Kena met with Nils-Erik Ekblom at the Queer Screen Film Festival to chat about his latest film Screwed.
To familiarise everyone, can you tell us a little about your filmic career – how did it all begin?
My filmic career started 13 years ago – I had no idea what I was going to do. I was going to be drafted into the army, which is mandatory in Finland. My godmother had told my Dad that there was a school opening up for media, with a documentary course. And my Dad was like: “Your godmother said that this might be a good idea for you…” and I was like “okay” and I applied, got in, and moved the army forward because I was studying. I started out as a sound guy, but then through Marko, who’s here with me on the trip, we got the assignment to make our first longer documentary film. I’d been struggling a lot with sleep paralysis through my whole life – it’s a lot better nowadays – but it was really bad right up to my twenties. So, we decided to do a documentary on that experience, and that’s when I started the shift over to Directing and Writing. I’ve always been writing and drawing comics as a kid, so it kind of came naturally, at least the story telling part. Directing wasn’t something I saw myself doing, I always saw myself as the guy standing in the back with a sound boom trying to capture the best sound possible and not getting so involved. But everything shifted after that one project, and I’ve been on this path ever since.
You’ve been Writer-Director for all the films you’ve made so far, but which do you prefer: writing or directing?
They’re so different! I write by myself a lot. It’s always a personal accomplishment when you get that first draft done for a feature. On the writing side, I always find it more rewarding working with someone, because then the thing that you’re making becomes so much bigger (hopefully) than something you could do by yourself. So I like writing with other people, as long as it works. I’ve tried co-writing with many people, but Tom currently is the only one with whom it really clicks. We are a perfect balance for our work. Directing – I want to make that my job. (Laughs) I love it that much. I could do that for the rest of my life! But I don’t want to give up writing either. I love them both in different ways.
What was your inspiration for writing this film?
My inspiration for making ‘Screwed’, … hmm… I’ve written 3 feature film scripts that I wanted to develop before I got on this project, and somehow I couldn’t gather the right people to make those stories that I had in mind. So I talked with Tom, several years ago, and I really wanted to make a movie – we hadn’t hung out much as we were each busy with our own careers – and it had been a while since we’d done ‘Love Between Storeys’, our previous short film. He told me that he had this idea for a summery movie about a boy who has a trasher party and gets exiled to his parents’ cabin for the summer. There he meets neighbouring Elias, and during the summer they’re going to find each other and find themselves. It was the perfect story. We really wanted to self-finance it to ensure we got into Production as soon as possible and have total control of what we were doing. We were beginner filmmakers – we didn’t have degrees or anything – so it was a real hassle to convince everyone we needed to convince to get the funds. It was the perfect story, and the thing that inspired me was that coming out has a lot to do with Tom’s personal background, and we also took things from my life, which we just mushed together into this…thing… that contains something
different. In 30 or 40 years I can look back at Screwed and go “that was what life was like back then. That’s the vibe.” I have no idea what people are going to be like when I’m 70, but I can tell them that it was just like this – our lives were like this. That was my main source of inspiration; and it was what I really needed to make. It’s a little over 10 years ago, and now I’m old enough to be a little nostalgic over it. Tom made a big point that he felt that gay characters in film and TV, especially in Finland, are portrayed as junkies, or as super flamboyant supporting characters. They’re more like… this is going to sound harsh, but they’re reduced to gimmicks in a lot of films. And he wanted us to portray the “normal”, average gay person, because the average gay person doesn’t really get much coverage in media. There’s a lot of closeted average gay people in the world, and a lot of the entertainment surrounding gay cinema has to do with coming out being a traumatic experience, which is important and needed, but we wanted to show a world where it’s not traumatic – nobody cares – it’s just how it should be. That’s the second major inspiration, is that we had an artsy angle to the summery, fun movie, but we wanted to portray a world where things are the way we think it should be everywhere.
What was your favourite scene to shoot and why?
The scene I remember… when Elias’ character has his emotional breakdown and starts pacing around the yard and getting loopy is one of my favourite scenes because it wasn’t written in that way. We weren’t really sure how we were going to handle it. We shot it in our first shooting weekend, and we hadn’t had many rehearsals with the actors, and so I was discovering where our actors can take things. I noticed very quickly that our leads are very talented, and that we could seriously push them. We made a decision right before shooting, on set, that we should take it to a more difficult, darker, space – it already had hints of drama, but that was the point we decided we’re going for a different tone. We were going to take it more serious because we could. Our actors will be able to pull anything off that we throw at them, and together we can take it further. After we shot that scene we started actively rewriting the script with Tom, because we knew we could take it places that we had no idea the movie could reach previously. Marko was very involved during shooting and between takes to ensure that everything ran smoothly, because we kept rewriting! Thankfully we had actors and actresses who don’t mind – I know we put them through hell during shooting! There were constant changes to dialogue and action… but it all turned out super well.
Can we expect any new future films from you soon?
Yes, me and Tom are currently working on writing a script for a ‘Screwed’ sequel, as it has to do with what our lives were like at 18. You don’t have to jump forward many years to come to a whole new world. So now the themes we wanted to take up with ‘Screwed’ that we had to leave on the table we can now explore. Especially now that we have such a great cast, we can write pretty much anything – we’re not afraid anymore to really get in there and do something incredible.
What films impacted you during your youth? / What was your favourite film as a teenager?
One of my favourite films is Vincent Gallo’s ‘Buffalo ‘66’ – not a whole lot of people know it, but it’s a fantastic movie because I have no idea why I love it so much! Every time I watch a film which I can just watch without thinking about technical aspects or anthing, then I know I’m watching a movie that specifically works for me. Then I also enjoy stuff that David Fincher’s done. I’m quite a visual person, so that kind of style of Directing really works for me; he pays attention to the image a lot without sacrificing the performance. He inspires me endlessly.
I personally would love to see more Finnish and generally Scandinavian films, what’s your opinion on global coverage of Finnish and Scandinavian film and TV? I feel that we’re not getting enough!
That’s a very difficult question I don’t know if the lack of coverage has more to do with the filmmakers ourselves than the media out there, because I feel like in Scandinavia, we filmmakers (me included) take baby steps into how we can distribute or market our films or bring them abroad. I really feel that we are only right now finding the right way to do that. Our industries are pretty young, and I believe that we can make great films and now that we’re ready to push them out there, people will receive them for what they are. But they can’t do that if we keep holding our cards close to our chest, and showing them to our own, familiar, audiences.
Thank you so much for your time, you’re an extremely insightful filmmaker and I wish you the best of luck for your future films!