EDN Member of the Month - Oscar Hedin
In this monthly interview series EDN focuses on one of its many members to show both members in the spotlight and the diversity of the EDN membership group.
Our EDN member of the month for December 2014 is Oscar Hedin, Producer & Director, Film and Tell, Sweden and Norway.
Oscar Hedin has been working through the company Film and Tell since 2010 and prior to that he made a number of films - among others A National Team without a Nation (2005), which won the Golden Palm at the Beverly Hills Films Festival, My Father is Mentally Disabled (2008) nominated for the Red Cross Journalism Award, and Aching Heart (2007), which was nominated for a Guldbagge, Prix Europa and Ikaros, and won the Amulet.
Further titles include Shame & Honor (2009) nominated for a Prix Europa, where Oscar brought HBTQs in honour cultures to the public’s attention, Hate and The Triangle of Death (2004) a film focusing on the illegal hunting of wolves that won the Swedish Environmental Journalists’ Honorary Award, and The Forgotten Girls (2001), a documentary shining light on FMG that was nominated for the Save the Children Journalist Award.
Oscar has been an independent producer his entire career making his owns films. He has worked at Motlys in Oslo, directing Plata (2001), a film about a pusher. He was one of the founders of the Swedish production company Laika Film & Television in 2004. He attended the documentary producers’ training Eurodoc in 2005, and since 2010 he works through Film and Tell, a company based in both Stockholm and Oslo, now with three persons employed.
EDN has among other things talked to Oscar about the profile of his company and the documentary diptych, which he is currently working on.
EDN: Can you start by telling a bit more about your background and what drove you in to making documentaries?
OH: The short answer is that it, for me, documentary is a fascinating combination of art and the real world. The long answer is that I came from a background where an academic and political understanding of the society was highly valued. But art was not. I thought of going to art school but never dared. In my early twenties I read Charlie Simpson's Apocalypse from 1971 by Joe Eszterhas (Eszterhas later went to Hollywood, most known for writing the script for Basic Instinct, editors note). To read it was like... politics on speed. That book, and then the art form of New Journalism - the literary interpretation of reality - changed my professional life. I started to write reportages. Then the step was not long to audio-visual storytelling, you work more or less with the same tools: scenes, dramaturgy, identification, etc. So I went into the field, first with current affairs, and then more and more with creative documentaries. During my university time I was looking at films, and many films taught me. Le chagrin et la pitié (1969) by Marcel Ophüls was a real eye-opener on how to do an epic. The trilogy of Paradise Lost by Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger is a masterpiece of turning points, which in documentary always are better than in fiction. Armadillo (2010) by Janus Metz gave me new understanding on what cinema vérité also could be.
EDN: Since 2010 you work through our own production company Film and Tell. What was your motivation behind this, and what are the profile and objectives of the company?
OH: I believe in the power documentary, or, I know the power of it. I decided to build a company on that fact. At Film and Tell we above all want to tell a good story, that’s the core, but we also want to reach out to the audience. Furthermore we believe that our films shall have a role in society, they shall criticize and point out for a change to the better.
It took me some time to find out how to do it. I'm thankful for the years at Laika Film & Television were I learned many hard lessons together with the co-founders Erik Sandberg and Andreas Rocksén. If I should point out two that have inspired me it would be Sigve Endresen - he really showed me early on that you can do your thing, and his company Motlys was in itself an inspiration. Another was my tutor Thomas Kufus of Zero One at the Eurodoc Producers Course, who shared freely from his experiences. I did not do what he said but I learned a lot about how you could analyse from the producer's perspective.
At Film and Tell we shall be in constant change. That's difficult, but necessary. The digital revolution is still going on and the market is in crisis. You must constantly question what you take for granted and what people tell you, and find new practices.
EDN: How do you incorporate the objectives and outreach in the practical working with the films – both in the production and distribution?
OH: Telling good stories is like inventing the wheel again, and again and again. It's difficult. At the same time, it's a craft; you can always hang on to tools like idea, treatment, test shootings etc.
At Film and Tell we do not work with the idea of the artistic genius. We want to involve everybody in the team, not only directors, but also editors, camerawo/men, researchers, my colleagues, and others striving for the best possible piece. You have to explain your thoughts as well as your feelings.
In many ways I question the terminology of titles. I would argue that Hollywood took the titles from the theatre. Then the European state-funded fiction made a blue print. Then the titles were used by the documentary professionals cause they are mainly state-funded and they want to have the same status as the fiction films. They don't reflect especially well, at least in our creative process, how we work. But we still use the titles in order not to confuse.
Another example of what I dislike is the rigidity of phases: development, production, and post-production. It is also inherited from the American model. In Europe the state-funded bodies stick to them because they don't need to adjust and question. In the documentary field it's even worse than fiction, it seldom reflects how a film’s process is, i.e. I would argue most documentaries are written in the edit suite, not in the beginning, but in the end of a creative process.
