Olof Birna Torfadottir, a graduate from Screen writing and Directing at The Film School, just wrapped up shooting her first full length film and we had to check in on how it went
Where did the idea for the film come from?
The idea for the film “How to be a Classy Tramp” first emerged in the summer of 2015. I was working at an abattoir in Hvolsvollur the summer in between the years I was at The Film School. There was plenty of conveyor belt work and there were few people my age, or Icelandic or English speaking, so I spent a lot of time alone and that is where the idea began to develop. The original thought was to make a film about these two characters that were named Karen and Tanja. They were a bit “expectation vs reality”. How badly one wanted to be cool, but how much of a loser one really was. That is a bit what the film is about. Karen teaching Tanja to be more careless, free and not bound to what other people think.
How did the script writing go?
After having rolled it around in my head and written some plot points down over the summer, I began to develop the script further during my 3rd semester at The Film School, as by the end of the semester we were supposed to turn in a first draft of a full length script. I continued the development during the fourth semester, but after graduation in the spring of 2016, I put it aside for a while. The funny thing about this script is that no matter how long I let it rest, each time I read it over and expected it to be horrendous as you do, it never was. I love the script, always laughed as much and always wanted to make it into a film. I got the chance to take it to Les Arcs through The Film School before Christmas 2017 and it was very well received. After the New Year I began production for real.
How was the process of casting and manning the crew?
It was amazingly easy to man every part. I did not expect that people would be willing to jump into such a low budget project. I had spoken to many people I had worked with in film making about the script since 2016, but when we got to manning the crew I figured people would be more immersed in the business and would no longer be interested, but just about everyone I contacted were more than willing immediately. Like Sunna Birgisdottir, super make up artist, worded it: “Olof, I have been waiting for the call for 2 years, I am on board the Tramp Train”.
How did you handle financing?
I began alone and tried various things out early in 2018, getting sponsorships, contacting many companies that would possibly receive some kind of advertisement through the film and that whole package. Originally shooting was to begin in the summer of 2018, but as financing went slow, I had to push it back. But everything happens for a reason because we could not have had a better summer for the shoot than this one in 2019. In hindsight, I would not have wanted to rush into this in 2018. Instead I started in the fall by contacting the crew and filling positions. By then I had cast the main roles. Ylfa Marin as Tanja and Asta Julia as Karen. Then, as I was working for The Icelandic Post Office in Akranes, the farm mailman was retiring after 40 years of working. I jumped at the opportunity to be able to do some location scouting around Hvalfjordur and Svinadalur and that is how I found all the locations in Hvalfjardarsveit. I then obtained another producer in the mix, Oskar Long, that immediately started to contact possible sponsors. By this time almost all the areas were covered except the actual financing. All locations, all the cast and crew, and we had nailed down shoot days from April through to September. During weekends and holidays so people would not miss work. I had a good deal for an equipment package from Kukl and Rent a lens. Then we had made a low budget production plan for the shooting period and we were not missing much, but too much to be able to cover it ourselves. Oskar manifested a miracle in such a short time period that he had. We ended up getting approximately half the budget from investors, we founded the company MyrkvaMyndir and got some overdraft from the bank for the company and just about one third of the film we paid for ourselves, but over a four month period so it did not hit us as hard.
Were there any surprises during the shoot?
What was most surprising was how insanely well it all went and great the crew with me was. This is the first full length film I direct. Before I had made short films and I had gotten used to fixing everything myself and jumping into whatever was needed, but this was a whole different story. The people around me were so helpful and passionate for the project and everyone was communicating and making their own way. I remember when we were heading into the second part of shooting and I had forgotten to think about the actresses hairdos until just the week before the shoot. I hurriedly contacted everyone but they had already spoken with the hairdresser, finished with coloring and touch ups and just ready to start. I sat, one evening before shooting began, so restless, I had already picked up the equipment, finished doing the little I had to do and everything else was ready. I know it is supposed to be like that but I just did not expect it so soon, especially in a low budget project. I am amazingly lucky with the crew and owe them everything for this film.
There were many things that I was stressed over and visioned could be problematic, but the funny thing is that it was completely different things and many “small” things that were so much more trouble than you would expect. For instance we were shooting lambs being born and wanted to get a shot of the actress delivering a lamb. You can not simply order that. Asta and I showed up on a Thursday before the shoot to practice a bit, but there was nothing happening. I was stressed out that we would run into the same problem on the shoot day, but as we showed up for that, five sheep were on the verge of birthing, the actress was able to do 3 test runs and then we were able to shoot her doing it twice.
This is an example of what I expected to be a big problem, and then there is an example of the small items. The great bucket problem. You have no idea how hard it is to get buckets in different colors. I did not realize that I had written buckets into almost every scene and our set dresser, Lovisa Lara, was going insane, as she did not just want a boring white bucket in every scene. So she had called every person in her surroundings asking them if they had a bucket and what color it was. This was an ongoing problem through the shoot.
Any interesting incidents?
The summer as a whole was incredible fun and we were amazingly lucky in regards to the weather, at least until September. But to be honest it is all a bit blurry now. I am experiencing a bit of an excitement hangover. The latest example I remember that was a bit weird and different was when Oskar the producer and his friend took a 100 kg bathtub from Reykjavik up into the mountain in Svinadalur. Then we had the dilemma of how to fill the bathtub with water. Lovisa set dresser and I ended up going in the pitch dark the night before the shoot, into the mountain with two buckets (boring white buckets) . But the only water supply that was close was a spring that was considerably lower in the mountain. I do not know why it seemed like a good idea to fill the buckets and drive them up, not even on a road, but a semi track, up the dangerously vertical mountain. After the first try, we used small brooks and puddles we found closer to the bathtub.
Any lessons you are taking from this experience?
I have learnt so much from this process. Everything from which biscuit to offer on set to what kind of structure will make the most of each shoot day. But first and foremost I have learnt to trust people better and not be shy to share projects. I have learnt a lot about myself during this process. Number one, I can do this. I have a voice people will listen to, I know what I want and I know what I want from people in return. Surrounding yourself with people who have as much, or even more, ambition and passion for the project is key. I have ideas and some vision that I give out and people take that a step further and creates some kind of a miracle. Costumes, hair, makeup, set dressing, framing, everything was exceedingly better than I had ever dared to hope. This film became ours, I am extremely proud of the crew and incredibly thankful for their work. I have never been as satisfied after shooting and I can not wait to show you the finished film at the movies.
And finally, what is left to be done and when will we be able to enjoy?
The film is now in the editing process, then sound mixing and color correction at the end of October. The premiere is planned for the first weekend in April.