SHORTA – Interview with Frederik Louis Hviid & Anders Ølholm

Following the arrest of a Muslim teenage boy, the police find themselves under the spotlight once again under allegations of brutality. Unrest spreads around the locality, with the potential to spill over into riots. White Police officers Jens (Simon Sears) and Mike (Jacob Lohmann) are dispatched to keep the peace, whereupon they encounter and then arrest teenager Amos (Tarek Zayat). They soon find themselves surrounded in a hostile tower block environment. With no extraction team willing to go in, they’re on their own. It’s going to be a long night as they attempt to find a way out…

Congratulations on Shorta. It’s a unique film especially for right now. What was your inspiration for writing and directing this initially?

Anders – The sort of the germ of the idea was just to make a sort of very high concepts akin to, you know, the Warriors or, you know, old school gritty, you know, cop films of the 70s, like Serpico or The French Connection.

And then, you know, I had the initial idea probably 10 years ago, and worked on it as a writer for another director. And then Frederick and I, we’ve been friends for a long time, we, we want to do something together, and we talked about different, you know, ideas, and pitching each other different projects. And then sort of by happenstance, I mentioned this thing, and, you know, Frederik’s eyes lit up, and we started talking about it.

And, you know, and we went back to Toolbox, the producers and said, listen, we want to try and direct this ourselves. And to their credit, they said, you know, that sounds like a great idea. And then, you know, we started working on it, and researching it, which was a long process, you know, within itself.

You know, and I think that’s where, sort of the substance, if you will, the themes and sort of issues, quote, unquote, that the film grapples with, that’s when they sort of kind of revealed themselves. It took us about five years to make the film. And so, you know, it was a gradual process. Sure.

And what about for you, Frederik? What was it for you?

Frederik – I think I speak for both of us when I say that we’ve, we’ve always been very fascinated with the sub-genre of cop films. And, and, as I’m, as you used to say, it’s a perfect, it’s the perfect job for film, right? Because it’s, it’s drama is like a part of its of its natural, how can you say, the natural core of the job?

Right, the conflict is a part of it. And I think what’s part of what drew me to the idea was that I would really love to be a part of making a Danish cop film that actually took the job serious, that portrayed that environment in a way that I said that I thought was that it had respect for the job, really, that we made sure that we researched it and, and showed it.

And I think that was that was a major reason for the initial excitement for the project, then it quickly dawned on us both that this could actually be a an opportunity to tell a story, which we thought was important that we thought it had some substance in it and wanted something from its audience while still keeping that you know, that core of being a an entertaining, fun, cinematic experience, genre piece, which we’re both very much in love with.

Were you surprised at how timeless this film has surprisingly become? I believe in another interview, I’m not sure whether it was you, Frederik or you Anders, who said that you wrote, like this film was made before the George Floyd incident, where you guys surprised it now, the fact that now that’s come out, people might take that’s inspired by it.

Like, how would you feel about that?

Anders – I mean, you know, I, you know, that’s, that’s something we talked about a lot. I mean, yes, we shot the film before the George Floyd incident happened, and I think we were editing the trailer, if I’m not mistaking. And we were, we really, you know, talked about it a lot. Also, in terms of, there are some striking similarities, you know, especially in the first part of the film between that incident and what takes place in the film.

And we really didn’t want to, you know, come off as sort of optimistic, or, you know, and also didn’t want to, you know, take away from, you know, that discussion or, but, ultimately, we decided, and we talked to producers and distributors, and we all agreed that it was, it, this was an important issue, and that, if this film in any way could, could either shed light on it, I don’t think that was necessarily necessary.

Or, you know, a thing that I think is, you know, very interesting about tackling these kinds of issues, or social issues, as a whole within a genre format is that, you know, it’s film is a, you know, it’s a sort of collective, you know, experience when you go to the cinema, and, you know, it’s a way, it could be a way for people to sort of talk about get, you know, start a conversation about a difficult issue, without having the awareness, you know, that can sometimes it can sometimes be very divisive.

