SFS talks to four of our Swedish graduates who have been building strong careers in Scandinavia.
By Peter Galvin
Sweden is a long way from Australia. According to Google the distance is 13,796 kms or eight and a half thousand flying miles. For many of SFS’ Scandinavian post-grads electing to study so far from home wasn’t so much a trail or sacrifice but part of the challenge.
“Australia and SFS became this big adventure,” remembers Johan Rosell, “I didn’t know anything about filmmaking and I wanted to be a director but I didn’t know what a director did!”
Rosell, originally from Linköping, says now: “I learned so much.”
He directed a Part II major work, the hilariously original comedy/fairy tale The Forest while at the school. Since returning to Sweden immediately after graduation in 2009 he has made a number of music videos and shorts including the prize-winning First Base.
“I got to meet so many people from so many different places,” he says, “other international students and that’s what makes the school unique and creative.”
Right now Rosell divides his time between studying as a directing major at Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Art and preparing another short drama.
Like most Scandinavians who have come to SFS Rosell knew very little about Australia other than Crocodile Dundee and TV dramas like McLeod’s Daughters – set in the countryside and The Flying Doctors, which takes place in the outback – the fictional experience did not prepare them for Sydney’s café and pub culture, nor the pace of a metropolis boasting a multicultural population of four million.
“Those TV shows was I all I had seen of Australia,” laughs Caroline Ingvarsson, who is now an award-winning director of acclaimed dramatic shorts The Dogwalker (2014) and Beneath the Spaceship (2015)
Arriving in Australia as a backpacker in late 2005 Ingvarsson started at the school in February 2006 after, she says, ‘falling in love’ with sunshine and beaches and laid back life style.
“That first week was so daunting,” she remembers. “They kept talking about this thing called ‘pitching’ and I had absolutely no idea what it was!”
Pitching – the process whereby the filmmaker must present to a panel their vision for the film – is a basic industry standard of evaluating the promise of a project and Ingvarsson says it was one of the most valuable lessons she learnt at SFS.
“I do it all the time now, and at SFS I learnt the essentials:
If you can’t convey it in one or two sentences then you have lost them,” she says. “Learning to pitch is about learning what your film is really about for you as the filmmaker – it narrows down what you really mean to say.”
Ingvarsson built up her industry experience in the production department, as an AD and location manager and casting director working in Australia and Sweden (she tells students that it takes hours and hours of on set work before one can really feel they can take charge of a significant role like directing or department head.) Her credits in Australia include Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s Hail (2011) and as producer of the Ben Lee music video ‘Catch My Disease’.
Of course like students everywhere in all schools Ingvarsson says she formed strong bonds with her cohort and these friendships have been an important part of her life and – life in film – over the last decade.
Amongst them is Ben Zadig. Originally from Malmo, like Ingvarsson, Zadig has specialised in camera department roles and has worked on famed series like the Bridge and Wallander and the soon to be released Swedish features The Yard and The Square. As cinematographer he was responsible for the richly atmospheric work on Ingvarsson’s recent shorts including her latest.
After graduating at SFS in 2007 Zadig worked at the school in the equipment store. He developed his tech skills further working for Red Apple (Camera Rentals) in Sydney. Just over five years ago he returned to Sweden where he re-connected with the network of SFS Swedish post-grads (there has been nearly 70 since 2004!) and says he has been in constant work since. It was at SFS where he developed his strong work ethic.
“What’s really good about SFS is that it has a hands-on approach,” he says. “Sydney has a lot of very, very professional film workers and you can learn a lot [just being part of that eco-system as an emerging filmmaker.]”
He would recommend SFS to Swedes wanting to travel for their film education over say the USA and Europe.
“Its warmer than the States and most of Europe,” he says, “ and Swedes are sort of quiet and Australians are more relaxed and not as loud as Americans!”
He says that like most film students, he went to SFS believing he was a director only to find he had more talent for roles in the camera department.
“You have to be prepared to be disappointed (with your original goal) and understand that what you need to do is not what you want to do,” he says.
In the end Zadig reckons that realisation will ‘set you up’ with a career path to follow and that’s ultimately the greatest reward.
Filip Iversen graduated from SFS in December 2010. As with Zadig, and Ingvarsson he has accrued much TV production experience (in the art department) since returning to Sweden on shows like The Bridge and Black Lake.
“On the last season of the Bridge I got a job as 3rd unit director,” he says (via email).
Like the other Swedish grads here Iversen’s memories of SFS are full of adrenalised endless nights racing to meet production deadlines, close friendships and warm Sydney days. The skills he learned at school are in constant play. SFS introduced him to pitching, a practice that scored him his biggest professional success to date.
“I called the record company about this song ‘If I Were Sorry’ by Frans. I pitched for the clip a week later and was successful,” he says.
The song was Sweden’s entry in 2016 Eurovision song contest, where it was placed fifth. To date it has over 20 million views on You Tube.
Iversen modestly insists that the clip has re-assured his prospective clients that: “I know something about what I am doing.”
“I don’t know whether it has had an enormous impact, but it’s been my strongest ‘weapon’ for communicating when approaching new clients,” he says.
Amongst Iversen’s recent credits is a new feature Den Enda Vägen The Only Way (Manuel Concha, 2017) on which he did the production design.
His advice to undergrads: “never try to be the best at everything, instead learn from all and focus on what you find interesting.”
Ingvarsson agrees: “I was at SFS to learn but the best thing was I had the chance to experiment and find my voice.”
“I made the mistake of [micro-managing] my crew on The Forest,” says Rosell. “If you want to learn to direct you have to understand what everyone contributes – you need to understand what – the sound department, the art department the camera department – need from you.”
He says that meeting so many international students as well as the local students created a powerful sense of creativity.
“It’s not a holiday,” cautions Ben Zadig. “Sydney and Australia…it’s lovely and warm and all that but if you have come to SFS from Sweden to get the most out of it you need to throw yourself into 200 per cent. Every waking moment should revolve around film and you must surround yourself with filmmaking from the start of the day to the end of the day,” he says.
“Its not the easiest industry to survive and that [fully committed] attitude will [make you fit for it],” Zadig believes.
All experiences are good even if they make you feel ‘bad’ he says laughing.
The best though, he reckons, are the ones where “you feel you are out of your depth, when don’t feel at home.”