Book Excerpt: The Northman: A Call to the Gods by Simon Abrams

We are incredibly proud to be able to present an excerpt from the new book on “The Norwegian” by our very own Simon Abrams. Read the official description below, followed by the excerpt, and get your own copy here.

The Norwegian: A call to the gods is the official look at how this epic Viking revenge thriller was conceived, written, cast and produced by the acclaimed director Robert Eggers.

Set against the ruthless background of the Nordic territory from the tenth century, The Norwegian is a new epic Viking revenge thriller from acclaimed director Robert Eggers (The witch [2015] and The lighthouse [2019]), with an all-star cast included Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Willem Dafoeand Björk.

Compiled from fascinating interviews with the cast and crew, inspiring storyboards, exclusive behind-the-scenes photographs – including the director’s own first-hand account of his creative writing and directing processes –The Norwegian: A call to the gods explores the cold and forbidding world of the Vikings, their customs, traditions and relentless thirst for battle and revenge that inspired Eggers to write this compelling Nordic saga.


Director ROBERT EGGERS AND CINEMATOGRAPHER JARIN BLASCHKE

Eggers has worked with a cinematographer Jarin Blaschke since 2007, when the two collaborated on a short film based on the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel”. Eggers was initially drawn to Blaschke because of his foreign-sounding last name, even though Blaschke was born in Westminster, California. Together, Eggers and Blaschke have applied their signature single-camera approach to all three of their feature collaborations. Most contemporary film productions – especially of this size – are filmed with several cameras per set. scene, both for coverage and safety, but Blaschke and Eggers’ outstanding results on The witch and The lighthouse suggested that their unconventional approach would also work for The Norwegian. Still, not being able to visit and plan around the film’s locations required a significant amount of extra storyboarding and advance planning.

You’ve talked about how, in general, the priority in your work is to reduce everything—camera movements, lighting, etc.—to its essential elements. How did you apply that to The Northman?

Robert: In most scenes it’s one shot – and most scenes are [taken in] one shot – a lot of the work Jarin and I do together is rewriting the scene to remove non-essential story beats and then rearranging the remaining beats so we can show everything we need to show in a single camera movement. Actually we [filmed] a handful of small scenes that we [originally] planned to film in two or three takes, but we got so used to doing one-rs or long takes that on the day of shooting we decided, “Letjust shoot it like a one-r.”

Jarin: It would be a different movie if we did everything in three takes instead of one. ThereA lot of things happen in this movie and thatit’s all action. Robfirst email [to me] had a list of movie references. I remember him mentioning that too [wanting] a lot of time with “a lot of crap going on” [with] lots of close camera frames – reallyIt’s a lot of work over half a year (or more) just to line it all up in a logical way so you can get deceptively simple pictures.

Robert: We learned a lot making this film. As we wrapped, Ethan Hawke put his arms around me and Jarin and said: “Congratulations guys, now you can do anything you want. You’ve done everything you can do in a movie except car crashes, but you still wouldn’t, Rob.” When he left, Jarin and I turned to each other and thought: Yes, now we are able to make the movie we just made.

Jarin: You have to be ready to go too far to know where the right level is. If youIf you are not prepared to go too far, you will never know if you went far enough.

Robert: Not that this was an experiment in going too far. We made the film we set out to make, but it was definitely extreme.

During interior scenes there is a lot of single source lighting. Everything revolves around a large fireplace or hearth in many of your sets. How did you shoot in a tight, dimly lit environment with fluid camera movements while also illuminating all the details you wanted to see?

Robert: One scene where single source lighting really worked to our advantage is in Queen Gudrún’s bedroom when Amleth reveals himself to his mother and she tells him her background, which is not what he expects. The fireplace is in front of her, so she is enlightened when she first finds out who he is; she is vulnerable. Then, as she begins to tell her story, she crosses the fire and she is underlit, as one Boris Karloff monster. She looks absolutely demonic. When she then tries to be seductive, she is backlit and looks as beautiful as possible. It was really cool, although other scenes were more challenging.

Jarin: My tendency is to go for naturalism because of thatthat’s how my brain works. I dont do thatI don’t know how to do the studio standard for three point lighting. I just don’tI don’t think of things that way. The Norwegian is also an unusual case. Usually you have to ask questions like: What would the room have in it? [The answer is] usually a window, which is great, but the Vikings didn’t have windows in their homes. YouI would normally also be able to use something simple to light up a room, like a lamp. Youwould place it in the right place or have a single window, but in this case thereit’s just a fire [which is] always on the floor [and] always right in the middle of every frickin’ room. Period.

