(SFS Graduate Oscar Molinari shares a story of his journey from Sydney Film School, Australia to Roy Andersson’s Studio 24 in Sweden)
There comes a point in any career when you begin to hunger for greener pastures.
The desire starts small, a gentle realisation that you’ve been sitting on a film idea for months without doing anything. It grows a bit stronger when you go to meeting after meeting and you realise that you’re not getting anywhere. Finally it dawns on you: “I talk more than I do”.
It’s not that there wasn’t any work or opportunity in Sydney but I had got into a rut. I needed to break out of it in a radical way.
Going to Sweden was the answer.
Admittedly the choice of country wasn’t a snap decision. For anyone that’s graduated from Sydney Film School you’ll know that Swedes are a well-represented group. While I was studying I met a lot of great people from Sweden and I knew that if I went there then I would have the advantage of friends and contacts that I could call on. Sweden also has a very active industry and they have a high pedigree of filmmaking. It seemed to be the perfect place to hone my skills and have new and unique experiences outside of my comfort zone.
With all this in mind I booked my ticket and prepared to leave Australia. I will admit that I left with a high amount of optimism and a very limited amount of pre-planning. Something that if I was to make the trip again I would certainly change.
Believing in your abilities is crucial but it is also important to get a sense of the lay of the land before you go anywhere. It is especially true when you are going to start looking for work in an unfamiliar country. Doing the research to find out what productions are working on what, who are some of the key players in the industry, where the majority of the productions take place etc. can only help to make life easier. Perhaps it was pride or stubbornness that made me refuse to do some simple google searches beforehand. Whatever it was don’t make the same mistake I suggest.
I landed in Sweden and went through the motions of starting a new life. Sweden does bureaucracy very well and the first month was a nightmare of trying to open bank accounts, obtain a personal number which is required for almost everything official and actually be able to work. Sweden and Australia have a reciprocal agreement on working holidays but I had a lot of difficulty finding someone in the Swedish immigration department who knew anything about this.
In the meantime I ran into a fellow student of SFS on the street and was given the contact of a production company. The company offered me work on an IKEA commercial and things began to look up. What could be more fated than working on an IKEA commercial in Sweden? Unfortunately they wouldn’t employ me without a Scandinavian bank account and I couldn’t open a bank account without a job contract which I wasn’t going to get from this job. The cycle continued. It was after this incident that I thought about coming back to Australia. When the money starts running out and you aren’t even sure you will be able to get a job it is probably time to cut your losses. I made one final push to get my personal number and was successful. That last sentence cannot capture the enormity of the achievement. They are notoriously hard to get and I am still not sure why I was given one and can’t really provide any advice. They really do bureaucracy well.
With this boost I started a relentless drive to get work. I called and emailed and called and emailed. I became a master of calling and emailing. Sweden has a well-established industry and as a non-Swedish speaking outsider it was difficult. I got a lot of maybes and a lot of brush offs. This is not unique to Sweden. Finally on the phone to a production manager they seemed to hesitate just a little bit more than usual when asked if there were any positions available. Eventually it was still a maybe but I had managed to get a vague promise of being able to come into the studio and have a look around. The next day I turned up at the front door.
The studio was Roy Andersson‘s Studio 24.
I took a tour and met with some of the staff and while looking at the scene they were working on at the time I met Roy himself and had a brief chat about his methods and the scene. I left without any concrete answers on whether or not I could come back but I felt that in any case I had met with Roy and seen the studio and if I didn’t work there it was still an experience. I went back to my full time job of trying to find work but I now had the very tip of my toe in the front door at Studio 24. After another week of correspondence they offered me one day of work on the shooting as an assistant. After all the ups and downs things were finally starting to go my way.
I arrived at the shooting ready to throw myself into any role that was needed. Would they want me in the art department? The camera department? As an AD? What tests would be in store for me?
Pasta. The simple answer was pasta.
The scene was set in a school hall populated by students and their parents. A young girl would be standing on the stage reciting a poem while her teacher corrected her as she forgot her lines. Everything would be taking place in ‘A’ hall.
I should quickly describe the layout of Studio 24. After the success of ‘A Swedish Love Story’ Roy was able to buy an apartment block in an area of Stockholm called Ostermalm. The ground floor is a large office and garage and the back section is a small studio. Next to that studio is the basement and ground floor of the neighbouring apartment block which used to house a small cinema. The space has been converted into a larger studio and it was here that the school hall had been built. On the first floor is a kitchen, the production office, Roy’s office and an editing suite.
The kitchen was where I spent most of the time that day.
My job was to prepare lunch and make sure that there was an unbroken supply of coffee. There was also the added bonus of having to directly compete with another applicant for the position. We would each be given a kitchen, I would cook for cast, she would cook for crew. In the whole day I only got to see a few takes of the scene before I had to hurry back upstairs and continue my work. Nothing went majorly wrong and at the end of the day I was thanked, paid and sent on my way with no idea if I was any closer to getting a job.
It would be another week of calling and emailing before I was told that I was able to come to the studio as an intern. My internship at the studio lasted for about five weeks. My first task was to dismantle the entire school hall set. Over the last two years my focus had been on writing and directing not on set deconstruction or in the case of my first attempt, destruction. The beginning was slow but after a few days of moving flats, window frames and dismantling everything I started to get the hang of it again. At the end of my time at the studio I could do the same amount of work in a day.
