Exclusive: Interview With Joakim Thörn, director of Ultimate Fails Compilation
The short film Ultimate Fails Compilation follows twelve-year-old boys who challenge each other to try dangerous stunts, record each other and then put them online. Director Joakim Thörn tells all about it.
What’s the background to this short film? What is it about?
When I was 12 years old, a guy could hit another guy on the shoulder and say ”you f-ing c***”, without any grownup, teacher, the parent or anyone else saying anything about it. That’s just how it was, and that’s how it was supposed to be. If you weren’t comfortable with that, it didn’t matter. You just had to handle it in some way. Play along. Dodge it. Hit back. There are a lot of ways. And they all have something in common; Don’t feel anything, because if you do you have lost. Both your status and with that your social position.
It may seem easy to just think differently, or do it another way, ”just be yourself”. But risking losing your social position is incredibly powerful and painful. So what did I do when I was 12? I played along when I could, and then I rode my bike home and didn’t hang out with anyone from my school. Back at school on my 24 gear mountain bike, played along, survived, and then ride back home on my own. Just like all kids you couldn’t think that there could be anything coming after this. That you many years later could tell someone about this in an interview, as something that wasn’t that great. So this film is about that time in my life. The mood, the feelings, the loneliness.
What was it that made you direct this film?
When I started meeting different actors, in total I think we cast about 200 boys, I was worried that my own experiences were outdated and that these young boys’ lives were something different today. That their world in some way would be bigger than mine was, and all the years of talking about toxic masculinity would have given some kind of result.
When I was 12 we probably said ”you f-ing c***” to each other. And the ”modern” words were more like ”you f-ing f*g” and ”you wh*re”, where f*g means like ”you’re no real man”, and wh*re is like you have no moral standards in some context. But apart from some new words a lot of things were exactly the same. You’re still not allowed to be sad, and you can’t giggle, there are a lot of things you ”can’t” do as a young boy. So I think the casting process made me decide to make this film.
Is there something that’s essential/important when telling in the short format?
No producer will tell you ”You have to choose this famous actor or nobody will want to see it”. You can choose for yourself, and no one will fuzz about the film having a lot of turning points according to some dramaturgical model. Artistic freedom is big when it comes to short films. It is more open to how a film can be. This is where you really can test what film should be in the future.
Film is really a very young art form. Compare it to literature or painting… I mean, wow — we have only just begun! We have only scratched the surface of what film can be. And this is where short formats make a big difference, to develop film as an artform for the future.
What was the hardest vs the funniest that happened on set
The funniest thing, if I recall this right, is one of the guys on set said he thought the acting was a bit too demanding with the long days of shooting, so he’d rather be a rap artist. And now, a few years later — he is! Also, one of the best known in Sweden is called ADAAM.
The hardest thing was that I worked with the actors so that during the takes they were all tough and macho against each other. And everyone that has been a 12-year-old boy knows what I’m talking about. That was exactly what I wanted for the film. But when we turned the camera off, the usually very nice and kind boys, kind of started to take on their parts even between the takes. That definitely raised thoughts about a director’s responsibility in affecting other people, especially children.
Has the Corona-pandemic affected your daily work as a director and if so, how?
Perhaps not that much really. Some shootings have been rescheduled and so on, but I’ve been lucky in the sense that I have had financial support, so I’ve done ok. But I’ve probably learnt a few things about myself. First thing, how important it is for me to be creative, when the world around is burning, it is a great asset to be able to exist within my own fantasy for a while. And if you’re lucky, it also turns into a film. And if not, no worries. Mostly it’s just a way of creating a meaningful moment. Being able to fantasize is absolutely beautiful. For a second being able to imagine anything. Is there any other human ability that can beat that?
How did you become a filmmaker?
Of many reasons, I was 17 years old before I learnt to read and write. My English was the worst. I basically had no abilities. So like seeing the film Armageddon with friends didn’t work for me since I didn’t understand what they said, and couldn’t read the subtitles. So my love for film took a while, until I was 24. By then, life had taken another turn and I was studying Art Direction at Berghs School of Communication here in Stockholm. Year 2 we had a few classes in film analysis with Clas von Sydow… And during those lessons, he showed clips from different art house films. It was mind-blowing! I didn’t know there were anything like that. It was something completely different from the Beck movies I used to watch, and it had an enormous effect on me. Every lesson with Claes was an intellectual and curious film tour, that was allowed to take off in all different directions. Now when I talk about this it feels pretty stupid that I haven’t reached out to Claes to tell him how important he has been. But I will do, it straight after this interview!
Do you have any tips for aspirated filmmakers that try to break into the film business?
Avoid rain. I have made 3-4 short films and I haven’t taken one single shot indoors. Everything is outdoors. How many days of rain did I get? Zero. Apart from that, I don’t know. Dare to say yes, and dare to say no. Dare to trust our guts, mostly. And dare to abandon your guts and trust your thoughts. Because sometimes the guts and your inner ghosts can trick your mind. Nah, I don’t really know. I think it’s more like a filmmaker is someone who keeps making films. That’s all that is important really. To start, and then to keep going.
Do you have any projects in store that you can talk about?
I have just finished a short film called ANIMALS. Soon I can also tell you more about the premiere… It’s a modern fable where all the animals are played by actors in pretty simple and cheap animal costumes. As far from Hollywood as you can get… I hope! In the film, I have fantasized about how animals view their own lives and us humans and the way we live.
I wanted to make the movie completely without claiming that this is the truth in any way. The film never tries to say: this is what it’s like to be a deer. Because we can’t really know, we just think. And when I gave myself that freedom, that it is only how I THINK that animals live, that’s when it became possible to make this film. We follow a teenage deer who, after her mother has been shot dead, struggles to find her place in life. