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Building a Card House: Johan Renck on “Downloading Nancy”

Building a Card House: Johan Renck on "Downloading Nancy"

EDITORS NOTE: This interview was originally published as part of indieWIRE’s coverage of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

Johan Renck’s feature film directorial debut, “Downloading Nancy,” follows the titular character (played by Maria Bello), as she leaves her husband Albert (Rufus Sewell) in search of her online soulmate, Louis (Jason Patric). The film debuted at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, and is being released in theaters this weekend through Strand Releasing. indieWIRE spoke to Renck about the film when it premiered in Sundance.

Please introduce yourself.

I grew up all over the world, including countries such as Sweden, Norway, USA and Kuwait. As for now, I still “live” in Sweden, even though my work hardly allows for me to be here.

What initially attracted you to filmmaking? What other creative outlets do you explore?

I started out as musician and recording artist, but quite soon started to do my own videos. One thing led to another, and soon I was making videos for a living. I guess I found the life as a musician too counter productive, as so much time was spent in tour buses & remote hotel rooms. As I am moderately hyper-active, this didn’t suit my temper. Besides, the self destructive sides of it didn’t help what I looked upon as stagnation. Further more, I’ve always been attracted to images (through photography) and stories (through reading). Along the way I found that merging the two gave access to a whole new world.

Have you made other films?

Nope, this is my first feature. I have done my fair share of shorts (besides all the music videos and commercials that, somehow, has functioned as my education), but this is my first go at this format. But I already feel as if I found what I have been looking for through all these years.

What prompted the idea for this film and how did it evolve?

Ever since the beginning of videos I knew I wanted to make films. Thus, I have been exploring ideas around getting to this. So, apart from trying to write something myself, I read scripts. In this flood of crap, one script contained something that I found interesting. I wrote a massive document of script notes that went to the writers (on a nothing-to-lose-basis) and they actually agreed with everything. After this we started a fruitful process of re-writing until we had something we all liked. As the nature of the film is kind of “unsafe,” it then took quite some time to get finances in place. Along the way, casting wasn’t really a problem as I believe actors found the characters and the story interesting. Still, we had our share of problems within this as well, as it is like building a card house with money, schedules, actors, logistics and so on.

“Downloading Nancy” director Johan Renck. Image courtesy of Strand Releasing.

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

With my years of promos & commercials I actually have a massive amount of experience with regards to production. There, pretty much, isn’t one thing I haven’t tried at least once. Thus, my cinematic approach to making this film came very easy; I knew exactly what I wanted, how I wanted it to taste, smell and feel. The thing that was new to me was obviously working with characters over such a length of time, developing and fine-tuning them whilst nurturing and, actually, evolving the story. But after a day or two methods settled in. Luckily, I had intelligent and brilliant actors who supported me and accepted a not so cookie-cutter approach. Also, primarily Jason Patric was great as we started to get into work, since he has such an understanding for characters and dramatization on one side and not settling for anything else than perfect on the other. Over beers, at O’Hanlons in Regina, I learnt a lot from this charmingly grumpy but brilliant man.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project?

Well, apart from scraping the dough together, getting the cast seemed the biggest challenge – I mean, one week into shooting we weren’t even fully cast due to someone bailing out at last minute. A year earlier we had been ready to go, but it all fell together due to our “Nancy’s” pregnancy. It all was feeling very “Lost in La Mancha“… One night in Regina I went to the cinemas and saw “The Illusionist” and was blown away by Rufus Sewell‘s performance in there so we went for him. A few days later he was with us, literally on the brink on when the rest of the cast was starting to think about return tickets…

What are some of your all-time favorite films?

Still, as a teenager, the films “The Shining“, “The Exorcist” and “A Clockwork Orange” as well as the TV series “Brideshead Revisited” had a fundamental impact on a developing bafoon of a boy. As I was talking to Jason Patric about this, and how underrated I think “The Exorcist” is, how brilliant the direction and several of the performances, I got into talking about the young priest Damien, who is losing his faith, but, through guilt to his dying mother hangs in there and bla bla bla, and how much I liked the character-his performance Jason just calmly went “Yeah… Jason Miller… Well, that guy was my father.”

How do you define success as a filmmaker?

Doing films that affect you. Like with music. Or literature. Or art. Simple as that.

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