Read a Q&A with Jannicke Systad Jacob who directed Turn Me On, Goddammit.
Please provide background about what lured you to become a filmmaker.
As a teenager I was really into photography and literature. I wrote poems and short stories and did black and white photos making prints in the dark room. Very typical and cliché, but true. After high school I discovered filmmaking and realized this was a great combination of my interests, but much more fun. Growing up in the so-called “cut and paste”-generation in Norway, making movies with all its available possibilities and tools, is the perfect art form for me to continue the creativity of childhood as an adult.
How or what prompted the idea for your film and how did it evolve?
I read the novel written by Olaug Nilssen (which the script is based on) and really liked the story’s vivid and real to life characters and the Twin Peaks-ish, lonely environment it was set in. I thought the way the story was told with mixing the protagonist’s sense of reality and imagination and letting them float into each other, without the reader knowing what was what all the time, was interesting. And of course, the sense of humor in it. All together I thought this was very cool and good material for a film, so I got the option for the film rights and started writing the script.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to the film...
After film school I have mostly directed documentaries. These were influenced by my studies in fiction using a visual style not often seen in documentaries. With Turn Me On, Goddammit I tried to bring some of my documentary experience and ideas into fiction. For example with an observing camera, long dialogues scenes and a low-fi acting style. It was also important to me to try and make it authentic and use young actors from Sogn og Fjordane - the county the novel was set. This way the teenagers who act in the film have the experience of growing up in a tiny place surrounded by tall mountains and dark fjords in real life and know this mentality well and can bring in onto the screen. To make it authentic the professional actors had to learn the specific dialect for this region also.
What were your biggest challenges in developing the project?
I think the whole process of filmmaking is a challenge and that is what I enjoy it and also why I do it. One thing specific for this project as I hadn’t made a feature before, was to know what advice to take and what not to take, and find my own way of doing it. Also in the middle of everything try to remember my vision and intentions for the film, and manage to both focus on the importance of a small detail in one specific shot and at the same time have the full story in mind.
What was your inspiration for this film?
After film school I made documentaries for several years, but having studied fiction I was thinking I also wanted to make a feature at some point. Then in 2006 I got a one year art grant from the Norwegian government and read the 5 novel which the film is based on. I thought this was great material for a feature film. There was something about the characters that felt very real, and the way the story was told mixing realism and imagination in an anacistic way, not knowing as a reader what was what all the time, I thought was interesting. So I got the option for the film rights and started writing the script.
What makes a good character?
To me an interesting character is someone who is complex, both good and bad and not perfect. Someone who makes mistakes and is vulnerable and strong, who doesn’t give up, but carries on. Characters I can understand and relate to in the same way as I do in real life.
How was it working with these young actors? Was it hard to get these performances?
It was fun and demanding. They were five quite different kids who required different directions. Some scenes were very challenging to get right. Except for Beate (who plays Ingrid), none of them had any previous acting experience, so I think they were very brave to do this. They all learned a great deal and developed throughout the shoot and did a very good job. Especially Helene who plays Alma grew with the task, which was a great thing to watch throughout the shoot.
Did you do a lot of rehearsals?
Not really. We did go through most of the scenes in one way or the other. Especially the scenes involving a professional actor and a young actor. With the teenagers we talked about the scenes and tried out things that were difficult or tricky, so we knew how to do them and also be comfortable about it on the set. Like smoking, walking the dog and pretending to masturbate. They read the script, but in order to get natural performances they didn’t learn their lines by heart. We only used the script as a tool on the set.
Tell us about the scene that was most satisfying to shoot. The scene outside the youth centre when Artur takes out his private parts and shows them to Alma is one of my favorite scenes in the film and I sensed that i was going to be great while we were shooting it. It was a very important scene in the film and we did it the second week. The two young actors didn’t know each other that well at that time, so the shy way they approach each other and look at each other is authentic. The natural Norwegian summer night-light and the atmosphere was perfect. The camera observed Alma and Artur closely in 32 frames per second capturing every little gesture they made. The scene turned out poetic, sensual and magical. With the music our composer Ginge wrote for it, it’s a beautiful, almost religious and absurd encounter between a young man and woman.
What was the most rewarding part of the process?
Casting young actors was not something I had done before and I thought it was difficult to know how it was going to be and feel confident about making the right choice. I had a good feeling Helene Bergsholm was the right girl to cast as Alma of all the hundreds who auditioned, but there was no guarantee it would work. But it did. I’m very happy about that.
Are there any interesting stories/anecdotes from the shoot/set you can share?
One day we were shooting a scene with Alma and Artur walking on a small road in the forest. As usual the clock is ticking and things are not happening as fast and smooth as the schedule would like. Then out of the forest comes three wild horses who park themselves in the middle of the road in front of us. The 1st AD desperately tried to get them out of the way. But the horses refused to move, they just stood there, completely still, looking at us and wondering what we were doing there, like we were the freaks. A strange and beautiful moment of Zen.
You went from being a documentary filmmaker, TMO is your first narrative feature. How was it different?
First of all I’m used to a small crew, me and a cinematographer and sometimes a sound person, so having a team of around 25-30 was a big difference that took a some time to get used to. Then there’s all the practicalities, in the sense that everything is planned in details based on the script, so what’s going to happen is sort of predictable. But the most interesting part for me that’s different than documentaries was creating the film’s universe in a way that would make it unique, but realistic, using cinematography, production design, costumes, hair and make up, locations and casting and managing all the aspects to speak the same language. This started with developing the film’s visual concept with the DOP Marianne Bakke, looking at references in films and photography, finding the film’s visual mood and how we were going to tell the story with the camera. We did a very thorough work on this making a strong foundation for the film. Then everything else evolved from there. I enjoyed this process very much. Working with actors was also new, but interesting and fun. All in all my focus when I did “TMO” was still the same as when I have made documentaries; to tell an interesting and engaging story with all the cinematic tools available and make it feel real.
Who are your biggest influences?
Roy Andersson, Spike Jonze, Sofia Coppola and Bob Dylan.
What are your future projects?
I’ve started writing a new feature script I wish to direct. A story about love and loss in a group of young archaeologists at a university institute, dealing with questions that don’t have simple answers. The topic is far more heavy than Turn me on, goddammit, but there will certainly be room for some comedy as well. I also plan a new documentary and wish to work with both genres and let them influence each other.
Turn Me On, Goddammit is screening exlcusively in the Light House Cinema, Dublin and on Volta.ie from Friday December 7.