The latest indie pickup from Magnolia’s genre arm Magnet Releasing is director Andre Ovredal’s TrollHunter (reviews), a found footage film from Norway about a group of three college students who set out to make a documentary about a supposed bear poacher named Hans, only to discover that he’s actually been sanctioned by the government to track down and kill the enormous trolls that roam the Norwegian countryside.
An engaging film that blends “shaky-cam” style with large-scale special effects, The Troll Hunter releases on VOD May 6th and in limited theaters on June 10th. Check out B-D reporter Chris Eggertsen’s exclusive interview with Ovredal inside to get his take on the film’s Jurassic Park influence, the buzz-worthy festival run that led to Magnet acquiring it for North American release, and what the future holds in store for him as a director.
Beginning a VOD run on May 6th and with limited theatrical dates to follow June 10th, director Andre Ovredal’s impressive second feature (after a student film he made in 2000 entitled Future Murder) The Troll Hunter is an action/horror movie that combines the “found footage” style of The Blair Witch Project with the large-scale spectacle of Jurassic Park. Though Cloverfield already did more or less the same thing, The Troll Hunter differs from that film pretty significantly in a tonal sense, imbuing its outrageous premise with a knowing sense of humor and a sly political subtext.
I recently had the opportunity of sitting down with the unassuming Ovredal, a Norwegian native who graduated with a film degree from California’s Brooks Institute, to talk about the film, whose buzz on the festival circuit subsequently led to a North American distribution deal with Magnet Releasing.
Bloody Disgusting: I was so impressed by the special effects, particularly given the budget you were working with. Talk about how came up with the design of how these trolls would look. I heard there’s a book that you took the inspiration from.
Andre Ovredal: Yeah, there is a book with all the folklore of Norway that’s called ‘The Fairy Tales of Asbjørnsen and Moe’. It has maybe 100 fairy tales, and a third of them include trolls. And there are some wonderful drawings in these books as well, that were made in the 18th century, that depict trolls as huge, big, wonderful monsters. But they do have clothes, and they do have this kind of human interaction, which I took away. I wanted to make them into animals, so they’d become really scary and…take away any inkling of cuddliness.
But they still have a funny look to them, because [they have] big noses…so that’s the basis of it. And then of course I chose some…I mean, there aren’t, in Norwegian folklore aren’t actually different trolls. They’re just kind of drawn differently. But I made them into species, or races, I guess…so that I could kind of create a mythology that only exists in this movie. And then I describe basically in the script trolls that I wanted to have on screen, from the one with three heads to one which is more like an ox, kind of muscular bull troll.
But they all are…they’re characters. There are different characteristics. One is almost…the three-headed creature, you know, obviously it’s kind of schizophrenic because if you have three brains, you’re gonna want to go all kinds of directions. And [then] to the big old troll at the very end that really kind of has this melancholy about it. And after I wrote the script, I gave the artist the drawings…you know, everybody in Norway knows these drawings, so I don’t really even need to show them.
But we worked on designs that were very close to that, but [they] still had to have their own individual feeling to them. So we mixed in references from other places, but we deliberately stayed away from all other depictions of monsters and trolls from other films and cultures.
BD: Where were the other inspirations that you pulled in?
AO: Mostly from animals and humans. Anything from really old people, like 70, 80 year old people who were kind of muscular, for example, like in bodybuilding contests. And you could really see how old bodies look. That’s more interesting than monsters in a way, as a reference. But this is something that…especially one of our main designers, Rune Spaans, he really went at it with this kind of research and came up with…really, you can feel it in the design of the trolls that he designed that he [took] from reality. I really appreciated that, because everything else is supposed to be real, including the trolls.
BD: Are you surprised at the response this has gotten in America, given how specific the film’s premise is to Norway? It’s played to really positive reception.
AO: Oh yeah, yeah, absolutely, I’m very surprised by that, because originally the film was geared to a regional audience. But it’s so great to see that it’s transcending and becoming something that other cultures who aren’t so used to the troll mythology are still able to respond to the film in such a great way. It’s wonderful, and absolutely surprising.
BD: Well I think a lot of it is that we’re so tired of vampires, and zombies, and werewolves, and this is a cool new monster that we can kind of incorporate more now.
BD: I did notice a lot of a ‘Jurassic Park’ influence, particularly in the scene where they’re being chased in the car and you see the troll coming up behind them in the sideview mirror.
AO: That was an homage. I love that shot in ‘Jurassic Park’! But also, it was a practical thing because while we were shooting inside the car, we have to shoot inside the car because that’s where the camera is. And [when] we turned around we couldn’t see out the window…actually, I originally wanted to shoot out the back window, because that would’ve been really impressive as well, but it wasn’t possible. So then it became the homage solution.
BD: ‘Cloverfield’ is the closest film I can think of that uses the ‘found footage’ format with a giant being. Was there anything you took from that film?
