Exclusive Interview: Trollhunter’s André Øvredal

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Available on VOD, opening in theaters June 10

The Norwegian genre invasion continues! André Øvredal’s Trollhunter was a hit overseas and now the film is available on VOD with a June 10 limited theatrical run on the horizon. Utilizing the faux documentary format and featuring an awry of stunning troll FX, the film follows a group of young filmmakers who discover the existence of the eponymous hunter and unravel a conspiracy regarding the existence of trolls.

Both Edward Douglas and Ryan Turek had an opportunity to chat with Øvredal while he was doing an East Coast/West Coast publicity run to push the film’s DVD release.

Shock: I know that there are a lot of myths in Norway, but are trolls part of that mythology or just something you created to bring into that world?

André Øvredal: We have our own mythology in trolls but nobody believes in trolls. There isn’t that kind of a cult or that kind of an idea so in the film, in the first act before we see the first troll, I had to make sure that none of the characters believed that trolls actually exist, because I didn’t think that would gel with reality.

Shock: Are there any people at all in Norway who believe in trolls?

Øvredal: No, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find one single person. People who say they believe in trolls, I met a few of those, but I don’t buy it. [laughs]

Shock: Not sane people is what you’re saying. So what got you started on this? Did you want to do a found footage movie and just came up with the idea?

Øvredal: No, no, the found footage (idea) came pretty quickly as a package, but first of all, I wanted to make a film about a heroic character, a very grounded Norwegian heroic character. It was kind of a childish idea but I needed him to fight something that was amazing, and also, very very Norwegian. We have like three big things in Norway and that’s our Northern Dogs, our Vikings and our trolls, so I’ve always been fascinated by the trolls more than anything. Also I could put that into a real modern situation and it would be fun and absurd.

Shock: How did you get started? Is this completely scripted or a bit of an improv?

Øvredal: It’s completely scripted but on top of that is improv. The acting itself is improvised a lot, so there’s very little of the dialogue that’s in the script. It’s not exactly the same that’s in the movie, but the topics and the dynamics in the scenes are the same.

Shock: Did anything surprising come out of the improv that you did allow your actors to do?

Øvredal: Oh yeah, there’s a scene in the café where the Trollhunter is talking about the trolls and the mythology. We did one take and it was a half hour-long of him just improvising. The guy playing Thomas was just asking him questions. They came up with questions and answers on their own based on conversations we had regarding what they knew about trolls and what they wanted to know.

Shock: How did you go about finding the actors and getting them into the right head to make a movie like this?

Øvredal: I had to cast actors who really understood how to do this and really enjoyed this way of working, so I cast the best actors I could find that really could enjoy this way of working and during auditions, we were all improvising as well. They would just get a scene and they would play around that scene or topic, and we also did group auditions, so I could see how they’d interact with each other and how they would form sentences and words and if they became staged or if they kept a reality in the way they spoke, and that’s how I found the actors outside of the Trollhunter himself, who is a very famous comedian.

Shock: How about the guy who plays the cameraman? Because we really don’t see him at all. Was he actually in any of the scenes besides the one or two in which we actually see him?

Øvredal: Oh, no, he was always there on set. He’s constantly there, and also just part of the group. It was very methodically worked out that he had to be part of the group so that everyone could relate to him…

Shock: I always wondered about that when you have a movie where the cameraman is one of the characters and you never see them so you wonder if he just shows up in the studio and dubs his voice.

Øvredal: But we did do that as well. We did do some new lines in the studio, but he was there for more or less the entire shoot.

Shock: Obviously, the found footage thing has become a phenomena that’s getting bigger and bigger. What are the logistics of creating a movie like this when it’s outdoors, when you have a lot of real locations, you have to add a lot of CG FX later? How did you prepare to go out and start shooting this?

