Interview with Petter Naess

published 24 November 2011
written by Malene and Majbritt

After the brilliant presentation of Into the White at Stockholm International Film Festival as a part of their Work in Progress, we had the exclusive opportunity to sit down with director Petter Næss for 15 minutes – even though we already had an appointment with him the next day. It only goes to show how cool Petter Næss really is. We talked about the extreme weather conditions on Grotli Mountain as well as some of the actors in the film, Rupert Grint and the Norwegian actor Stig Henrik Hoff. We saw a lot of pictures from the production [at the blog from Zentropa], and we were wondering: Did you have a shooting schedule and did you ever stick to that with the changing weather?
PN: Well, in Norway, we had to change the shooting schedule, between 2 and 4 options for every day, depending on the weather forecast. So you basically had four shooting schedules?
PN: We had two at least, and then we had to come up with a bunch of options. On a couple of days, we had like 4 shooting schedules, like “Plan A, B, C, D”. Because this area, it’s where the weather comes in from the West; and it changes all the time. So we prepared with the weather forecast from the day before, and then in the morning – we prepared for a good-weather-scene, and we set up the camera, and the actors were there, and the weather was good, and then the clouds came, and then time was running and we had to decide really “should we change to a bad-weather-scene now? Yes, we do.” And then, we prepared for the bad weather scenes and then… and PN: …the sun comes out.
PN: So we lost a lot of shooting time actually. There’s more interior scenes than exterior, time wise, but… But shooting wise you spent more time in Norway.
PN: Yes, we spent more time in Norway. But I think all the actors, they were so… what do you call it… tålmodig… patient! Patient. And they were nice guys, and they were sitting on the chairs, because they had these Teletubby costumes, you know, their flight suits. They were really warm, and they were sitting outside most of the time, playing with the snow. That’s because we didn’t have trailers or anything. We just had some kind of snow mobil that you could go inside if it was too cold or too windy. I mean, I was very unprepared with all the scenes, I knew what all the scenes were about and how I wanted to execute them. But we just had to change and be ready for it. For instance, there’s a scene that takes place in a snow cave. The first night when they leave the plane, they – the Germans – they spend the first night in a snow cave. And that snow cave, we had built. So we had that as an option for… we could use it at any, any of the weather. And we spent about half a day in that snow cave. So it was constantly changing the schedules. But in the studio, we were linear from the beginning to the end. Much more precise…
PN: Chronologic. Very much. And I showed – because we had the Easter break in-between – I showed the actors some of the outdoor scenes that we had roughly edited, just to remind them of how cold it was and the noise from the wind… How lucky they are now?
PN: … and how much voice they need to use in order to be heard, so… Florian Lukas mentioned that to us, because we saw him, and he mentioned that there were amazing shots of the landscape. And we wondered when he had seen them.
PN: Yes. When did you meet him? That was in May or June.
PN: Okay, well, when we were up in the mountains, and actually in Sweden as well, we had a technician, a guy who knows a little bit about editing, and I had him to edit a very, very rough cut in 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 minutes, that we screened every Friday afterwards, just to get – put on music – and it’s like a music video, with great impressions, just to see what we were doing. And that really helped a lot to give them a feeling that “Oh, we’re doing something good here”. Because they were standing out there in the snow, it’s “You go over there, just walk.” And everything was virgin snow, no one had been there before. “And now you walk over in that direction and there you turn and you go and there.. And then… FALL!” And it was noisy, because we had wind machines, snow machines, and smoke machines, to make it all whiteout. So it was kind of crazy, but I think it was a good experience for the actors. I remember, when I met Rupert in London, before he decided to do this movie, or jut to see if we got along. And I said “The only thing I can promise you is that it’s gonna be cold and exotic”. [all laugh] And I guess I was right. How often did you meet him before he got cast?
PN: I only met him once. Just sitting in this Soho hotel and had lunch. And he was a nice guy. I tried to be on my best side, and… …he said yes.
PN: Yeah, and then he said yes! So, I think, it’s a good part, and cause when you’ve been doing HP for so many years and that era is over, you have to go on and do something else… and this, that is something else. And it’s a very different part from what he’s been doing before, and does it brilliantly. This is perfect. And everyone who’s seen the movie said “Oh, this is so good” Everyone thinks that no matter what else, and they really like the actors. Yes, they mentioned that when we went to Grotli, to the hotel, because we go to Norway every year. And the woman at the reception said that the acting was amazing. Because she had seen the rought cut. And she said it looked really, really good.
PN: I think it is a good movie. You’re not biased at all?!
PN: Well, this is my 9th feature film, and I staged 25 theatre productions. And I know when I can say “This is good, I’m not saying that it’s the best in the world, but this is how I wanted this to be.” and that’s my formula of success. I mean, I can’t wait for some critic who happens to be working, be on duty that day, and then newspaper writer, and… …maybe in a bad mood.
PN: Maybe in a bad mood, and have an agent one way or another and another critic. So I have to say ”Okay, this is how I wanted this movie to be”, and that’s its own kind of quality. And this movie is how I wanted it to be. It’s beautiful, it’s quite funny, it’s pretty absurd, and it’s a very different war movie – which is actually not a war movie. Usually, when I and my friends go to a cabin, we go up there as friends, and we maybe drink too much, and we end up as enemies, we argue about things. And this is the other way around. They come in there as enemies, someone has told them that they’re both bad guys and they find out that they’re not. And I think we tell that story in a good way. It’s a kind of movie I like to watch, and I rarely do, I mean when I see my movies a couple of times I fall asleep. But this time, I like to work on it, I like to see it. How did you work with Stig Henrik Hoff and his German?
PN: Actually I didn’t. [all laugh] He, of course Florian and David, they helped him, and then we got someone, we got him with a consultant. For the ADR?
PN: Yes, for the ADR. But I guess when it opens in Germany, everyone will speak German. Because you always dub the movies. This particular movie should be in German… But I think the German that Stig Henrik speaks now is sufficient. Or it’s good enough. Well, he only said one thing in the clips, and that sounded good.
PN: Well, he doesn’t say so much. He doesn’t speak so much. Also most of what he says, he says in English. When he’s talking to the English.
PN: Yes, because he and Rupert, they become kind of the odd couple, the “friends”. So it’s some kind of cute scenes with the two of them, when they go out skiing towards the end. So … So we’re back to the bromance? [all laugh]
PN: Well, yeah, it is! I mean, love between men, not neccessarily gay, but they like each other, and ikt’s the kind of friendship that grows over a very long period of time, and it’s very unlikely with the two, because Rupert’s really firey and is rude to everyone. Oh, he’s rude! *laughs* But then he starts looking at this Strunk guy that Stig Henrik plays, and he thinks “maybe this big brute, maybe he’s not so stupid”. And he mocks him all the time “Maybe you’re too fucking stupid to feel the cold” and “Is it true that you Krauts eat nothing but sausages?”, and stuff like that. He’s charmingly rude, and I think that Stig Henrik, this German, is starting to see that and thinks “One day I’ll take you and I’ll really…”, but he does it in a very nice way, and so they kind of surprise each other.