Outreach is a fairly new field for us. We have to understand this by practice. I urge everybody to read Jon Reiss Think Outside the Box Office. Reiss has formulated the most down-to-earth advices and analysis so far. At Film and Tell we believe in reaching out to the audience as early as possible - which can be scary for a filmmaker used to stay far away from the audience during production. We also want them to be a part of the creative process when it's possible. We will work a lot on this in the future. Furthermore we believe in investing in self-distribution, and stay with your film for years, fostering the long tail.
Film and Tell is an open access-company. We believe that building your business model on the old catalogue idea is a battle already lost. All our films shall be free one day. We want to serve the audience.
EDN: How do you find the projects / partners you wish to work with?
OH: This is also inventing the wheel over and over again. There is no blue print. When you have a project you have to find the unique selling points and start to contact those that should be interested. You have to have the mentality of a long-distance runner, just keep on going; some partners can bring money, others are gatekeepers.
At Film and Tell we have high ambitions and know that we can only have this when we have the budget that allows us to. We want our creatives - directors, editors, camerawo/men and others - to get fair pay and build sustainable relations with them. I think far too many people break their necks producing feature length with not enough money. Then I think it's better to go for a short documentary.
EDN: You have just completed your latest documentary My Life My Lesson. What is the film about and how did you get involved in this subject?
OH: I was actually researching for another film; well at least I thought I was. But then I met this girl - Isabell - who told me about her experience of growing up in violence. She didn’t actually talk a lot; it was more Isabell's anger and the reflection in her eyes that made it impossible for me to forget her story. It brought me back to a memory from my own childhood. I grew up hearing my neighbour beating his wife in the apartment next door. Often when I was trying to sleep I could hear her screaming, only a cement wall separated me from her. I could perhaps get some kind of notion of how it is to grow up in violence, and I decided I needed to learn more. I understood that there was an area within research focusing on children living in violence – children who hear, see and is confronted with domestic violence. I realised that it was a political issue and felt that this was something I wanted to delve deeper into, and I wanted to tell a story to raise the issue and work towards change.
We then carried out a casting that resulted in contacts with half a dozen people. The person who carried out this great labour was Karin Tideström. She has a solid experience as an investigative journalist. Karin and me agreed on a method where we asked to go through a handful of documents from a number of authorities where we knew we would find young people who had experiences of living in violence. We also advertised and made some hundred calls to find young people with these experiences. We then narrowed it down to geography and age and in the end we had around six young people who all had lived in or witnessed domestic violence – and who all wanted to participate in a documentary film.
Åsa Ekman was assigned to start to film Isabell and some others, and one of them was Felicia, who became the main character of My Life My Lesson. Åsa Ekman is a talented and experienced director. Her latest film, A Mother’s Comeback (2011) premiered at the Göteborg International Film Festival and was nominated for the Best Documentary and won the prize for Best Swedish feature film. Furthermore I know Åsa Ekman since I was 16 years old, and I know she is a stable and wise person. She was the natural choice for the project.
EDN: Last month My Life My Lesson premiered at IDFA - International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, and was selected for the Mid-Length Competition. What does this selection mean to you and how can you use this platform for the film and its theme’s further outreach?
OH: We are proud to be selected for competition at IDFA. It's a mark of quality that we can use both back in our home ground and when we work internationally with film. We were just granted support by the Bertha BritDoc Connect Fund and my fellow producer Anna Hagnefur will participate in their Impact Producers Lab this winter. We will work hard to get this film out there to raise the issue of children living in and growing up in violence. We want to shed light on their situation. Our work will be untraditional and long-term. However the film will premiere at the cinemas and have a TV run, the traditional way, but we will also work hard to find alternative ways to screen the film, reaching out to partners and activists but also through our own arrangements. All activities regarding distribution will have their hub on our site mylifemylesson.org and we work in-house with outreach.
EDN: My life My Lesson is the first part of a documentary diptych, where you follow the same theme in 2 films, but with a separate focus. What is the idea behind making this a double-film, and how will the 2 films both stand-alone and compliment each other?
OH: Four years ago we decided to investigate this theme, and to interpret it creatively. We carried out test-shootings, continued with two characters: Isabell and Felicia, and slowly understood that we had a diptych. The title of the documentary double-film is In Violence. The first film My life my lesson - the story of Felicia - focuses on the child's relation to the perpetrator, the father. Isabell's story addresses the child's relation to the victim of domestic violence, her mother. This sister film has the working title Say Something. Both films will work individually but you will get an enhanced experience viewed together.
EDN: Say Something was pitched at the IDFA Forum Central pitch (also last month). What were the reactions and what will the next steps be for you with this project?
OH: We had a great reception at the Forum. We had suggestions for co-production from audio-visual supporters, an opening for possible further support from a fund, and several distribution offers. I was really impressed by the professional production of the Forum by IDFA. Anyways, hopefully Say Something will be ready in late 2015. What we lack now is only the funding for some more shooting and the post. Our current material is strong, I'm sure it will turn out to be a good film.
EDN: What lies next for you and Film and Tell?
OH: We have five films in financed development. I believe at least one of them will premiere in 2016. That year we will also produce a film festival, a new venture for us. You know - think new, see opportunities, always change, be in motion.
My Life My Lesson was pitched at the EDN Workhsop Docs is Thessaloniki 2014.
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