Maja’s Place is Empty

Some months ago, I was approached by a young Kristiansand-based production company, De jentene der, with an idea they had for a short film. They wondered if I was interested in writing the script for them, based on an idea by Åge Henriksen.

It is a story of a country that quietly (ab)uses its social service to take children away from their families and without any real reasons, forces them to a life in orphanages. These children become victims of  physical, sexual and mental abuse. A national strategy to abolish an entire people with what is considered «degenerate genes», by forcibly sterilizing women and girls to prevent them from reproducing. Experimental «treatment» like lobotomi is carried out on those deemed mentally ill. In reality their «illness» could just be any signs of protest against this crazy inhumane policy.

It sounds almost like a science fiction surreal universe.  Shockingly, the most surreal thing about this story is that it is based on facts. And it is not a story from a distant past either. Many of the victims of this regime are still alive and live among us today. As are their persecutors.

This is not something that took place in Germany during the Holocaust. Nor is it a story from the South African Apartheid regime or pre-Civil Rights Movement in the USA. This is not Saddam’s persecution of Kurds, nor ethnic cleansing in Rwanda, Uganda or any other far-away-nation lead by a monsterous dicatator.

The story the producers approached me with is one that took place in Norway as late as the latter part of the 1970’s. The victims were the Romani people, otherwise known as «gypsies». So great were the otrocities that the Norwegian government issued a formal apology in 1998, delivered by Ragnhild Queseth Haarstad, Minister of Local Government and Regional Development.

How could I say no to writing this? The only problem is that there is too much material for just a short film. Many potenial feature films and documentaries could be made about the stories of the Romani in Norway.

For now, the producers have commissioned a short screenplay and that is what they have received. The story has been working in the back of my mind for several months. I have been dipping into the research material now and again, while my main focus has been either on «A Room With No View» or «Secrets» («Hemmeligheten»). As soon as I could turn my sole focus to this story, I did.

In short, «Majas plass er tom» («Maja’s Place is Empty») is a fictional story of a 15 year old Romani girl who is forcibly taken away from her parents, committed to a psychiatric hospital and had a lobotomy performed on her.

For me, it was a story worth writing. For the Romani people, it is a story needing to be told. For us all, it is a story of shame we need to bring out in to the open.


And the Winner is….

I just received word that Shadow of a Midsummer Night a short film that I co-wrote with director Stian Einar Forgaard has taken home the first prize in the 11th annual ViewFinders: International Film Festival for Youth.

Produced by the Atlantic Film Festival, the 11th annual ViewFinders: International Film Festival for Youth is a week-long festival of film, video and media for youth in Canada. A jury consisting of young people between 12 to 16 years did the honors. Interested youths applied for the chance to be in the jury and Senior Programmer of the Atlantic Film Festival, Ron Foley MacDonald gave the jurors a crash course in film critiques and provided them with important insight into what it is like to be part of a film jury.

Shadow of a Midsummer Night has previously won 2nd Prize, Live-action Short Film  in the 28th  the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival in October 2011, awarded by the Children’s Jury.

The film is doing its rounds at festivals worldwide and has also been screened in the Norwegian Short Film Festival in Grimstad, The Norwegian Film Festival in Haugesund, The New York International Children’s Film Festival, Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth in Vancouver and will be screened later this year at the 42nd Giffoni Film Festival in Italy.

Filmeditor Erik Andersson was recently nominated in the category «Editing» at GRAND OFF – World Independent Film Awards in Warsawa.

The film is produced by Phantom film.


My Secret

Even though a huge chunk of my focus and time these past months has been directed towards the short film Et rom uten utsikt (A Room With No View), it has not been the only project I have been working on. I have also been writing a feature screenplay, but decided to keep it a secret.

Once in a while I have mentioned it in passing on Facebook and Twitter, but never really referring to what it is about. And a few times I have just mentioned I have a secret, without elaborating any more about this.

The Norwegian title of the screenplay is Hemmeligheten, which is The Secret in English. So my references to my secret has just been a play on words.

Writing this screenplay brings me full circle to how I started writing for film in the first place. I hope this also marks the start of new «circles», which lead to a more productive era. Productive meaning production-wise.

The Secret has been with me for almost ten years. It started out as a play with words – a few lines the stuck in my mind, that would become the opening of a novel. I spent a few years working on it. A mystery that I was not quite sure where would end or what lay at the core. A writer friend of mine read the novel and suggested that I consider rewriting it for film.