My internship at the studio was an intense period of learning because the studio operates in a very unique way. All the scenes are storyboarded and the basic layout is already figured out. Everything else is changeable. At the beginning of a new scene the walls are laid out and the camera is positioned. The film is being shot on the RED and once the camera position is determined then it stays on all day every day so that changes can be made and viewed directly through the monitor. After that, wall and floor colours are tested with Roy guiding the process and determining the direction they will take. If there is any furniture in the room they generally go in early to complete the space. It is not uncommon that when a scene is almost complete Roy may decide that it is not what he had envisaged and a complete overhaul is done. Roofs may get raised ten centimetres in some cases.
Roy also tends not to use professional actors and through the course of preparing the set many people come in and auditioned. Even before that crew are used to block through actions or test dialogue. I got to stand in a few times in different scenes and it was great to interact with Roy as an actor. While we were shooting a scene in a warehouse on the outskirts of Stockholm that involved 18th century soldiers on horseback I was standing in as foot soldier and I was approached by one of the production staff:
“You can ride a horse right?” More of a statement than a question really.
“Ahhh sure but it’s been about ten years…” My careful reply.
“Ok great jump on this one”
I think I did ok but I wasn’t asked to reprise my cavalry role. The other riders definitely got nervous when I asked how you make horses walk backwards.
In hindsight that was one of the great elements of working at the studio. Even though all the staff had special talents and skills there was not such a strict hierarchy to prohibit working on all sorts of different tasks. One day you are painting, the next you are on top of a sky-lift 3meters above the ground setting up a green screen. Or pretending to be a horse.
Unfortunately that last part is not a joke. The scene we shot in the warehouse involved a bar and street scene. The bar is disrupted by the arrival of Swedish 18th century soldiers and Charles the 12th, a famous warrior-king. To clear the bar a soldier charges in on horseback swinging a sword and screaming at the patrons to clear out. I can’t reveal too much but the scene is intricate and frankly epic. The horse charging in is a frightening specimen and the fear on the extras is genuine. The problem with using the horse was that after a few takes the horse had started to learn a rhythm and was losing some of the manic and wild qualities that made it so frightening.
I was working with props on the day of the shooting as I had been helping paint rifles and create crutches, a stretcher and a huge tattered flag. Suddenly the production manager approached with a request. He asked if I could stand in for the horse on a rehearsal.
Obviously I’m dubious. You want me to go into the bar and jump around like a wild horse? Yes.
Ha ha very funny, this is a practical joke. No. Just stand there, look for the green light as a queue and charge in. So of course this is exactly what I do. After the green light goes on I gallop up to the door of the bar, enter, survey the room and then proceed to canter around. How do you act like a wild horse? I don’t really know – I just sort of leaped up and down on the spot. So there I am in front of the crew and cast leaping up and down and nobody is reacting. Not a single person. The two actors in the scene who this rehearsal is for just stare at me blankly when they should be cowering in fear. I scream the line that the soldier screams in my rough Swedish. No one moves. I start leaping more and more frantically. No one is moving. Finally Roy screams “cut”. I stare around in confusion, what happened? No one was told I would be a horse. I just spent a minute running around like a wild horse and nobody said a word. Swedish people can be very polite sometimes. I still had to be the horse for a few more rehearsals.
That was probably one of the more extreme scenarios I was in at the studio. I’m still mad that they didn’t record it.
In the end the studio became an enormous part of my life in Sweden. I worked there 5 days a week and generally more when we were shooting. The staff became good friends and there was a great sense of camaraderie. Roy is affable and intelligent and it was always nice to have a glass of wine after a shoot and talk. Not knowing Swedish was a problem sometimes, especially when I first started and all the meetings would be in Swedish. Eventually I picked it up as best as I could and maybe I can’t discuss politics but I can navigate a Swedish hardware store with ease.
Outside the studio I tried my best to acclimatise myself to the Swedish winter, the Stockholm mindset and all the other bits and pieces that come with a new country. As an Australian Stockholm can be hard at first. People are reserved in the extreme. I have had more friendly chats with fellow commuters and shop people in the last week of getting back then I ever did in the year I was in Stockholm. The flip side is that when you get to know someone, which takes more effort, then I think the friendship has a more genuine quality.
I did learn to love sil, pickled herring, caviar paste on hard bread and all the other unique Swedish foods on offer. I picked berries in late summer. I swam in lakes and walked through forests. I made smultron jam. I made snowmen. I tried to throw myself into everything that had a hint of Swedishness. I’m so glad that I did because I got to see so much more of the country and understand what being a Swede is all about.
The only problem is that it’s cold. I don’t really want to talk about weather ever again though. An obsession that most Swedes have. The most common question I got asked when I arrived in Sweden was “How cold does it get in Sydney?” When I told them what I thought was the average they would nod sagely “Well that’s not really winter”. After surviving a winter I have to agree. If you want to live in Sweden for a period of time get used to talking about the weather.
All in all Sweden was good to me.
I got to work in a studio with talented people headed by a premiere director. I got to travel and experience a new culture. I got to make some great friends. I also got to gain a perspective on my own efforts to pursue film in Australia.
Roy, to paraphrase, would say “Failure is not an option.” Cliched but true.
I was lucky. But I was stubborn and persistent when it came to looking for work. It took being ripped from my comfort zone to finally push me into being more active.
It is very easy to spend a lot of time talking about the projects and ideas you have but if you don’t treat them like do or die there is no point. Really understanding that was the best part of Sweden.
Do you have a Question for Oscar? If yes shoot him an email: email@example.com
If you would like to ask Roy Anderson a question you can email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will pass it to Roy. The answer will appear in one of our future blog posts so stay tuned…..