Do you remember the first time you thought about death?
An elegant short film shot in northern Norway follows Arvid, an 8-year-old boy who is about to vicariously experience the death of his mother's twin sister. After its 2-year festival run, Truls Krane Meby's Good Machine Gun Sound found its online premiere on NoBudge last month.
NFS spoke with Truls about working with children, casting actors as family members and how architecture can accentuate a film's themes.
"Get an actor who embodies what you are trying to get. Because once they start acting — start putting on a mask — it can become a slippery slope."
NFS: How did you stage the environment to move so freely within it, especially working with kids?
Truls: In the first scene, it's a mix; we give them areas. There's a mix of letting them be free and precisely choreographed. As long as you have enough of those moments where they feel completely free, the things that are staged blend in to the mix somehow. Sometimes I really just let them run free. When they are in the forest, they are doing what they are doing and we follow them with a camera.
NFS: The family is very well cast — are they actors or a real family?
Truls: They were all actors. The lead kid was an aspiring actor, but the youngest kid was just an anarchistic spirit; you could just put him in there and he'd do whatever he wanted. That isn’t to say he’s “just himself” all the time, as he does have some quite demanding line-readings, which he did flawlessly. He has this very gentle look sometimes, where you sense that his mind is just drifting, which is a quality I generally like very much in an actor – to be able to see that they’re thinking and getting a sense of them having their own strange inner life. But he was a playful little anarchist on set, and we actually had to do some eye-replacement in post in one beautiful shot where he kept looking in the camera.
NFS: Were the kids on the same page with what you were trying to accomplish cinematically?
Truls: The older one knew exactly what was going on. We had talks before the film started about what the film is about — the loss of innocence and the first time he felt death. Once we started shooting we didn't discuss any of those things; we just let it be the background. When I direct I mirror the emotions of the characters. You're almost like a coach, trying to pump them up.
NFS: Most of the house is brightly lit except for that one section that's completely dark and shrouded. The house shows that juxtaposition of innocence and death coexisting almost unknowingly; it's a physical manifestation of that darkness that's not necessarily on the surface.
Truls: I'm endlessly fascinated by the way architecture and houses can have potential narratives built into them. That second time he goes through the house it's more like a magnet to him. He tries to avoid it by going to the forest, but his dad drags him back into it.
I love actors who, when you put a camera on them and give them no lines, you can feel that they are thinking.
NFS: Even though this kid is 9 years old, it feels like he has a very mature soul. When he's going up to an open casket looking at a dead body, it feels like he's really experiencing something. Do you think he'd been through something like that?
Truls: I never discussed with him if he'd been through something like that. Erlend, who plays Arvid, who I think was 9 when we shot, has this thoughtfulness to an incredible degree. We were really lucky because we didn't have so many people try out for the role and he was perfect. Especially when casting actors, for this role at least, it was so important to have someone who feels like they are thinking. I love actors that you can put a camera on them and give them no lines and you can feel that they are thinking. I feel like the first part of getting children to act is to get an actor who embodies what you are trying to get. Because once they start acting — start putting on a mask — it can become a slippery slope. The kids we had for this pulled off putting on those masks extremely well.
NFS: How did you choose your camera, lighting technique, and lenses?
Truls: We shot on the Alexa and mostly in natural light. It is very much about the feeling of a innocent state of nature being ruptured, and I wanted a sense that nature is everywhere for Arvid, and that it’s a part of his play. Being able to go from being inside a living room where the sunlight washes in through the windows, to follow him outside and feel the sun hit his face, was very important. The way he roams around in a way an adult rarely just roams around, feeling the wind, feeling the sun, was a very important part of the film’s thematic concerns, and the natural light reflects this.
My fantastic DP Benjamin Loeb says this about the lenses: "It's a set of Lomo Roundfront Anamorphics that have been completely rebuilt and rehoused by Van Diemen in the UK. They have been customized with Cooke Speed Panchro SII rear elements rather than Lomo Spherical elements, so they have the anamorphic qualities of the Lomos mixed with the spherical characteristics of the old panchros."
NFS: There are so many ways to release a film now. Why did you choose NoBudge for your online premiere?
Truls: I decided to release on NoBudge because I’d seen friends and other interesting filmmakers do the same successfully and felt that it would be a good home for this kind of filmmaking.
You can follow Truls on Twitter @TrulsKraneMeby.