PN: So, I talked a lot, you didn’t. You didn’t have a chance to ask any questions. Well, we have a lot of questions for tomorrow. What about the trailer? Does it still say ‘Comrade’?
PN: That still says ‘Comrade’, yes, it’ll be ‘Into the White’. I like ‘Comrade’, but ‘Into the White’, it’s this white landscape, it’s new, unknown territory, with it comes nature, and also meeting new people. And they need a blank slate to become friends.
PN: Yes, and white is peace. We just have to get used to it.
PN: Yes, I have to get used to it, too. For nine months, we got used to Comrade, and now we have to switch.

PN: So you actually went to Grotli? Yes, and the place where you had the press conference as well.
PN: Cool. But did you see the plane? Yeah, they’ve assembled it now, so it looks like a plane more. It wasn’t when we were there.
PN: Yes, it was built by carpenters. I mean, they usually build cabins! Our dad’s a carpenter, and he went up there later in the year, and he was looking at it and he was very impressed.
PN: That’s cool. The German production designer, he had very little time, and he went into this factory, where they build cabins for people, you know, huts and cabins and stuff like that, and said “Can you build a plane?” “No, no, we build cabins” “But you have to, because we need this plane in three weeks.” “Okay. Should we do it? Yeah. Let’s do it.” And it was good. How long did you spend preparing the film?
PN: Well, I mean I had been working on the script for one and a half years or so, and then pre-production about half a year or so. So pretty fast.
PN: Yeah, pre six months I guess, and then we finished shooting in mid-May, and then we didn’t start editing until late June. So it’ll be half a year on Post. Are you happy? Yes!
PN: Good! Take care…

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