Jimmy Olsson in conversation with CUB Magazine

Alive is an Oscar-qualifying short film that centres on love and intimacy.

Photo via Vimeo

Victoria (Eva Johansson) is wheel-chair bound, suffering from brain damage. She yearns for intimacy. Her carer, Ida (Madeleine Martin) suggests Victoria create a tinder profile to access intimacy and love. Whilst, Ida does not expect Victoria to actually meet someone through tinder. Her fears come to a head when Victoria tells her she has invited a man off tinder over to visit her. Victoria, confident in her decision dismisses Ida’s objections and proceeds to meet the man alone.  

I had the pleasure to interview the film’s director, Jimmy Olsson. He gave me some more insight into the process of film-making and detailed his experience of directing Alive.

Ayesha: Is it harder to get started or to keep going in the film industry?

Jimmy Olsson: I think it’s harder to keep going actually. In the climate we have right now there are lots and lots of new talent coming in that doesn’t have the experience or haven’t worked in the film industry before, is an influencer or just a celebrity that has a brilliant idea and they are given the chance to direct or write much easier now than it was when I started. On the other hand, the bigger platforms are very anxious and they only count on algorithms and they only believe in the big big names and won’t let the experienced people who haven’t yet done anything big to be given the chance. I am there, in the middle section, have worked for some time now but it’s really hard to take the next step on your own. I’m not bitter about it. I am powering through.

A: Are there any specific qualities or aspects that make a film better for you? 

JO: Yes, a good script that tells us about the deeper wants and needs from a character and I also need to really believe the characters. I need to be able to relate to the subject. I don’t need to escape reality, I want to see different realities. And I like the small things, almost under acting with a strong subtext. Simple stories like the films of the Dardenne brothers are really strong pieces in my view. 

A: As a director, do you worry about what the audiences want? Do you believe it to be your responsibility to find and develop your audience? If so, why do you feel that way? 

JO: I often think about the logical fact in a story. I don’t like obvious gaps in a story so when I write it has to be plausible. If I believe in my text or in the performance I´m confident a lot of people will think the same thing. I want to please an audience when I make a film but I never compromise and write stuff that is really popular now that I think the people want, I don’t think so. I write what I am interested in and hopefully my tentacles are hitting the right things, what is going on around us. I think I am the kind of director who tells the stories that a lot of people think about or have thought about but perhaps haven’t gone further with if that makes any sense.

A: How did the idea of Alive come to you? Is there anything specific that prompted you to write it?

JO: It was a podcast I was listening to. The particular story in that podcast was similar to my story. There was a picture in my head when they were talking about the caregiver had to sit outside in the coffee-shop and he waited for a person. When I heard that part specifically, I thought it was interesting. Immediately, a couple of images came up and that’s always the same thing with me. If [the] images start to come when I listen or read something then I’m building something in my head. I don’t have to force, if I don’t have to force it then it’s good!

A: What was the casting process like? Did you have a vision of who was going to play the roles or did you audition them?

JO: I auditioned Eva. I knew from the start that I wanted to work with Madeleine because I knew her. Madeleine actually emailed me a picture of Eva and I recognized her from a shot. I brought her in for an audition and we read [the] lines. I just went with my gut feeling that she is willing to do this job properly. She was very engaged and wanted to explore. These are important factors. She (Eva) is a great character actress, I just knew she was going to be great at it.

A: The film has very minimal music/soundtrack and in my opinion, it was employed very effectively. How important is ‘sound work’ in a film? Is it more or less important than the visual component? 

