Louder Than Bombs made its premiere almost a year ago at the Cannes Film Festival. The film marked a big step for the Norwegian director. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne and Isabelle Huppert, it was his first feature film with American actors. I recently talked to the director about the film, his style, and how this film makes him feel like he’s the luckiest guy alive.
Awards Daily: This was the first time you’ve worked with American actors. How was that for you?
Joachim Trier: I actually went to film school in London, the National Film and TV School.
AD: No way.
JT: Yes, it’s true, in Beaconsfield. I lived in England for a while, so I had the experience of working with a lot of English speaking actors before this. But, this is my first time making a feature film in the English language in America.
I’d done some films in Norway before — Reprise. Part of the motivation of doing this was to work with these kind of actors. The thing about it, was we set the film up in a way that it wasn’t going to be dependent on having the most famous actors in the world, but people that were prominent, but were also good actors.
I’ve been a fan of Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert and Jesse Eisenberg for ages, so I’m very happy that they came to the project and wanted to collaborate on it. They’re a very smart bunch of actors. I wanted to have newcomers like Devin Druid.
So, really this whole idea of doing an ensemble film in English appealed to me. When I was younger, I watched The Breakfast Club and The Big Chill where many characters mattered, and I found that such an interesting premise.
AD: What was it like working with such a talented bunch of actors, did you have fun?
JT: Jesse is a very funny guy, he’s very humoristic. In this film, he does a very subtle and complicated character of a young academic who’s just become a father and is grappling with this new responsibility when he himself has a very unresolved relationship with his own parents.
The film has a lot of serious themes, but I also needed this sense of humor to it, and Jesse brought a lot of that. There’s a really fun part with him and his little brother.
AD: How did making short films help get your foot in the door for making feature films?
JT: What happened was I did three internationally awarded short films. They were all made at the National. I got a wonderful agent in London at Cassarotto, and coming out of film school I had this clear ambition that I wanted to do feature films. Then I ended up spending a long time writing my first film, Reprise, and I thought “OK, this will be a quick one, I’ll do that in Norway.” It turned out Reprise got bought by Miramax and became a cult hit. It got a great distribution in the USA. Suddenly, I had all these scripts and was getting offers from producers who wanted to work with me, but I couldn’t find a project that felt right to me. That’s also how Louder Than Bombs came about, with this desire to do our own version of an American film that I wrote with Eskil (Vogt) who I’ve worked with before.
AD: How does your partnership with Eskil work as a co-writer?
JT: We are both real film buffs. The challenge is getting work done and not talking movies. It’s a real shared passion for film and the possibilities of what a film could be. We often start with a blank page, talking in a room with a long page. We then come up with the premise, the theme and characters and all the scenes.
Eskil will do the first write up and sends it to me and I do additional work, and we go back and forth. For 80% of the time we sit together and come up with everything. It always becomes therapeutic as we end up mixing our conversations between personal curiosities, mixed with passion for film, and that’s how we make our films.
AD: You’re also an executive producer on Louder Than Bombs. What can you tell me about getting the film off the ground in terms of financing?
JT: Well, it took a while. The idea was born back in a time when there were many mini majors around that had interest in what was called prestige dramas, but by the time we started getting everything together, everything had changed.
I’m a final cut director and I have cast approval. I needed to find the right collaborators. We found a lot of finance in Europe, and also great collaborators in America. Bonafide and Animal Kingdom, and Beachside Films are all remarkable production companies. They all got involved and helped make this film happen and we shot it all in New York.
I’m the luckiest kid. I got my dream cast and I got to shoot it at the location I wanted. We didn’t have to go elsewhere. I got to bring my wonderful DP and my editor. It was a perfect situation to make a very personal film which it is.
AD: That sounds so magical.
JT: It’s so rare these days. I’ve talked to a lot of American colleagues and it’s a tough time to make these character stories. Most of them are being made as TV shows. I shoot on 35mm and I love the big screen. I believe the way that we use the words, “big screen” and “small screen” are completely wrong because they’re always relating to the budget size as opposed to the ideas.
I’ve seen films that are tremendously expensive but feel small because of their lack of ideas. Not that I judge against them. Some big films are great as well, but I’m old-fashioned. I grew up in underground culture. When I was nine, I was into hip-hop, I got into punk. I’m an old skateboarder. I don’t judge the quality of a piece of art by its popularity. I’m more curious as to how they’ve approached something.
AD: Now, something else I’ve noticed is that you like covering the dysfunctional family. What attracts you to that?
JT: Most people have an element of dysfunction. The premise of a child becoming autonomous or liberating themselves from their parents which is part of the culture we live in and a necessity. To quote Freud, “Mothers are created to be left.” It’s terrible, yet we do need to renegotiate our relationship to our parents and children time and time again, and we need to find new ways of relating. The film deals with a lot of pains and errors and the beauty of sustaining parent/child relationships at time when it’s not always so easy.
We’re dealing with an absent mother and a very present father played by Isabelle and Gabriel. So, I’m trying to say something about modern family life where the gender roles have changed and things are new and different.
AD: The way he gets his feelings out is through writing. Is there something that attracts you to having characters who like to write?
JT: The scene with the brother? What’s great about him is he’s a type we see a lot of in society. It’s the type we see a lot of in society at the moment, the gamer kids, the introverts. We’re always scared they’ll end up in a bad place. I’m interested in the fact, there’s poetry and nuance to his interior life as well. We get closer and start understanding him and I guess that’s a big turning point in the film, this ongoing worry about the kid, and the comical element of the father trying to understand his world and even going so far as to meet him online secretly in this game. They live next to each other in the same house and yet, they’re unable to communicate.
I think a lot of people are experiencing this discrepancy of the idea of family as to how it really it.
AD: I loved the diary scene and actually wanted to ask how you went about creating that scene.
JT: It was a lot of work, a lot of research. How do you create a voice for a 15-year-old when both Eskil and I are much older. It was actually never finished until we finished editing. We even brought in a lot of material from researchers that we found at the last minute. It’s a film in itself in the middle of the itself.
AD: Exactly, I felt you could take it out of the film and it would be its own mini movie.
JT: Well, it also deals thematically, we tried to make it like a You Tube, hyperbole, quick paced poem, or even an essay about being a teenager today.
It occurred to us that we were surfing the themes of sexuality and death, which of course are big themes because I think they’re eternal. I think even today a kid today that’s online dealing with mortality and girls, those are timeless things. That’s what interested me, that even in the mind of a gamer kid, the eternal themes keep coming up.
AD: Do you have a style of cinema that you’d like to be known for?
JT: I don’t think I come at it thinking I want to be known for something. I grew up in a third generation film making family, so I could shoot before I could write. My grandfather was a filmmaker, my parents were in movies. I shot on Super-8 video. How I shoot something is very intuitive to me. It’s what I love the most, being on set. I have a great DP.
I like experiencing time and time again the endless possibilities of making movies in a time where everyone feels negative about it and movies are dying. Not at all, it’s exciting.
Louder Than Bombs is on general release