Interview: André Hedetoft and Emelia Hansson Talk ORIGIN, a Swedish Sci-Fi Thriller that Biohacks Beyond Human Limits
Where do you draw the line between ethics and scientific progress, and can one still break new ground without taking risks? Julia (Emelia Hansson) and Rebecca (Sandra Redlaff) hardly have time to ponder such questions. As young scientists with a friend’s life on the line they throw caution to the wind and hack Erik’s genetic code in hopes of curing an otherwise fatal illness. Before long Erik (Rikard Björk) recovers, but superhuman results are only the first of many side effects.
A smart, Swedish sci-fi written and directed by Andreas Climent and André Hedetoft, Origin (Bieffekterna) tweaks a familiar set-up by centering its thematic preoccupations and conflict around recognizable relationships. With believable performances from a solid cast Origin ensures its most poignant query does not go unheard: at what point does pushing the boundaries of humanity give way to inhuman results?
The film has been making the rounds at several European fantastic film festivals and had its Belgian premiere roughly three weeks ago at the Razor Reel Flanders Film Festival in Bruges.
Read on for an interview with André Hedetoft and Emelia Hansson. Interested in a trailer or an earlier short film made by the directing duo? Be sure to click here as well.
ScreenAnarchy: How did the story for ORIGIN come together?
André Hedetoft: When we first started writing on our first feature film we had a lot of ideas from doing short films for a couple of years and in the meantime we had always been collecting these ideas for a longer feature. When we set out to make the feature, we started bouncing all of those ideas around again. And one of those was about biohackers: regular people who, from their living room, bedrooms or basements, in one way or another hacked the human genome or in one way or another extend the human capabilities. That sounded really interesting. Actually writing code to make something happen in your body.
That sounded like it could be a cool movie but with all the projects we make we try to use fantastic elements to tell something very personal. That’s like our one rule that we didn’t wanna break. We had a cool concept but didn’t really have the emotional core and we started thinking about that. After a couple of days and weeks we had a bunch of ideas and we always returned to ‘well, if someone were to do this, to really explore those boundaries and really cross the ethical and moral compasses, there’s only one reason why they would do it, and that would be for the love of someone else basically’. That’s how the story was born with Julia and her sick boyfriend and that turned into Origin eventually.
You co-wrote and co-directed your feature film debut with Andreas Climent. Is such a collaboration an easy process that you would recommend to other filmmakers just starting out?
It depends on the relationship I guess, but ours was absolutely productive. We had been making films earlier on or own. And then a couple of years ago – five or six years ago, something like that – we met up and basically said ‘well, why don’t we make something together? Something really short that we can basically write in one day, shoot in one day and post in one day on the internet’? We had a lot of ideas and one of those was for a Wolverine fan film – John Logan and his origin story. We wrote and shot that in one day and it was a really crazy shoot with 90 set-ups in one night. We really hadn’t done that many short films before and we had to fill all the positions ourselves.
Andreas was shooting the film, putting makeup on the actors. I was trying to direct and at the same time be first assistant director when I realized we didn’t have enough time to shoot it in one night. We started scratching set-ups and figuring out how we were going to edit this later. In the middle of that I had to run off to the catering for the film. So basically Andreas and me had all the positions on a film set. Each time we wrote, we started meeting a lot of interesting people who were really good at what they were doing, and started collaborating with them, and we’ve been working on short films together for a couple of years. I think we always have a good way to work. There’s no prestige. We start with a really bad idea and bounce it back and forth until it starts to look good, and then do that some more …
It’s a productive relationship with constructive criticism coming from both sides.
Exactly, we’re never afraid to say ‘this is a really bad idea’ but are always careful to add ‘but it’s a start; let’s see where this can go’.
Filmmaking is always a very collaborative effort, with different members of the team trying to bring out the best in one another. I was wondering, Emelia, since this was also your first feature film in which you are the lead, whether it was as much of a learning curve for you as it was for the writer-directors and some of your cast members?
Emelia Hansson: Yeah, I think this was the first big project for all of us. Our cinematographer, Nils Croné …
Who does an incredible job on this film by the way.