Robert: For scenes like the one in the cabin where the female slaves sleep, which we discussed endlessly, the fire raged in there to get exposure for the people sleeping in the scene, [and it looked] unrealistic. We used these massive lighting rigs that Jarin designed for an early scene in King Aurvandil‘s Great Hall in Hrafnsey. They were later digitally replaced with plates of real fires. If the fire was that big with everyone wearing wool and fur, everyone would be dead, but we needed exposure there, so we used these light rigs.

Jarin: For the Great Hall scene, I think we had a lighting rig with ninety bulbs on one side and ninety bulbs on the other. There were also sixty buildings on the other side and sixty on the opposite side. ToThat’s about three hundred bulbs to light this room. And we used 500-watt bulbs.

Robert: It was also pretty much the only light source [laughing].

Robert mentioned that you were generally more inclined to use cranes and puppets, and that a Steadicam camera was only reluctantly used to stabilize your camera movements for the Knattleikr gameplay. Why do you generally prefer cranes and dolls?

Jarin: A director, or whoever guides you through this experience, must be a leader. You are in their hands, so they need to be in front of you, not figure it out with you. I dont do thatDon’t buy into the visceral handheld camera approach to shooting. I like knowing the filmmaker knows more than I do instead of just being reactive. They should tell you where to look, not just what I would look at if I stumbled upon a crazy situation and couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Toit’s just my thing. There should be an intention behind it youlook at. Using a Steadicam makes me feel like meI float in space, so what a formally composed [film] like The Norwegianusing puppets and cranes felt right.

Robert: That is, it felt right to does not use a Steadicam.

Jarin: Yes. However, everything has its limitations, even cranes blowing around in the wind. We learned a lot about cranes in this movie.

Robert: I would definitely say that when you can use a rigid crane, use a rigid crane. That would be my recommendation.

Did you prefer to use a rigid crane due to the wind and bad weather during outdoor scenes?

Robert: Thatit is fine to use a telescopic crane. They just tend to break down from the weather.

Jarin: A techno crane tends to blow more debris because of thatIt is not porous, like a conventional faucet. The wind affects a rigid crane differently than a techno crane. ThatIt’s easier with a rigid crane because the wind doesn’t catch it as much, whereas a techno crane becomes a big, fat sail. On The lighthousethe first time we ever used the techno crane, which has a longer length than most cranes, we thought Oh, technocrane, where have you been all our lives? We were able to climb around rocks and make the film. but for The Norwegiandid the wind cause problems when we used techno cranes.

Robert: Our [film] crew on The Norwegian had previously worked on [films such as] Star warsjames bond, Ridley Scottetc. so we had a crew capable of executing our crazy ideas. Jarin would come up with something, and theywould say, “We did something like that in the third Harry Potter movie; maybe we could do this.” It was invaluable to us.

Jarin: Yes, what a resource [the crew was], because it was all just theory for us. They were fully on board to try to solve all our problems.

Robert, you’ve said you weren’t interested in making a film set in modern times. Jarin, do you feel the same way given your mutual preference and interest in only using one camera at a time?

Robert: Jarin would be more interested in making a modern film. I have no interest.

Jarin: I don’t know what it is, but I’ve always been obsessed with other places, other times. I guess for me filmmaking is about learning about what is not directly at hand. That should give you a sense of discovery. It’s hard to articulate, but if I did nothing but period films, I’d be happy. Maybe I’m an escapist at heart. When shooting a movie in a contemporary setting, it’s almost as if there are so many light sources; everything is so noisy and so complex. Just give me a room with a window, seasons, times of day and different weather. That’s more than enough variety for me. I would love to go deep and perfect it. It can be overwhelming when you throw in all the clutter and clutter we have now. I try to do fewer things as best I can.

Robert: I just have no interest in making a modern film. For me, recreating a world is fun. Choosing wallpaper samples for a modern thing just sounds terrible. The idea of ​​having to shoot a mobile phone. . .

Jarin: It’s depressing.

Robert: Yes. The idea of ​​photographing a car is pretty bad, but having to shoot a cell phone. . .

Jarin: Or watching people write emails?

Robert: I am more interested in the stories that I am interested in telling than I am interested in being a filmmaker. I’d rather write a book or paint a painting about something I care about than make a contemporary film—not that it would be good, nor would anyone buy it, see it, or care about it.

The book is available now, and a limited edition launch in 2023 may be pre-ordered.

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