The novel was a very bad first draft and needed rewriting no matter what. I saw much of the plot in pictures in my mind, so I decided to give adapting it to a screenplay a go.

A while later I had my first 90-some page screenplay in my hand. Having nothing to lose, I sent it to a production company. To my surprize, they called me within a few weeks. They weren’t too interested in the screenplay I had sent, but wondered if  instead I would consider playing around with an idea they had for a film.

Of course I was.

That was my first step towards becoming a screenplay writer.

I grabbed the opportunity, quite my job and never looked back. It was pretty clear early on that I had no clue to what I was doing, so that project slipped through my fingers. I met a lot of great people in the process, though, and learned a lot. One of the people who crossed my path was film director Alexander Eik.

He had just directed his first movie at the time. There was talk of him directing the project I was writing, before it went belly up. He went on to direct 4 more cinema movies and 2 television series.

In the meantime, I took a few steps back and decided to get a grip on learning to write screenplays.

The basic story of The Secret (which has had several other titles) followed me. I went back to square one with the idea when I was accepted in a writer’s workshop a few years later. Filmkraft Rogaland hired dramaturg Kirsten Rask to help a handful writers and aspiring writers develop each our own screenplays. My story transformed during this process and I got my first real writing grant to complete it.

I was pretty happy with some of it, but felt there was some things not quite right. I tried collaborating with a few others on it, but it never really amounted to much. I also sent it in to a couple of film companies, but none of them wanted to take it on.

After several rewrites, I had come to the point in which I was about to call it a day with that particular project. It’s not like I have a lack of ideas. On the contrary, I have so many story ideas that even if I lived ten lives, I would not have enough time to write them all.

However, something about this idea intrigued me so much that I kept bringing it out of the drawer.

I gave it one last go towards the end of last year. I sent it to the Norwegian Film Institute’s screenplay development scheme, with a letter of all the intentions I had for the story. The improvements I thought it needed and basically a little cry for help to let something from the story survive.

I was very surprized when I was invited to discuss the project with them! They accepted me into their scheme and awarded me a grant, providing I found a director who was interested in the story and could assist me in developing it.

Once again, Alexander Eik and I crossed paths. I asked him if he would be interested in reading what I had. He was. He came back to me with one radical idea, that would change everything but the most essential part of the story. The bottom line in the plot remained the same and the tension between the characters also would be carried over. The idea he brought onboard actually increased the intensity of both the plot and the characters.

I feel in love with his idea, so we decided to work on it together.

The grant went through in January, so Alexander and I have been playing ball on this project ever since.

I completed the final rewrites and adjustments this morning and mailed the screenplay over to the Norwegian Film Institute shortly after.

That is why I feel like I have come full circle. Now it is time to get this screenplay out in a more production focused phase. It is way too early to say anything about where-what-who-when it can become a reality. For now, I am very happy to have completed writing the screenplay.

Working with Alexander has been amazing and I hope that this is the first of several projects we will collaborate on.

So this is has been my secret: I got my first full writing grant from the Norwegian Film Institute and have spent the past 4 months writing a feature length screenplay with a very talented film director.

And the storyline? After the death of her father, a Norwegian-Pakistani woman discovers she has an unknown twin sister in Pakistan, but her mother refuses to tell her anything about this sister and why she has kept the sister’s existence a secret.

The rest I will leave for you to see at the cinema. Some day.


In Production

The first call of «Action» on «A Room With No View» was on Saturday this past weekend. I wasn’t there to witness it, but was happy to hear that everything went according to schedule. Even ahead of. The crew managed to call it a wrap for the day almost an hour earlier than planned.

I met up with the crew the following evening, after they had travelled across the country. Bright and early Monday morning the crew was ready for the main cast: Hege O. Egner and Hannah Karine Giske at the hospital which would be our one main location for most of this week. Our main character Kathrine (played by Hannah Karine) is as an adult hospitalized with serious psychiatric illness after being bullied as a child.

Hannah Karine brings Katrine to life in a deeply felt way. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to place yourself in the position of someone like our Katrine. Especially since the real life person who in part inspired the story of Katrine is on the set.

On Tuesday evening the local police in Kristiansand was extremely helpful in yet another important and difficult scene, where Katrine is wandering around in a pyjamas, lost in her psychotic nightmare. To protect her from herself, the police come for her. She fights for her life, so the police have to force her to go with them. Thanks to the Agder Police District, two sporty police officers joined us for several hours in the rain pretty late into the evening, and patiently acted as our Police Officers 1 & 2 in the screenplay.

