be, apart… Because, it always depends on what you’re doing.
Ivan: Yes. Do you prepare a lot?
Bragi: I do a lot of preparation.
Bragi: In the soccer movie, we had six months and we even scouted it a year before, in this movie we sold the idea a year before we started shooting, but we were in development for a whole year. Not full-time. It started full-time two months before shooting, and that’s where we had the auditions. So, I mean, we auditioned the girls two months before shooting, not before then. That’s when we knew we had the funding.
It depends on the project. It really does. If you really need to build a lot of sets, are there many locations? It’s a cost. Many numbers. There’s a lot of costumes. Is it a period thing? It always depends on it. But to answer in the best possible way is that, of course, you want to prepare, I wanted to prepare as much as possible to make the best movie I can make.
Ivan: Often, yes, the more we prepare, the freer we are during the shooting, often.
Bragi: Often times. Yes.
Ivan: Yes. Thank you very much.
Bragi: Thank you.
Ivan: Good luck with the film.