Have you ever had a moment where you feel yourself seizing an opportunity you wouldn’t expect? Have you ever acted so out of the ordinary that you surprise yourself? In Eirik Tveiten’s Live Action Short contender, Night Ride, one woman unexpectedly takes the reins and forges a new friendship along the way.
It’s a cold and snowy night, and Ebba just wants to get home. When the tram driver tells her that she needs to wait until he is done at the restroom, she initially thinks she will wait for him, but the tram is empty. Would anyone know if she pried open the doors and stepped inside to stay warm? Once inside, she wanders to the driver’s seat and fiddles with the controls…until the tram starts to move…
(Warning: this interview contains spoilers to Night Ride. The film is included below, so, please, watch the film and then scroll back up to read the conversation.)
A lot of films set around Christmastime have an assumed cheeriness to it, and Night Ride certainly has its playful moments. There are, however, people who spend the holidays by themselves, and there are those who don’t scroll through endless Hallmark movies every season. While Tveiten isn’t the biggest yuletide fan, he did want to lean into the majestic mystery that time of year can bring.
“My connection to Christmas is a little difficult,” Tveiten admitted at the top of our conversation. “I am not very fond of the holiday that much, and the cold doesn’t appeal to much to me. In the film, it does have some meaning apart from the scenario that it’s freezing outside. There is a sense of some magic there being around Christmas. It is a story about friendship, so the setting suits it rather well. I am open to the wonders of life even if Christmas doesn’t appeal to me. There is a beautiful connection between Ebba and Ariel.”
It is much more difficult than we know to balance joy with a serious subject matter. After Ebba takes control of the tram, her passengers often tell her what to do, and it’s usually men who, quite literally, assume they have the right to bark orders at her. A young trans woman, Ariel, steps aboard, and she sits near the front of the tram right in Ebba’s eyeline, and the short introduces some unexpectedly serious themes.
“The balance could go wrong–I was aware of that,” the director said. “I wanted it to be a little surrealistic or funny with a surprising. I watched a lot of things by Buster Keaton in my teens, and I love that deadpan humor. He feels very overwhelmed by life in his films. In a film like this, it could’ve been serious all the time, but it would be a different film. I wanted to start it off with some humor and end it that way as well. We were worried, in the writing and the direction, and there are two transitions. After the beginning, we transition to the seriousness with the interaction with Ariel, the trans character. Then we transition to a lighter ending at the end, and that was a little tricky. I love balancing those kinds of tones together, and to be able to surprise people is a joy.”
A young man begins flirting with Ariel, but he freaks out when he realizes that she isn’t a cisgender woman. He creates a scene, and he and a friend invade Ariel’s space. This threat of violence is something that trans individuals fear on a daily basis, and Tveiten wanted to explore public displays of harassment and how bystanders sometimes choose to do nothing. There are shots from the driver’s seat of the tram–as Ebba looks back in the mirror–that are particularly upsetting.
“When it comes down to it, that’s what the film is about,” Tveiten said. “It could be harassment towards another minority. A producer on the film is a lesbian, and we thought that we were getting to a place and time in Norway when things like this don’t happen. It does happen, and we need to highlight that. It also represents a larger problem of how we deal with these situations in life. Very often, people turn their head away, and they don’t engage when they witness something. There were times where I thought I could have done more, so part of it comes from my own experience as well as my producer’s. If you are a minority, you might have experienced harassment, and that shouldn’t happen.”
Night Ride was filmed on a real train, and it might be more narrow that a subway that we commonly see in large American cities like New York City or Chicago. Choosing to set the short in that confined space brought its own set of challenges.
“It was tricky,” he said. “We filmed live on a tram. Sometimes, for sound purposes, we needed it to stand still, and we alluded to it driving. Mostly what you see was filmed live. Sigrid [Kandal Husjord], who played Ebba, really drove the tram, and, after a short period of learning, she just took over. Logistically, it was a little difficult, because there were other trams, so we would have to stop and wait for them to pass. Technically, if you are going to film inside such a confined area, you want to try to make some variations in the cinematography. You need variety to make it a more interesting visual story. Also, both sides of the tram have those big windows on either side. The crew would be hiding beneath the seats to make sure they weren’t in the shot since we couldn’t take everyone off and then have them come back on. We really had to do a lot of pre-production how to do the shoot and where to do it. Luckily, it worked out.”
There is a noticeable spark between Ebba and Ariel when Ariel steps onto the tram. It isn’t specifically romantic but the characters see something in each other. Night Ride, with all its playfulness and commentary on social situations, is about the delicacy of life and those bygone, missed connections. A look to a stranger can cause a disruption of feeling, and we can recognize in one another when the other needs help just by a glance. Ebba and Ariel do not start their journey together, but Tveiten’s film alludes that a friendship has been born.
“Ebba doesn’t make it home otherwise she would’ve stayed on the tram,” he said with a smile. “There was a version of the script where they end up back at Ariel’s place. Not necessarily romantic but more about friendship. That’s what we were thinking behind the scenes, but we didn’t want to give a definitive answer. It’s up to interpretation to me.”