TrollHunter is a “found footage” style film about a group of college students out shooting a school project about the mysterious deaths of bears when they stumble upon a man who claims to hunt trolls for the government. Not the cute garden gnome variety, but the scary monster kind that are as big as the tallest trees in the forest and will eat you if you get close to them. It’s a wild flick that has already become a cult classic around the world and has now got the attention of Hollywood filmmaker Chris Columbus, who is planning an American remake.
With the film opening in Toronto this week for a limited engagement before its Canadian DVD release on August 23, Criticize This! spoke with director André Øvredal about how it came to be and what he’s got planned for the future now that he’s left his mark on the film world. Read our Q&A below.
Brian McKechnie: How did the idea for TrollHunter come to you?
André Øvredal: I grew up with trolls as part of my childhood. My parents and grandparents would read [fairytales] to me. When I thought about being part of the filmmaking community I wanted to make a film that brought out these wonderful things from our culture and put them on screen more than just make a social, realistic drama about something in the city. I love films like Jurassic Park and stories of this nature so it kind of came to me the idea of bringing out the trolls to make a documentary about them. About a guy who makes a living hunting them.
BM: Was it difficult shooting handheld knowing you would need to add many effects in later?
AØ: It’s always tricky to work with effects. We made ourselves some ground rules and we stuck to those rules and shot it with the supervision of effects people all the time. It was never a big deal. We never storyboarded anything and always shot it and planned things with the effects people. We would walk through a location and say ‘It’s going to be shot here and it’s going to look like this and like that,’ and then we halfway stuck to that when we were shooting.
BM: How much work went into creating the trolls and were they all digital?
AØ: Apart from the back of one troll, they were all digital. A lot of work went into them. About half the budget was creating the trolls. It took months and months starting with just simple drawings based on the fairytales and then recreating something close to that while being unique. Then those drawings became clay models and those went to the effects house who would then start to create the wireframes of the bodies. It was a very long process but it was a lot of fun.
BM: The casting was very well done. Were these actors you had in mind?
AØ: Otto Jespersen, who plays the troll hunter, came on board right at the beginning. I wrote the last couple of drafts with him in mind and tweaked the script so I could utilize his sense of humour because he’s a famous comedian in Norway. The guy in the power station telling them it’s all going in circles is another famous comedian as well so I had to expand the very small scene for him to be able to play around with something. That affected the film for sure and it became his part. The other characters are cast to play real people, like the camera team and all the extras and smaller bit parts. They are there to add to reality so that when the absurdity of the trolls and the mythology starts to appear, you are lulled into a sense of reality and the contrast suddenly becomes a lot of fun to watch.
BM: Are you happy with the response the film has received?
AØ: Of course. It’s been crazy. Everything from getting to show it at Sundance and Tribeca and Fantastic Fest… who could have dreamt of this? Definitely not me [laughs]. Everyone involved in the film knew we were making history in Norway because it’s the first time trolls have been depicted on screen in a realistic way so we knew we had to do it right. It was a very important movie for everyone involved.
BM: Are you involved with the American remake at all?
AØ: No. I have contact with them and I was championing them to get the remake because I think it’s fun and I’m honoured that Chris Columbus likes my film enough to produce it. I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid. That’s just another amazing thing that has happened in the wake of the film being released.
BM: What’s next for you?
AØ: Hopefully I will be doing something in Hollywood. That is my aim, to get to work with the people who have made the films I’ve always admired. I’d kill to get to do a Bond movie, but there are a ton of directors who are waiting for that. I can’t wait to see the new Bond movie with Sam Mendes directing. Those kinds of films are what excites me and to get to do a Hollywood film would be great.
TrollHunter opens at The Royal in Toronto on August 19. It will be available on DVD August 23.
Top image: A scene from TrollHunter. Courtesy Alliance Films.