It’s, it’s a very sort of political film, where this is, this is a genre film, it’s meant to entertain, but we also have something to say, or we, you know, it’s about something. And so, you know, our hope at the end of the day was that people would look, you know, that it would have that effect, but, you know, we have seen people who have sort of criticised the film for maybe not exploiting the George Floyd incident, but certainly, you know, leaning into it very much. Which wasn’t the case at all.

We were more inspired by other cases. I know the Danish case, a 30-year-old Danish case called the Benjamin case. That’s very similar. Also, the Eric Garner case, his death a few years prior. But it really, I think, speaks to the fact that this is this is a, you know, an ongoing problem, something that needs to be addressed. And but it was very interesting, kind of felt like being a part of watershed moment for, for, certainly, about yourself rhetoric. I mean, I think it was thought provoking, as Anders said, that we that we were inspired by Kate, a Danish case that was that old and that the topic is still so relevant today.

I think that in its itself, I think merits the US taking it up in a film and talking about it, because I think this is how you address problems. By talking about them and writing books about them and making movies about them. I think every country has that story has that issue of systemic violence or institutionalised racism or prejudice and it’s not something new. Camera phones are relatively new, and I think that has made the issue perhaps more front centre, but, but the core of the problem is not new at all.

And you know, you’re both young filmmakers. And this is a big film for yourselves. What kind of challenges did you find coming into it with regards to casting and shooting scenes? Frederik, if you’d like to start?

Frederik – Um, you know, I think that in a way, it’s a two parter, because I think that the challenge for me, at least was to figure out how are going to make a film this ambitious with the limited budget that we have. How do we approach film like this and developing this particular visual language?

And I think that was a huge part of going into it, what, what I think we spent our time on when we got into the directing part of the film.

And then during the course of filming, of course, there were scenes that were difficult. The ones we talked about the dogs, and the cost, to name two, I mean, those were particularly difficult. And we use a lot of headspace to figure out how to actually solve that Rubik’s Cube, but I think, what, eventually what helped us was understanding the darkness for our visual language.

And then taking, taking those dogmas, and applying them to all our action sequences, all our fight sequences, but also to our character moments.

And what about your what about yourself, Anders? What were the challenges and the exciting kind of moments that year, you know, went up against that challenge?

Anders – I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s pretty much what Frederik said. I mean, we, you know, for first time, directing, you know, as feature film directors, we certainly got a huge budget, but it was still modest. You know, in terms of our sort of ambition, you know, ambition, level of ambition, and, you know, and we have very, a lot of locations, we had a lot of characters, and a lot of action. I think that in Denmark, we’re still in kind of a learning curve in terms of making these kinds of films.

So, I don’t think, you know, we had a lot of skills, very capable people on our crew, but there’s still that level of experience there in terms of how you execute a car crash. And so, you know the nuts and bolts of figuring out how to shoot the film, how to shoot those kinds of sequences, was something that took up a lot of our time.

And then, you know, but it was everything it was, you know, our first assistant director who was vital in making the film and was a very close collaborator. Sometimes when we were driving to set, he would tell us that we were already behind schedule and we hadn’t even shown up on location yet.

And, you know, that’s where being a team of two directors and who’s really synced up and really knows this film inside out and has done their due diligence in terms of preparation, that’s where that really came in handy.

Also, just more in terms of morality, you know, and working with very experienced actors in Jacob Lohmann and Simon Sears, but also completely new, untrained actors, young people, and so there was a lot of aspects to it, but it went very well. It was a great shoot.

You spoke there on Simon, that about their characters, Mike and Hoyers, how was it casting them? And then when you got them, you know, how was it to was the dignity of portraying those characters, because they’re both very complex. And at first you think you know what they’re like, but then as the film goes on, you learn they’re deeper and nuanced characters, then you first believe. Frederik, if you’d like to speak on this first.

Frederik – I think it was, I mean, it was very important for us that that both our characters felt or that all the characters basically, the film felt three dimensional in a way that they all carried good and bad, equally, and that they all represented both the light and the darkness of the story in a way.