We have had so much help and goodwill from so many people and offices over the course of this past week and throughout the pre-production weeks. We could not have made it this far without all the generousity we have met all around. It seems that the story of Katrine touches many people. Some related directly to her, others know of someone like her.

I have a double role in this project as producer and screenplay writer. So for me, this past week has been extra demanding and rewarding at the same time. Monday brought the wonderful news that Filmkraft Rogaland has awarded us a production grant of NOK 250.000. This has brought us one huge step closer to reaching our goal for financing.

Another uplifting issue for me is that we finally are her. I have lived with this project for over a year and put countless months into building the foundation for the actual production. A burdon I have shared equally with co-producer Solveig Arnesen of Genesis Film, the production company behind the film.

All the same, it is a very emotionally challenging situation seeing a screenplay I spent so long trying to get a grip on take the first steps towards the film screen. After a few versions, I was happy about what got down on paper. Especially after Kirsten Rask gave her thumbs up and said it was a good script. Although I have not had any desire to direct fiction, I do see the pictures and many visual elements with my inner eye when I write. I know how I would like the film to look like. Letting it go and trusting it to someone else is almost like letting go of a love affair or losing a friend. It never seems to get easier and is draining.

I left the crew and cast after spending 3 days with them. The crew is still filming as I write. Tonight there is also another night shoot. After a day at a new location tomorrow, the crew has one day of travel, before concluding on Sunday. Some of the crew leave already tomorrow, and only a minature crew will do the final shots.

In a few days the production will end and we will be in postproduction. I look forward to that.

 


Countdown

Only 4 days left until we start shooting «A Room With No Room».

A very busy team of production coordinator, assistent producer, director, cinematographer and various assistents are getting the last details in place. We have 7 days of shooting lined up, in 3 different main locations in various parts of the country on the South West coast. In addition to shooting days, there are 2 days of transportation. So the team is gearing up for 9 days of work, starting Saturday.

The very final day of shooting will be a snow scene, so that is perhaps the most tricky one. We are crossing our fingers that winter will not quite leave the location we found, making us having to search for «higher ground».

There are still tons of producer related tasks to be looked after. We still need some additional funding and waiting for the result of a number of applications. And we have a few other «tricks up our sleeves». More on that in a later blog where I will sum up how we have gone about to get our funding. I have already mentioned some in earlier blogs. I am not sure how much of our experiences can be of help or inspiration for others, but in case someone can get an idea or two, I am only happy to share what I have learned.

That will have to wait, but for now, my main focus is the on what is happening in 4, 3, 2, 1…

«And action!»


Pre-Production Frenzy

As the days grow lighter and longer outside my window, they don’t seem to have enough hours inside anymore! «A Room With No View» is now in the pre-production frenzy stage. We are a small, yet dedicated team working against the clock to get everything in place before director Inger Lene Stordrange can shout her first «And – Action!»

The film will be shot outside Haugesund and around Kristiansand. The very final scene we are filming is a snow scene, so this year’s extremely mild winter has not been to our liking as far as that goes. We’ll manage though. A few hours by car we should find a mound of snow to complete it all.

«A Room With No View» is about Katrine, who as a child was severly bullied and became mentally ill as a consequence. We see Katrine at ages 6, 12 and mid 20. We have our mid-20 Katrine and 12 year old Katrine, and now the hunt is on to find a 6 year old girl from the Kristiansand area who can look like a younger version of them.

Adult Katrine will be portrayed by Hannah Karine Giske (photo on left). She is a Norwegian Actress who studied in NY at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute and with Robert Castle from the International Theater  New York. She thinks herself very fortunate to have had teachers who from early on encouraged her (and her fellow classmates) to only take on parts in projects they really believed in. And this is one of them. She can´t stress enough how important it is that the message of this film reaches out, having known people who never fully recovered from the many forms of bullying that there is.

For more information on Hannah Karine and to see her showreel, please see her homepage on https://www.hannahkarine.com/ 

In addition to the Katrines, the other main character is Lisa, a nurse at the psychiatric ward. Hege O. Enger, who has more than 20 years of acting experience will be breathing life into our Lisa-character.

(Photo of Hege above, taken by Stian Herdal Medi)

Hege has acting experience from theater, feature and short films, as well as commercial and corporate films. She also has a background as a dancer, and studied at the Norwegian Opera. Other schools include The Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute in New York.

