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Interview: Director Roar Uthaug on Making the Disaster Film Feel Fresh in 'The Wave'

Director Roar Uthaug

Jose here. The fact that Norway’s Oscar submission this year is a disaster film, should be reason enough to warrant attention. It also happens that The Wave is quite a fun ride to sit through! Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, director Roar Uthaug, delivers a film that demands you get the largest bag of popcorn available, some candy and a giant soda. It’s a film meant to be enjoyed, something which Hollywood often forgets to provide when focusing on CGI extravaganzas that always put the effects before the people.

Uthaug’s film centers on a family led by sensitive geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) and his pragmatic wife Idun (Ane Dahl Topr, the star of last year's Norwegian Oscar submission 1001 Grams), who are preparing to leave their charming little town, when everything that can possibly go wrong, does indeed go wrong. The issue in this case is disastrous landslide that causes a tsunami in the fjord! To say that Uthaug excels at creating tension and induces nail-biting (my cuticles resent him) would be an understatement. What is surprising is how fresh the film feels by the end. Uthaug was kind enough to answer some questions I had about his film.

Read the interview after the jump.

JOSE: Disaster films are rarely made outside of Hollywood, so The Wave was quite refreshing to watch. Did you want to break apart from disaster films you loved, or is your film an homage to them?

ROAR UTHAUG: I guess a bit of both. There are of course certain tropes that are in the DNA of a disaster film. And growing up I loved watching films of the genre on the big screen. But at the same time we wanted to bring something fresh to the genre. To make it more grounded in reality and to focus more on the emotional drama of the characters than on drawn out scenes of spectacle.

JOSE: What were some of the logistical challenges of making a disaster film?

ROAR UTHAUG: It's always a challenge working with water. Everything moves slower and becomes harder to control. But our biggest challenge was probably a sequence where they are evacuating the town and cars are piled up in a uphill road. As our disaster hits at night, and we couldn't afford to light the whole fjord, we had a very limited window of only 3 hours to shoot the sequence. It had to be dark enough so the headlights of the cars would light up our actors, but still light enough so that we would see the fjord (where the wave would be put in later). So we practiced in the afternoon and when the lights hit the right level we just ran with the cameras. We did that for the first 3 nights of shooting, so it was a real baptism of fire. But I think the intensity of the shoot really transferred to the film.

Did you want your film to be a cautionary tale or pure genre entertainment?

Again I would have to say a bit of both. I think we can bring in the audience with the entertainment part, and when we have their attention we can also try to give them new insight or shine a light on important matters.

One would think that everything was peaceful and safe in Norway, however your film reveals a constant stress when it comes to nature. What effect would you say this provokes in Norwegian society?

The threat of our wild nature is something that is a part of a lot of Norwegian's daily life. But I am not sure how much we really are affected by it. It almost feels like it's accepted as something that is just there, and that it's not much we can do about it.

The $6 million budget is rather small compared to what it would cost in the US to make. Do you hope this will inspire other European filmmakers to make more genre films?

Definitely! I think we can reach wider audiences for our films by learning from Hollywood. And on the other hand I think Hollywood has something to learn from us about caring for our characters as well as challenging those genres.

About 1/5 of the population in Norway have seen the film! Which sounds absolutely amazing. Has your life changed overnight with the success of the film?

Yes, it truly is amazing. But apart from making me very proud and honored I don't think it has impacted my life that much. At least not yet.

It was even more refreshing to see Norway pick your film to compete at the Oscars, so two questions based on this: why do you think award bodies have such a hard time recognizing artistry in genre films?

I think a lot of award bodies are looking for different things than the general audiences are. They might be looking for films that push the medium in some way. And I think they can be a bit biased thinking that genre films are formulaic and somehow have less artistic aspirations than the general art house pictures.

What would the Oscar nomination represent for you?

It would of course be a great honor to be nominated in what I consider the most prestigious award in our business. And I am sure it would open the doors to the international industry even further. I think it also would be an enormous boost to the Norwegian film industry and our collective confidence.

The Wave will be released in US theaters in March 2016.


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Reader Comments (5)

I didn't like this as much as you (my review) but I agree it's fun to see typical Hollywood genres product from a different angle. And the scenery of Norway's West Coast. BLARGH. Even if the science is sound and a tsunami could happen at the fjords... what a beautiful way to go.

December 17, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Is it tackily shallow of me to mention that he has one of the coolest names out there? Is Roar at all common as a first name?

PS I'd definitely like to see the movie it ever becomes available.

December 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Hollywood

NAT: I know, it was so refreshing to have fun with one of these, rather than sit and roll my eyes like I did during all of SAN ANDREAS, except in the scene featuring Kylie of course...

Dave: No! His name is AMAZING (and also, look at that face #swoon) he was also hired to do the "Tomb Raider" reboot, so we'll be hearing from him a lot. The movie comes out in March, be sure to check it out!

December 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJose

Dave -- i lived in Norway for two years and I never heard the name "Roar" so... probably not common.

December 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Jose - your interviews have all been fabulous!!

December 17, 2015 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

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