Øvredal: We kind of prepared as a journey. We had a six-week shoot and we split it in two, which was three weeks on the road and three weeks near Oslo in the forests and stuff shooting mostly the FX sequences, but on the road, we were just traveling around. You know we drove all of our cars to the west side of the country near Romsdal and Volda if you know these places, and we had like a caravan of ten equipment trucks and cars including the on-screen vehicle and we would just drive down and film and stop where we wanted to shoot something. We had done a location scout but we would improvise again, a lot of the shooting places. Let’s say the first week or so was easy-going. It was very high tempo, because to shoot a film like this in six weeks is just too much actually, but the form of shooting it as a documentary means you shoot everything from one angle. You don’t have to shoot coverage, so you actually move much faster than you normally would. That helped. In addition, we shot extremely high-paced, and with the improvisation, we were very loose about what was a good take. As long as the acting was good, the staging didn’t need to be perfect because it was half-improvised, so we were always changing things around so it didn’t go stale on the actors. So no, we were traveling around, and ended up on the third week up on Dovre, basically this mountain plateau, which is where we shot the final sequence. That was snowing and crazy to shoot, but we managed to figure it out somehow and then we went back down to Oslo, and that was really the coldest part and the more difficult part, shooting at night out in the forest. It was really at the end of the fall right before it became winter, and it was really getting… it was freezing.

Shock: Were you mainly shooting guerilla style or did you have to get permits for places you shot or did you just shoot places where you could do so without permits?

Øvredal: Most of the places we got permits.

Shock: How do you go about doing that because you were driving around finding locations while you were shooting in the mountains and forests?

Øvredal: For example, in Dovre, for the final sequence with the big troll, that is actually inside a military installation, and it’s right next to or it’s going to become part of a National Park. So we couldn’t shoot in a National Park, but we were allowed, after a month of discussing it with the military and with the environmental department of Norway and Dovre, we were allowed in there to shoot for a few days. If we stayed on specific paths and in specific areas… extremely-controlled but the military was amazing to help us out with all this stuff.

Shock: Preparation for this must have been intense, because you knew you had to add the trolls lately. Did you do any of that stuff practically at all?

Øvredal: We had only the back of one troll sitting inside the mine was physical.

Shock: Did you have to do a lot of pre-viz to make it work?

Øvredal: We tried that stuff out, but I never even saw some of the previs material until a month ago, and we never really utilized it. Also, it was so wrong for the set-up that I had in mind. The FX people started doing really nice pre-vizes, but they were just not staged the way I wanted to stage them. We did some storyboards but that was kind of pointless, because we were improvising so much that there was no real reason for it.

Shock: And then the visual FX guys didn’t have any pictures of the locations so they could work on it?

Øvredal: Oh, yeah, they did. They would often times come to the locations and scout it with us, and say, “Okay, we’re going to have the FX scene here, the troll is going to come out there,” and he would say, “I have to put up markers there and there and I have to do this and make sure you don’t do that.” We had lots of conversations like that.

Shock: The integration between the CG and the environments is so tight and fluid that having seen the movie twice, I try to see the seams and figure out how much was done on set to no avail. How much time did it take after you finished filming to make the FX work as well as they do? That usually take the longest time.

Øvredal: Yeah, it does. It took like six, eight, nine months I guess with the FX work and the one scene on the bridge is basically done by two people. It’s done by one who animated and one who designed the creature and who put together all the FX and implemented the troll into the background plates.

Shock: But did you have a pretty large FX team?

Øvredal: No, very small, actually. It was basically three Norwegian companies and there were 20 or 25 people apart from that company, which was just two people. But I’d sit personally with the animators, because that was the biggest thing for me, was the animation. I knew these companies were going to do great job on the integration and creation of the creatures, so for me, the animation and the acting of the troll was the most important thing. Also, we’d do some performance capture. After we had cut the film, we’d go back in with an actor and have him play out the action that was cut.

Shock: So you had actors being the trolls?

Øvredal: Yeah, yeah but just one actor actually, and he played all the trolls, and we just changed direction. We would weigh him down really heavily with all kinds of padding and mats and everything, so he’d behave really slowly naturally rather than acting it.

Shock: The main character is played by a comedian but he’s playing it rather serious, and people love this because it is a really funny movie, so was it always meant to be as funny as it ended up being or did that just come out of the premise by the nature of it?