Visit her homepage at https://www.hegenger.com for her CV and more information on her acting background.

Most of the extras are also cast and are being notified this week. Practice for actors and extras are one of the main focuses for director Inger Lene these final weeks until we actually start shooting on April 14. Inger Lene is being assisted by Silje Marie Strandberg in prepping the actors and extras. Her experience is extremely valuable, since she has been in similar situations as our fictional Katrine herself. We are extremely fortunate to have Silje Marie on board in this film production, and cannot express our gratitude for all that she brings with to it.

Inger Lene and I spent several days last week in Kristiansand location scouting. Some of the scenes will actually be filmed in a psychiatric hospital, if all works out. We have already gotten the go-ahead to film some exterior scenes outside a hospital ward, and now we are hoping that the final person who has a say in the matter also will give his blessing for us to use some of the facilities inside. Once that has fallen in place, we are just shy of one location.

Pieces are falling in place, day by day.

Scenographer Lisa Whetmore is working hard on getting ahold of everything she needs for props and dressing the locations, make-up artist Nina Samdal is preparing costumes and make-up, production coordinator Trine Malde is keeping tabs on everything and producer assistent Alena Stibralová is finding her place on the team, helping producer Solveig Arnesen and myself with every other thinkable and unthinkable task. In addition to prepping actors and extras, Inger Lene is focused on her  shotlist, which is a work-in-progress, based on the storyboard drawn by Elias Kallestein.

We are still waiting for the replies from all the applications we have sent out, and are still concentrating on other funding strategies. More to come on that in a later blog.

 


Thank you, Sørnorsk filmsenter

 

Just a quick announcement and a great thanks. Just before the weekend, Sørnorsk filmsenter announced that they are financially supporting 4 projects. One of which is A Room With No View. They are supporting us with a wonderful kr 99.000!

This goes a long way in getting our budget in place.

We still have a bit of a way still ahead, but things are falling in place day by day now.

Will report back real soon on where we are in the process, but for now: a huge thank you to everyone who has and is supporting us – and especially Sørnorsk filmsenter!

P.s On Twitter? Follow us on ARoomMovie.


A True Story Behind Fiction

Is it true that «Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me»? Too many victims of bulllying prove otherwise. The wounds of emotional, mental and physical bullying can run very deep. Some make it through fine. Others have scars for life. Some are not able to live.

«A Room With No View» is an authentic short film that shows the hell bullying can lead to and hope of finding a way back to life again.

The film is based on true stories. In this vimeo video you meet one of the victims who inspired it most. Silje Marie Strandberg became sick for many years, but has managed to find her way back to a full life again. She is brave and strong enough to share her experiences in a naked and honest interview.

Watch it here: A Survivor of Bullying Speaks Out: Silje Marie Strandberg, who has inspired the short film «A Room With No View».

This interview is produced by Genesis Film – www.genesisfilm.no with the financial support of Filmkraft Rogaland.

«A Room With No View» – coming autumn 2012. Produced by Genesis Film. Visit us on Facebook for more information: www.facebook.com/Aroomwithnoview .

The film will be a complete English language version (no subtitles).


«A Room With No View» – Update

A Room With No View (”Et rom uten utsikt”) – Update

During the months since I last wrote about this project our focus has been on writing the screenplay and finding the money to go into production.

The screenplay is a fictional story based on interviews and informal talks with people who have been bullied to the extent that it has made their lives difficult. Some have even become very sick as a result. We are inspired particularly by one woman who I interviewed indepth. This interview is filmed and I will be releasing a very short version of it in the not so distant future.

A few weeks ago the screenplay got the ”thumbs up” by dramaturg Kirsten Rask. I let out a sigh of relief when she approved of it. I am always open for suggestions and questions that challenge me as a writer, in order to improve what I write. This being said, I felt like I had written a screenplay that I was pretty satisfied with. Since Kirsten hadn’t read any of the previous drafts, I prepared myself to be sent back to the drawing board. Luckily she was happy with what she read.

The discussions with the directors, Inger Lene Stordrange and Skjalg Molvær, of how they plan to bring my words to life, have been very inspiring. I am very much looking forward to the result

We are scheduled to start shooting mid April. As of now we plan to shoot most of it in Kristiansand and Sveio. Solveig Arnesen has taken responsibility of hands-on director, so she is busy getting the crew and cast in place. The spots are filling up fast now. I am happily observing from the sidelines, as I continue to work towards financing.