Anders said that we were very, we were very focused on not making this film a divisive piece, but a piece about human beings. And I think that was, that was why we took we spent so much time from writing it and preparing it, making sure that we had all these dimensions mapped out. And we knew exactly when their arcs would start to turn on.

We didn’t want to, you know, paint a picture of making this film about, you know, these are the good guys, these are the bad guys, this is how you solve the issue.

I personally don’t think the film should try and do that. I think we should, you know, it should be a part of a conversation. And, and that was why it was important for us to have all those layers apply to all our characters in a way.

And what about for yourself, Anders? What was it about those characters and you know, the cast that you brought in?

Anders – Well, we involved Simon and Jacob early on. I mean, as I said, earlier, we worked on this film for about four and a half years before we started shooting it. And about halfway through, we had sort of a, you know, we workshopped a few scenes and, you know, and also had, which was also kind of a casting situation where we add different sort of actors, you know, tried different dynamics, and, and we, so we had them, those, Jacob and Simon and so from that then on, we were very sort of, we wanted them in the film and really try to tailor the film to them.

And, yeah, it’s like Frederik said, I mean, I think what we wanted to do was make sort of nuanced characters that weren’t necessarily that are, you know, three dimensional, this is a film that obviously has well known tropes in terms of this kind of sub-genre as well. We also wanted to sort of have end some expectations and subvert some of those.

And so, we really wanted to sort of, yeah, as I said, sort of play on expectations in terms of what you expect from the characters and, and sort of make also have make room for, you know, moral ambiguity and, and, and, and also not necessarily catered to this notion that, you know, your main characters have to be sympathetic, because I think a lot of films these days, you know, it’s and that’s something we got some pushback initially in terms of having a main character, you know, Jacob Lohmann is arguably our main character, who is not necessarily the most empathetic person in the world. But has good in him.

But he’s also a volatile person and, and a person that can be very gregarious. jovial is good at certain things, certainly charismatic and has a set of values, and a code, which, you know, Simon Sears’ character doesn’t necessarily have. I mean, you could say that he’s a sort of more noble character, but you could also look at it from the point of view where he’s sort of more of a coward. He hasn’t really stepped up, and that’s what his arc is about.

And so yeah, it was all about, like Frederik said. It’s all about, you know, trying to achieve that nuance and trying to achieve that those sort of little, you know, those layers within the characters.

So, as we wind down on the interview, I just want to check with the two of you. You know, it’s been a while the film has been released in Denmark since last year, if I’m right, October, what’s been experience on this press tour? How much fun has it been to get to talk about the film finally? Frederik, we’ll start with you.

Frederik – I mean, I think it’s been quite overwhelming, to be honest. I mean, I don’t think I had any expectations, that there would be so much interest in it to be to be honest.

Maybe that’s my Danish humility, in a way that speaks to it. But I think that has been quite overwhelming. Even now we’re sitting here where we’re almost in September now, and we’re still talking about the film.

Which I think is amazing. And it’s, it’s such a joy to see it, respond to so many people across the world, really. And it’s been, I mean, such a pleasure and, and especially for our first film, as directors, which is, which, which can be an a, an exciting and, and anxious thing to throw yourself into, I think this has been, you know, a dream scenario.

How have you been feeling Anders?

Anders – It’s completely the same for me. I’ve also been very sort of surprised by the, you know, the, the amount of interest that there has been, I mean, I think would have been fairly, you know, disappointed if there had been no interest at all. But just to see, you know, on an international level, how many, you know and, another thing that’s interesting, is talking to different outlets, talking to different journalists, hearing their reactions to the film, which are quite varied, and kind of reflects their background where they come from your culturally, socially and all that stuff.

So, I think, you know, and very much so in terms of how they view the police, and, you know, the film was shown and in Egypt. Our producers were there, and they were just flabbergasted by the fact that you couldn’t even make this kind of film in Egypt, and that we had law enforcement officers helping us make it. We had technical advisors on the film, and to them that was just very interesting.

Interview by Graham Day

Shorta will be released in Irish cinemas and digital on the 3rd of September.