Øvredal: I think my initial idea of how to do it was darker, but the moment I realized we could actually start showing these trolls, that we could do the FX properly, than it lightened up in a way. It became more humor the more I went into it, but every script had humor as its basis. Even though it’s about reality, it’s a documentary, it’s a road movie, I always saw it as a comedy at heart, but it had to be played completely straight, completely deadpan, and never ever acted up as a comedy. Jokes have to be in relation to the character.

Shock: In designing the trolls, did you do any sketching yourself?

Øvredal: No, I used to draw a lot as a child, but I let my FX team handle it. A lot of the troll designs come from drawings in fairy tale books. After that, they came from descriptions I put in the script and then the inspiration of the artist. It all had to resemble the Norwegian mythology troll.

Shock: Did you have a favorite particular design?

Øvredal: The last one. That resembles a famous drawing of a troll standing on a Main Street in Oslo and it’s as big as a skyscraper. That’s a classic Norwegian troll.

Shock: Did you do any building on soundstages for this?

Øvredal: No, nothing.

Shock: So the trailer was something you constructed and just had with you on location with you?

Øvredal: Yeah, we’d drive it around everywhere. The interior of the trailer is the interior of the trailer.

Shock: How big of a hit was the film back at home?

Øvredal: It was through the roof. The box office said it all and it was a huge success. I was giving out an award at this young filmmakers event and I had kids running up to me saying, “You are my hero.”

Shock: Where do you go from here? People obviously love this movie and it’s played so well at different festivals, so do you feel you want to do another movie like this? “Trollhunter 2” even?

Øvredal: No, for sure, I can do a “Trollhunter 2” but I don’t want to do one right now or even a remake. I don’t really want to direct another troll movie, not because I wouldn’t enjoy it but because it’s kind of a career choice to make sure I that broaden and do something else. I’ve been lucky enough to receive some projects and I have some ideas of my own with Hollywood producers that yeah, I hope to make a film out of.

Shock: Have you been asked to do a remake?

Øvredal: Yeah, we’ve been in contact with like 40 production companies and studios and everybody. I mean, all of Hollywood has been after this film for six months.

Shock: It’s crazy, because there was a great Swedish movie “Let the Right One In” and they did a remake “Let Me In,” which was a pretty good movie as well.

Øvredal: Yeah, I haven’t seen it but I hear it’s supposed to be great.

Shock: But it didn’t make any money and after a while you think, “Why didn’t they just put more money into promoting the original movie and get that out there?” Do you have another script of your own that you’ve finished?

Øvredal: No, not finished, but it’s being worked on. I’m writing it with a friend of mine. We’re going to hopefully, if things go according to plan, we’re going to be done in the early Fall and we’re going out to production companies and studios with it and see if it’s wanted, which I’m sure it will be because we love the story.

Shock: Are you going to keep working in Norway?

Øvredal: No, no, I will hopefully will be doing American films. I want to try to bring something form my way of seeing things into American films, and that’s I think what the people I met with in Hollywood also hope.

Shock: How is the film industry in Norway these days? Is it having some of the same problems that other countries are having in Europe?

Øvredal: Compared to 10-15 years ago, it’s doing great right now. There are so many different movies being made, and there is more in trust in genre films, so you can actually make different kinds of films in Norway now. For a period of time, it was basically just social realist dramas that are being made and now there is everything from crazy horror films like “Dead Snow” to really intense drama films and big war epics and all kinds of stuff, so it’s a really good time for Norwegian cinema right now.

Shock: Do you prefer genre stuff yourself? Some directors like genre, but others just like doing different things? Do you have a preference?

Øvredal: I think I do, but not necessarily… I love horror films, I love fantasy, I love science fiction films, absolutely. I’m going to do a short science fiction film I think later this summer, but no, I really like genre films, absolutely. I think a film should have a genre to attach itself to, whatever genre it is, just so that you send a signal to the audience that they know more or less what they’re getting.

Source: Ryan Turek, Edward Douglas