Fantastic Fest Interview: 'Corridor' Filmmakers
Swedish screenwriters and directors Johan Storm and Johan Lundborg attended Fantastic Fest this year for the American debut of two films -- the thriller Corridor (Isolerad) and a 30-minute short film, Rosenhill. Both of these suspenseful movies were well received by audiences at Fantastic Fest, and you can read my review of Corridor. Emil Johnsen, lead actor from Corridor was also here to support the film at both Q&As.
I sat down during the fest with "the Johans" to discuss their films, as well as differences between American and European film audiences and festivals. Johan Storm's uncle is actor Peter Stormare, and we also talked about his involvement in Corridor. Here's what they had to say:
What's it been like to screen Corridor at Fantastic Fest?
Johan Storm: It was the second screening ever of the film. It was a tremendous experience to see it with an audience that good, that well-behaved. In thrillers and comedies we really need the response of the audience to feel that it's okay to laugh, and to feel the excitement. I think that we hit all the right notes with the audience.
Where was the first screening?
Johan Storm: It was at the Brussels European Film Festival. We only had one screening of it there. That went really good, but unfortunately it was the warmest day ever in Brussels that day. We had to fight the weather, but there were some real troupers there. That was good because we won the Cineuropa award, and received special mention for the screenplay. We got off on a good start. But here (at Fantastic Fest), this is really how you want the film to be perceived.
What's the difference in reactions to your films between European and American audiences?
Johan Storm: American audience are much more into the film in the sense of trying to communicate with the film. If it's funny, they laugh. In Europe, we try to stay quiet as much as we can until you feel like you really have to react. This is the response that we enjoy, the best award is to hear the response of the audience while you are at the screening.
The production of Corridor seemed fairly limited, in regard to the sets.
Johan Lundborg: It was shot in my apartment where I used to live. We based the whole script on the look of my apartment, and corridor. We really liked how that house was built, with these long corridors and staircase. It's very useable. We wanted this realistic style in a way, and the fact that we are in a real apartment and not in a studio helps to create that feeling. There is some realism involved this thriller. Naturally we had to adopt the size of our team to the size of the apartment, otherwise we'd hate each other after three days. It was really intense and intimate shooting, especially for me, Johan and Emil. We were like a family, together for days and weeks in that apartment.
Tell us about about Corridor's female character Lotte?
Johan Lundborg: The most important about Lotte was not to create a perfect girl. Those people don't exist but it's quite common in genre films, or in film in general maybe -- to not be interested in creating a character that's believable. We really wanted to make her a little annoying, not always that good looking, but a quite normal person. That was our aim with her character.
Johan Storm: There's a bigotry to that - the easy part would have to make her this frail princess kind of character. By having her be a little bit annoying, you also get this subjectivity. The film is done very subjectively through the eyes and mind of our main character, Frank. In order for him to react, and not really relate to Lotte -- at least in the beginning -- we have to do that as well as an audience, to try and be on Frank's side.
What can you tell us about Peter Stormare's involvement in Corridor?
Johan Storm: We started with the last scene due to scheduling. It was the worst-case scenario for an actor, but best for scheduling. We had to take the most emotional scene, and the close-up of him right from the bat, from the first frame. Then you really can tell you are working with a professional because he nailed it the first time. That was really impressive.
Johan Lundberg: I think he had a good time shooting this film, because it was down-to-earth shooting, in a real apartment and not that big of a team. I think he liked that, being used to big sets here, in Hollywood.
Johan Storm: He really got into the whole kind of filmmaking style -- we're not so many and everybody's helping out, and that's what he started doing.
Johan Lundborg: After lunch, he would be the focus puller in one shot, in another one he'd say, "I can do the booming here if you want." He was really into it. He liked the pure fun we had, the fun in filmmaking, which maybe gets lost somehow in the industry.
I was impressed by the effectiveness of both of your films -- I jumped, I screamed and cried.
Johan Lundborg: Of course it's a matter of taste, you see so many films with all this blood and splatter. You don't need all that sometimes to be effective. It's like your paper cut theory.
Johan Storm: My theory is that you can't really relate to having your arm ripped off, but you can related to a paper cut. That's what we try to do.
Johan Lundborg: Once you get to see that wound, it's a real wound.
You also are screening your short film, Rosenhill, with a mostly female cast.
Johan Storm: For our short Rosenhill, it has Marie Delleskog, a very famous Swedish actress from the days. For the last 20 years she's been playing grandmother roles in children's movies and on television. We wanted to cast her as the grandmother who is put in a nursing home. She finds out that the nurses are killing the patients druing the night shift. Because she is in a nursing home, no one believes her. It was a very good set-up to do a thriller, but add some new elements. Having this 82-year-old woman trapped in a thriller, who has to respond in a thriller kind of way. Usually it's just men in their 30s that have do all this action stuff that she has to do, we thought that was challenging.
Johan Lundborg: In general that's what interests us, making movies within a genre, but adding something new or a new dimension or perspective of things. You kind of recoginze the genre you are watching, but there's a new element that surprises you, or makes you think. It gives you something to bring back home and think about. Rosenhill is based on true stories.
Johan Storm: It's based on two stories. We liked the concept of having an old woman in the thriller, and Johan's grandmother had just been put in a nursing home. I had heard about a case in Austria, called "The Angels of Death." A bunch of nurses collaborated in killing patients during the night shift. They don't have the exact numbers of patients that they killed, but they killed over a hundred or more people. They did it with the same technique we show in our film, they drown them and it looked like pneumonia. No one does autopsies with sick and frail patients and that's why they got away with it. The most scary part I think is that there was a collaboration. There were a couple people, and they were all in on it. How they discovered it they were bragging about it in the cafeteria, and somebody overheard it. That's how they got caught. When we put those two stories together, it developed itself.
Johan Lundborg: There's something very scary about losing your voice. No one believes you anymore, you're all on your own. Thats what you fear will happen when you grow old. I saw that happen with my grandmother. She started making accusations about the staff -- "they are raping me in the night, they stealing my things, they are going to kill me". We would be there drinking coffee, and then we would have to leave and go home. She was stuck there, it must have been a nightmare for her. She must have been the most lonely person in the world. It was terrible and touching.
What do you think about Fantastic Fest and Austin?
Johan Storm: We've been here for six days, so we tried to do a little bit of Austin, and as much as we can from Fantastic Fest. From what we can see, we love the both of them. Just being here at Fantastic Fest, and with the audience. The fest doesn't separate the talent from the audience -- I love that, and you are both there together. Some make the movies, and the other ones watching it. At a lot of the festivals, you keep those two separated but here you don't. I love that, and the fact that you can eat in the cinema and drink beer.
Johan Lundborg: Having a good time. I like that there's no hierarchy between different genres. In Sweden, in particular where we come from, there it's quite clear. Drama, that's the serious kind of filmmaking, maybe comedy because many people like it. The thriller genre is not very high on that scale in Sweden. Here you end up in a festival where that's what everyone wants and have one hundred percent respect for. For us, that's really inspiring and gives us strength.
And motivation for your next project? What do you have coming up?
Johan Lundborg: We are working on a new thriller right now, in development.
[Photo credit: Johan Lundborg, Johan Storm and Emil Johnsen of Corridor, by Debbie Cerda, on Flickr]