AO: Actually, not so much from that film. I think ‘Jurassic Park’ was a much bigger reference in how to depict big creatures on screen. Because I love the clarity of the way Spielberg did it. You know, when the dinosaur comes out, that’s what we’re gonna see…you can wait and you can hide it for awhile, but when it comes, you’d better deliver. He did that, and I was trying to do the same thing.
And I think documentary films have actually been more of an inspiration than other documentary films…not specific documentaries, but just a way of making a documentary was what we researched more than anything.
BD: Yeah, I think I was reading that you tried to stray a bit from the ‘Blair Witch’ aesthetic, with the severe ‘shaky-cam’ type movements, and it does seem like you did try to be somewhat more precise than that.
AO: Yeah, I think there are like three levels to the documentary form in a film. You have when the camera crew is under control, [when] they’re filming, interviewing, and shooting whatever they want. And then the next one is they’re tagging along and they’re [saying], you know, ‘What is going on now? What is he doing now?’ And the next level is basically escaping and being in a fearful situation where they’re completely out of control and just surviving, but the camera’s obviously running.
BD: I heard that you didn’t originally intend for this to be a found footage film, but it seems fortuitous that you did end up going in that direction considering how big that sub-genre is in America right now.
AO: Actually, I’m not quite sure where you heard that, because it was always meant to be a mockumentary. [Interviewer’s note: The press kit clearly states that the mockumentary approach “wasn’t his original plan”] I mean, I thought of that five minutes after thinking of the idea. It’s like, I’m living in a small country with very small budgets and it’s like, ‘ok…how do we do Jurassic Park on this budget?’…Actually, not just that but it really helps the story because you get to be very much at the center of the things, with the camera. It’s always in your face in a way, the whole story. And also it’s adding to the absurdity of everything to insist so intensely that it’s real.
BD: I also heard earlier that Universal was planning an English-language remake, and I’m just wondering what your thoughts are on that. Financially it’s obviously good for you, but…
AO: Actually, we’re not really talking with Universal about that. It was kind of a discussion at the beginning of our relationship with them. But now there is another production company here that…I hope we’re signing the contract very soon. But that should be very exciting. They’re really a fantastic company, fantastic people.
BD: Can you say who the company is?
AO: Not yet.
BD: Is that something that you’d direct?
AO: I don’t think so, because I feel like I want to expand beyond the mockumentary genre right now. I mean, I might revisit it later, and if it takes awhile…if I get to do another film in the mean[time] maybe I’ll get back to ‘Troll Hunter’ the remake, or if they [don’t] find another director for it, I don’t know. It’s kind of a very open situation right now. But I’m definitely very…I don’t want to do another mockumentary as my next film. That’s a very important thing to me.
BD: What is next? I’ve heard a little bit about a monster comedy you’re doing with Chris Columbus.
AO: Not really, it’s there, and we’re working on it…but [we’re] keeping it a little bit silent for now.
BD: As far as ‘Troll Hunter’, there’s quite a bit of political subtext in the film, some of which is quite specific to Norway. Do you think that stuff will translate to American audiences?
AO: Oh yeah, I think it translates very well. I think everybody has this [suspicion of] the government keeping secrets. And I think actually that idea is even stronger here than in Norway, this kind of suspicion toward the government. I have myself seen theater audiences here in America reacting very well to the scenes when he starts explaining how it all works out, about him being a worker, and he complains about the working conditions and that kind of stuff. And the audience laughs very much, so I think they totally get it.
BD: I love the epilogue when you have the footage from a real-life press conference and the [Norwegian] Prime Minister [Jens Stoltenberg] says something about trolls, and obviously he’s not talking about your kind of trolls, but I love the stunned look on the guys’ face sitting next to him when he says it. Was that added in later or was it in the original cut of the movie?
AO: No, that was all added later actually. That was added during post-production. We had another ending, but we realized this is so great – ‘the Prime Minister is actually saying the word troll!’ And we just had to use it.
BD: Was that something that people in Norway picked up on when that press conference actually aired or is it just something you happened to stumble across?
AO: No, the reason actually [that] he’s talking about it…he’s actually talking about…a huge oil field outside of Norway that’s called the Troll Field. And he was talking about power supplies, and I can’t remember exactly the context. But he was saying something about the Troll Field, and we did some editing to the audio! [Laughs]
BD: So what are you hoping to do in the future? Is your plan now to focus your efforts solely on the American film industry or are you going to keep making films in Norway?
AO: I hope to do both, but right now I’m definitely hoping to do something here in Hollywood.
BD: As far as sequel potential for this, would you be open to doing a sequel at some point?
AO: Yeah, I think so. I mean, eventually a sequel…it’s high demand in Norway for a sequel, actually. People are sending me personal Facebook messages every week saying, ‘Where is the sequel? Come on, get it out!’
BD: I feel like there are a lot more places you could go with it. There could be a new species that they discover, for instance.
AO: Yeah, I think there are a lot of species we haven’t seen yet, so…