The Director’s Cut: On set with Shrek, swamp thing and Santa’s new cut

At the beginning of 2015, I confidently proclaimed to my wife: “Don’t worry, the movie will be finished in four weeks.” She gave me a look as if to say: “Yeah, right.”

It’s almost Christmas and we are still shooting. “It’s 83.33 percent done,” I tell her. Lesson learned: always listen to your wife!

The Oscar goes to my legs
But this is independent filmmaking and it’s thrilling, heartbreaking, fun, difficult, inspiring, and sometimes downright stressful – especially when things go amok. It’s enough to make you go crazy, but the world needs independent movies as medicine to help us cope with the Hollywood corporate machine.

Not long ago, my main actor called me up – he could not shoot in November as he has been cast in the role of ‘Shrek’! “But what about the film – when can you shoot?” – “After Christmas …”

My head dropped. I took a look at the remaining scenes, and we decided to shoot a bit creatively, starting with the idea that we could use my legs as an actor replacement. My legs can act. This was what I would call a forced stylistic choice. It will be cool, I convinced myself.

The Grinch … sorry Shrek
On the Sunday we all drove to the beautiful Dyrehave. The romantic scene required dumping a half-naked girl onto a cold muddy marsh. Our actress was freezing, it was early morning, and our first problem was preventing people from calling the police. We showed them the clapboard. “It’s only a movie!” we all shouted. I kept the image of Shrek in my head – to give me strength.

After 12 takes we got it right. Onto our wide shot – we all backed away and set up the camera. The courageous actress lied alone, covered in mud and fake blood and dressed in a skimpy nightdress. She pulled off the scene with aplomb, but it was murder.

Next evening, our location was the back of Valby Bowl at night. Our main character rescues a young girl. After the second take I noticed something odd with our cinematographer. He complained about his knee, but assured me all was okay. We took the scene again and suddenly he fell to the ground. His knee had snapped. We called him a taxi and sent him home. I looked around: “Who can use a camera?” We rushed the scene, finished, went to the next location and finished at around 2 am.

Rain, snow, tears, gløgg
Next day, we had two more scenes, one of which was in my basement. When I went down to set up, there was major flood damage and I instead spent the whole day and evening shovelling water. I replanned but quickly had to cancel again. It was snowing heavily, and the continuity would not match. Late, tired, cold, hungry, frustrated, I almost cried. It’s much easier to watch movies.

For the next few days, my main actor went and painted himself green, while the rest of the cast/crew went about their business. I went back to the editing table and tried to splice together a rough cut.

I’m planning a crew screening over Christmas with a warm glass of gløgg. I will make it extra strong and invite my wife – she was right after all.

God Jul!