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indieWIRE INTERVIEW | “Red” Director Trygve Allister Diesen

indieWIRE INTERVIEW | "Red" Director Trygve Allister Diesen

Based on Jack Ketchum‘s novel, “Red” was originally intended to be directed by Lucky McKee. With a good portion of the film already completed, McKee left the project, leaving Norwegian director Trygve Allister Diesen to take over. Diesen successfully completed the project, which details an old, reclusive man (Brian Cox), whose best friend, a dog named Red, is brutally killed by three teens for no reason, setting him off to find redemption, and it premiered at Sundance earlier this year to warm responses. The film opens this Friday, August 8, at the Cinema Village in New York and the E Street Cinema in Washington, DC. indieWIRE spoke to Diesen about the film and his hopes for its release.

What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career.

I made my first Super-8 film at 14-15, and started reviewing films for the local newspaper when I was still in high school. I was into photography as well as writing, and music of course – and in film I could combine it all. It seemed like the perfect mode of expression. It gave more of a kick than just writing stories.

The storytelling aspect of it all is still important to me, but finding stories worth telling becomes harder the more of them you devour. That’s why I was so attracted to “Red.” It was a great story worth telling.

Anyway, in the beginning I was mostly interested in how to put together images and music to create emotions – only gradually did I realize the importance of the actors. To see how much a truly gifted actor can bring to a character and story is mesmerizing. I learned a lot about writing, directing, sound, photography in film school (I went to USC), but it wasn’t until I started working professionally I got the confidence you need to trust actors. In fact, to let go is still hard sometimes. But unless you are willing to suspend your own need for control, and let the people around you excel in what they are good at, you’ll forever be fenced off by the limits of your own talent.

Are there other aspects of filmmaking that you would still like to explore?

Plenty. At one point I would love to do something on a grand scale, paint a broad canvas with a big brush. Perhaps something epic, historic or futuristic. But with a strong beat and pulse to it. I’m also really intrigued by the role of the director, and working on a documentary regarding that very issue.

Please discuss how the idea for “Red” came about.

Well, truth is it came via email. My agent, Brian Dreyfuss, sent me a script I just couldn’t put down. It was written by Stephen Susco (“The Grudge“), and based on a novel by Jack Ketchum. So I ran and got the book, and read that, too. And realized it was one of the rare scripts that actually captures the spirit of the book.

“Red” was still a tricky project to approach, because a significant part of it was already in the can. Lucky McKee had started it, but left the project, so I had to look very closely at what was already in place before agreeing to take over. It took a good few days of heavy thinking to decide. But in the end I thought that this story was just too good to go to waste, and I knew I could finish it. Brian Cox‘s performance was also a very important factor. With him at the center of it all, I trusted it would have the needed continuity. But making sure this was one film, even though it had two quite distinct directors, was one of the major challenges. So being accepted to Sundance meant a lot to me as well as the film.

There were several distributors circling us in and after Sundance. We are very pleased that we ended up with Magnolia Pictures, because they had strong opinions on how to market as well as distribute it. I was kept in the loop, of course, but other people handled the negotiations – thank god!

Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film…

Taking over like I did, it was important to bring people I trusted with me – so I made sure to get my regular DP and editor, and a sound designer who’se work I knew and admired. We also had a little more casting to do, and I wanted to make some adjustments to the script. Screenwriter Stephen Susco was very professional about it all, and great to work with. The financing was already in place when I got on board, so I could concentrate on how to tell the story, locations, etc.

What are some of the creative influences that have had the biggest impact on you?

You learn a lot from the people you work with, so it’s a gradual process. Today I’d mention very different names than 10 years ago. At present think a lot of the most exciting directors seem to emerge from Latin-America – and a lot of the best writing is in TV. Back in film school I studied a lot of the American masters – like Lynch, Coppola, Scorsese. And of course Europeans like Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Billy Wilder, Sergio Leone, Polanski, Forman. I like directors that combine a deep understanding of character with strong sense of visual storytelling.

What other genres or stories would like to explore as a filmmaker? What is your next project?

I’ve been taking a lot of meetings in LA, and I’m also working on a couple of projects in my native Norway. I really don’t know what will go first. Contemporary dramas and thrillers are the genres I’m usually drawn to – but if the story is great, all bets are off. And one day I’d love to do something big, on an epic scale.

What is your definition of “independent film,” and has that changed at all since you first started working?

For me “independent film” has more to do about spirit than financing. It is about the passion to tell stories, without too many audience surveys. So many people and companies are ruled by the fear of doing something wrong, rather than a strong urge to get it right. And that’s sad, isn’t it?

What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers?

Realize that you’ll never be better than the people you work with. So learn how to see talent, and treat it with respect. In short, when you find good people, keep them close. And I think it is important to read – books as well as scripts – and not just watch films. Then you can think about how you’d tell it, not just enjoy the work of others.

Please share an achievement from your career so far that you are most proud of.

The most electrifying experiences have been the premiere of my first feature, “Isle of Darkness,” and presenting “Red” at Sundance. But what makes me real proud is when you hear that you film has made a difference for people. That happened quite a few times with “Hold My Heart,” a film that deals with a father that is barred from seeing his daughter.

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