Our strategy from the start was to try crowdfunding, applying to organizations who (hopefully) are not flooded by film projects and see this as a project along lines that they are concerned with and pre-selling/distribution.

The crowdfunding has mainly been powered by our Facebook pages: www.facebook.com/aroomwithnoview and www.facebook.com/etromutenutsikt and the homepage www.etromutenutsikt.com . Early on the English and Norwegian pages were equally focused on and we received funding both from Norway and abroad. At one point I decided to favor the Norwegian site for a while, yet planning to return to the English-language one at a later date. None of the pages have any ”wow”-factor as far as number of ”likes”, but between the two and the efforts we have made by sending out requests to companies, Lions clubs and organizations such as Mental Helse (Mental Health) has resulted in kr 35.000,-

There has also been some newspaper articles on the film and a portrett interview with Silje Marie Strandberg (mentioned above as the one I interviewed indepth), which has had an impact on some of these funds coming in.

I hope that when we post the interview extract, that it will inspire more people to donate. Her story is very moving and we hope our film will be, too. We will be posting it with English subtitles, since the film itself will be produced in both a Norwegian and an English version.

We have also received sizeable financial support from Utdanningsforbundet (Union of Education Norway).

We have also been working towards pre-sales/distribution. Yes, it is a short film (and no one has ever heard of one actually selling?) and yes, it is a film intended to have a high artistic level. One we aim at showing at film festivals. (At this point we are allowed to be optimistic, so I add: we aim at winning some prizes. Why not?) I have never seen any contradiction between creating something that holds high artistic standards and something that could have a large audience.

I am in this to make films, because I love films. I also have a driving passion for issues that matter. Most of what I have done reflects this. As does this project.

Due to the subject matter, we see that this film can have a large audience if distributed correctly. Nothing would make me happier than to see it reaching many people. Hopefully also creating a difference, even if it is for just one person.

We have sent out invitations to all of Norway’s 400 + municipalities. The invitation has been sent to the political and bureaucratic leaders (majors, heads of administration, schooling etc), so it would get in the highest hands possible. They have been offered to show the film at all their schools for a period of 6 weeks this coming fall through netstreaming. For this they pay a small fee.

22 have accepted so far. About 40-50 have declined. Several have requested to see the film completed and others have told us to go directly to their schools.  The rest have not yet answered. I will give them a little more time, before sending a polite reminder.  There are still over 300 potential “yes”’s  out there and until otherwise proven, the possibilities of these are still open.

I have several other strategies up my sleeves, but since I have not yet started them properly, I will wait to write about them here.

My attitude has been that many small amounts equal a substantial total. Not everyone has a lot to give, but if many give a little… It is the result that counts.

Lately we have begun sending in applications to the larger funds and will be doing the rounds on the film funds. I hope that some of them see the value of what we are doing, and by assessing the screenplay and director’s notes see that the film will be one they will be happy to put their money into.


International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM

The Cut

February 6 is the annual International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). This year marks the 9th time the UN focuses on this issue by dedicating an annual day to raise awareness.

The World Health Organization estimates that 120-140 million girls and women have had their genitals mutilated. 2 – 3 million new victims join their ranks every year. I was so taken by this that I spent several years doing research to why this tradition is still alive in this day and age. The result was a handful of articles, meetings with people that have touched me deep in my soul and will live with me for as long as I breathe, and a short documentary that I directed. CNN picked it up only a few weeks after it was launched on a dedicated website and broadcasted it in October 2009.

«The Cut» can be downloaded for free on www.thecutdocumentary.org . Or streamed on Vimeo as below.

The Cut is a short documentary about Mary (14 years old) and Alice (early 20s) from Kenya. Both are affected by the traditional rite of passage into womanhood: genital cutting.

Mary and her community are preparing for her ceremonial cutting.

Alice is studying to be a social worker to work against female genital mutilation. As the first in her community to refuse the practice, she has paid a high price for her choice to break with tradition.

Alice tells of the different myths she encounters in the community around her, as to why circumcision is practiced. Mary, on the other hand, has no voice. She just goes through the preparations and rituals in silence.

Director: Linda May Kallestein

Photographer: Justo N. Casal

Editor: Trine Nordmark Børstad

Producer: Phantomfilm
-Broadcast on CNN in October 2009.

-Nominated as best documentary at WT Os International Film Festival 2009

-Shown at various film festivals