EH: He’s such an amazing cinematographer. He will go very far … But yeah, even Nils only had experience with earlier works, and not with feature films. For all of us this was really a first time effort. I had been the lead role in a lot of short films so I knew about that process and doing character work but it was difficult to actually overlook this project because it was so much bigger and involved more people to work with. For me watching it now I think ‘oh, next time I should pay attention to this more, or think about doing that …’. But it was a great experience; probably the best summer in my life.
We had nineteen days and I think we worked about fourteen hours a day. I think I slept three hours every night but I’ve never felt so alive with so much energy. We had so much passion … It’s cool to see just how much you can do when you’re really decided and dedicated. We had a great team, and I also have to say about the collaboration between you [André] and Andreas it was really good because you could always feel safe and had somebody to talk to. It felt like you always had someone to turn to and you were very much in-synch. When I asked you about something I could tell you had already talked with Andreas about that as well.
The short film you two did, Logan, just exploded onto the internet.
AH: We made the short film just to get going and see how we could work together and have some fun basically. We put it on the internet and the next night it was everywhere and obviously that was very rewarding. So we set out to make the next one, and the next one and that’s how we met you [Emelia] actually.
I was wondering about that, Emelia, did you get the part through the usual casting process or was the script sent to you?
AH: When we made our last short, the sci-fi comedy Double Trouble, we were searching for a young actress and a friend of ours had just made a short film. […] We were completely blown away by Emelia and immediately wanted to work with her. So we got her involved with Double Trouble, on which we also worked with Nils Croné as our director of photography.
Basically all our short films have been our film school, that and maybe DVD commentaries on how the big guys do it.
Emelia, you had already worked with the filmmakers but was there anything in particular that drew you to the role of Julia? Did you recognize yourself in the character?
EH: actually, when I got the question, there was no script. There was only a concept, but that speaks to just how good André and Andreas are. Both me and Nils got on board at the same time and even without a script, we had faith it would be good because they were directing it. It was interesting, too, because I talked a lot with Andreas during the process so I kind of followed the whole development. I’m not a scientist so I cannot recognize myself in the scientific world of Origin but I can surely recognize myself in trying to achieve something, being very driven, ambitious, much like Julia. Also in trying to protect somebody you love. The emotional connection with her character was easy to make.
ORIGIN tells a story about hubris, about scientists overreaching, acting as if they are Gods. Of course they pay a price for that, which is a familiar sci-fi formula. The film also flirts with the superhero genre but not the sensational aspects. You focus on the characters.
AH: I think that’s the key. Not just in trying to make a good film but also the motivation for us wanting to make it in the first place. Andreas has always been very fascinated by clones and time travel and stuff like that. My fascination is with comic books and superheroes, but what interests me is never the big fight scenes or that Superman is invincible. I care more about the grounded and realistic aspects. How does giving you superpowers affect the rest of your life? […]
One of the reasons we named it Origin is basically that the film is, in a way, an origin superhero story but you only get to see the first act of that film when they first get their powers, and then we cut and leave the rest up to the audience’s imagination. What happens with Julia after the film? What happens with humanity? Imagination is powerful.
Less is more.
Can you share some information about future projects you are both working on?
AH: Yeah, absolutely. Andreas has a cool film idea he has been working on for a while and I have another one. While we were making Origin I think we were at a point in our careers as filmmakers where we want to try to make something for ourselves. We’ve been making a lot of short films together, made our first feature together in a very tight collaborative process, and now we feel we have two personal stories we want to make next. […]
The Swedish title of mine basically means what Santa says when he comes to your house on Christmas Eve: ‘Have you been naughty or nice?’ The film takes place on Christmas Eve in a small Swedish town. It is about the zombie apocalypse that has just broken out and it affects people over the course of puberty so all the adults have turned into zombies. We’re left with the kids on Christmas Eve. We follow 4 kids during 90 minutes who, in real time (more or less), have to try and save their parents on Christmas and maybe the rest of the world.
EH: I’m working on a short film that’s called Luna. It’s based on a book, Feberflickan (The Fever Girl). Like André’s film, it’s also horror related. That’s a cool project that takes place in between the 1800s and 1900s. I’m really looking forward to that, but I also have a feature film in the works. I’m writing as well, and I’m actually going to be an assistant to the director for an upcoming short film. This one will take place in the 1700s.