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‘The Wave’ Director Roar Uthaug on Making a Norwegian Blockbuster Grounded on Humanity

'The Wave' Director Roar Uthaug on Making a Norwegian Blockbuster Grounded on Humanity

Scandinavian cinema is rarely heralded as the testing ground
for filmmakers with sensibilities fit for Hollywood’s spectacle-ridden
blockbuster production line, yet Norwegian director Roar Uthaug represents that
vey anomaly that blends the best of his homeland’s subtle artistic approach
with the visual grandeur of a multiplex-worthy disaster film. Departing from a
screenplay by John Kåre Raake and Harald Rosenløw-Eeg, Uthaug takes an iconic natural setting, accurate scientific
data, and compelling human interactions, to offer a refreshing angle on a genre
that is in desperate of invigorating originality with “The Wave.”

Carlos Aguilar: Tell me about the region where the story takes place. Were you aware of this particular fjord and the possibility of an event like the one depicted in the film happening? 

Roar Uthaug: I’ve
known about this place because the Geiranger fjord, where the movie takes place, is the most famous fjord of Norway. If you Google an image of Norway that’s the
image that comes up, but I wasn’t aware of these rockslides that fall into the
fjord and then create tsumanies.
I actually wasn’t aware of that until the producer brought me a news
article from the newspaper about the disasters that happened in the 30s

CA: Which
is what we see at the beginning of the film. 

Roar Uthaug: Yes, that’s archival footage from the 30s. Today there is a crack in the Geiranger fjord that keeps
expanding each year and at some point a giant rockslide will fall into
the fjord and it’ll create a 80 meter high tsunami that will hit the local
community after 10 minutes -all of that is fact. They don’t know if it will happen in 10 years or in 400 years.

CA: it’s kind of like the big earthquake
in LA. We know it’s bound to happen but we don’t know when

Roar Uthaug: Exactly,
and when this wave first happens people will only have 10 minutes to get out.

CA: In terms of the
science how much research did you have to do in order to give the film the necessary realism. Who did
you talk to get these facts straight and reproduce them in the fictional story?

Roar Uthaug: We
talked to geologists and we talked to tsumani experts who know much more about these
things. We also talked with the guys that are monitoring the mountain in
real life. We visited them at their work place and they took us in a helicopter
up to crack to see it. That’s also where we shot some of the scenes of the
movie. When the characters are flying the helicopter up to the mountain, that’s the real
crack that will actually fall out. We had the actors and the crew up there.

CA: When you are
creating a film that’s heavy on visual effects you clearly want that realism on screen, but how does this element affect the rest of the filmmaking process?

Roar Uthaug: Since
the movie is based on fact and things that will happen I think that also influenced
how we wanted to tell the story. We wanted truthfulness and a realism to the
whole story. That influenced the dialogue we wrote, how the actors should act,
how the camera should capture these moments, and, of course, he visual effects
that should have total believability. We worked a lot to achieve these things
including the visual effects to get them right.

CA: You shot on
location and then you brought this footage back to enhance it visually. How was
it working with the actors in terms of eliciting realistic performances without
actually being confronted with a catastrophe of this magnitude on set?

Roar Uthaug: You
just have to remind them what’s happening in that particular scene and try to
give them eye-lines. We have place holders so that they have something to act
towards. I had to remind them of severity of the situation. It was about etting them
pumped up. Reminding them that this could happen in real life.

CA: Disaster films
are often about how people react to a certain catastrophe. In your film the characters don’t want to leave and they have other struggles besides the monstrous wave coming their way. Why was the human element important to you in a film like “The Wave”?

Roar Uthaug: We
worked a lot on the script. We wanted to know who these character are, what’s
driving them, what are the little problems that they have to struggle with in
daily life. We tried to make them as human as possible and as real as possible.
We worked on this via the script and with the actors as well. We wanted to get the dialogue and the small interactions right to make it come alive.

CA: Did you ever
think of how you would react to an event like this? Have you ever been in
anything remotely close to what we see in the film?

Roar Uthaug: Luckily
I’ve not been in a situation anywhere near this, so I have no idea how I would
react. I don’t know, I’d probably run for my life [Laughs].

CA: In terms of
inspiration what are some of Hollywood disaster films that shaped your
vision for “The Wave”?

Roar Uthaug: I
grew up watching movies like “Twister,” “Dante’s Peak,” “Armageddon,” 
“Independence Day” an all those disaster movies in the cinemas. I am, of
course, inspired by them but while making this movie we looked more to modern
actions thrillers like the “Bourne” films, which have a more grounded and realistic
approach to the action scenes. I didn’t really watch that many disasters movies while
prepping for “The Wave.” We also looked at family dramas to try to get that part of
the film right.

CA; An interesting element in the film is that the family that’s at the center of the story is not only facing physical danger, but
everything they know is at risk of being washed away by this wave. They have a deeper connection to this place.

Roar Uthaug: We
talked about that while developing the film. We wanted to have that small town
feel to it in which everybody is very tight -knit and everybody knows each
other. I think that makes it emotionally more powerful because they have a
relationship with each other and to the places, the houses, the town. That’s one
of the things that appealed to me about the project, taking this small
community and really getting to know them and to create a movie where you
really feel for the characters.

CA: Fjords are very
Norwegian locations, was it your intention to take the disaster film out of Hollywood and into an authentically Norwegian setting? 

Roar Uthaug: Yes,
we wanted to take a familiar genre and put it in a very Norwegian setting. We wanted to take our Norwegian or European sensibility for characters and mix it together
with the effects to create something that you haven’t seen before.

CA: How difficult is
it to make a film of this size in Norway? We have seen films like the Oscar-nominated “Kon-Tiki,” which also was a big scale film, but for the most part Norwegian films that received international exposure are often art house fare.  

Roar Uthaug: I’m
not the producer that had to go out and get the money, but my impression is
that if your idea or your concept is big enough then money isn’t that hard to
get. “Kon-Tiki” was about a national hero who is known all over the
world and “The Wave” has the genre element and the spectacular effects but also the
family and takes place in a very well-known location. I think that made it a
very appealing project to investors.

CA: Given that “The Wave” is a great calling card that can show Hollywood studios your ability for directing big budget films, do you hope to
make films in Hollywood next?

Roar Uthaug: I
would love to make films in Hollywood. I’ve taken some meetings here and we’ll
see if something comes of them. If not, then I have a couple of projects in
Norway that are developing.

“The Wave” has gotten a very good reception around town so we’ll see.

CA: Were you
surprised when “The Wave” was selected as the Norwegian Oscar entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category?

Roar Uthaug: Absolutely. First
we were selected as one of three runners-up and I was very surprised that we
got on that list because I think usually there is more of an art house feel to
the movies that are picked for the Academy Awards. Then the three shortlisted
projects went in front of a committee and made our case for why we should be selected. We then got a call an hour later after the committee had met and we were told we had been chosen. We were very happy and very proud to be chosen to
represent our country in what,I believe, is the most important award for film in
the world.

CA: Has the film been seen by the people living in the Geiranger fjord and do you hope it helps inform them and encourage them to take safety measures? 

Roar Uthaug: Yes. We
screened it in the local community where the wave will hit before our big
Norwegian premiere and they really appreciated it. The weekend the film opened
they had this big convention about safety and tsumanies. Hopefully the movie also contributes to raise awareness. We also hope that the people who monitor
this possible events get more funding and more exposure in the media so that we
can try to find ways to keep people as safe as possible. It’s nature so you can’t
predict it fully, but with research hopefully the damage won’t be as bad.

“The Wave” opens today in L.A. at the The Nuart Theatre and in NYC at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema

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