JO: Often when I start writing I have a piece of music in mind and I often get a lot of help by listening to music both in structure and the feel of the story. It helps me go forward. There are a lot of images happening in music, lots of stories without words so I would say that sound and music is very important in a film. Again mentioning the Dardenne brothers, they rarely use music in their films. There is one strong example in the film “the kid with a bike” they are using a certain segment from Beethoven piano concert nr 5 and they use the same loop three times in the film and every time it is so powerful. I love that. In my film, I knew the performances from Madeleine (Ida) and Victoria (Eva) was so intense and strong I didn’t want to force out more emotions out of that. It was clear enough so I decided we only needed music in the parts that were quiet really. In the montage, I wanted to create a contrast between the two characters and me, and the first composer Thomas Henley talked about using a felt piano feel because it’s melancholic and soothing at the same time and we liked that approach. Then I knew I needed to create some form of danger, in the end, suspense, and the feeling of uncertainty so that piece of music merged out from Victoria’s scream. But in the end, I wanted a happy and warm feeling so I asked Peter Gregson to write a piece of music and I really love string instruments so he wrote a beautiful piece for me. 

A: How did you envision the film to turn out in the end? Did the end result meet your visions/expectations?

JO: I am a friend of writing either really dark stories or funny ones. This story was quite dark from the get-go, and I enjoyed that, but I also thought it would help with some funny lines to make it more three dimensional so I am really happy that I chose to be more warm and funny on that last line cause I feel its not only a funny line, it’s also a line where Victoria takes back agency of herself as a person.

When we wrapped the shoot, I felt really happy and when we edited it and watched the first offline I knew we had something special. The only problem was that it was too long. The first cut was 29 minutes and that is a problem generally when you want to tour with your film on festivals so we had to cut it and the second cut was 27 minute but then I realized there was a whole scene that really told the same thing that the previous scene so we took that one out and then I had the idea to cut hard from when Victoria is screaming to when Ida is waiting outside so the end result of 23 minutes is a perfect length for this film at least. I am extremely happy with all my choices [in] making this film. This is my best work yet. 

A: Within the short period that you have been part of the industry, you have released critically acclaimed films that highlight important issues prevalent around the world today. What inspires you to make films addressing these important subject matters? 

JO: I am inspired by things around me. It could be something someone says that makes me think about who he or she is and thinks, it could be an event or something in the news. For instance, I read a short story on twitter or Instagram about a man who screwed on the jar really tight after he had a quarrel with his wife so she had to come to him so he could help per opening the jar and they could speak again. Stuff like that makes me think what is around them and what they have been through earlier in their marriage. Once I read a short piece of news about a man from Texas who wanted to rob a bank for 2000 dollars. That itself is funny but the clerk in the bank convinced him to take a loan instead. That made me smile and I made a short comedy about that incident. But coming back to your initial question, for me making films are a part of something therapeutic for me. I want to learn to be a better person in the end. That is why I choose those kind of subject matters.

A: How does it feel to have Alive been selected for so many high-profile international festivals? 

JO: It feels really good and It makes me very proud and it’s a sign that I am making something right. When Alive won at Huesca international film festival and made it qualified to be nominated for an Oscar I felt that now I have a chance to really breakthrough with this film. I’m not going to lie. I really enjoy winning awards and I do want a lot of people to watch the film and I also hope that the success of this film will help me go forward in the industry. I am so ready to make features and tv-series. I just need to be given the chance. 

A: Do you think you would make more films about this subject matter in the future?

JO: I have thought about turning this story into a series or a feature but I have other plans first. I always want to renew myself and develop as a director so I don’t think I will write or direct something very similar but I wouldn’t mind to be in the same world again because in the end it is about human beings and their inner relations and that’s the most important thing. 

A: What are you working on at the moment?

JO: Right now, I’m writing a feature about an immigrant woman who’s forced to work as a sex worker in Berlin. One day she gets a client who is asking her for a prostate massage and she reluctantly does it. We later find out that the man has prostate cancer.

I’m also developing a TV series, a period piece based on a true story of a woman in Stockholm who became the leader of a pack of boys. 

The film is now available on Vimeo and Short of the week. Here is a link to the film: https://vimeo.com/channels/staffpicks/501141166?autoplay=1

You can follow Jimmy Olsson on Instagram @regissorjimmy and @Alive_themovie.

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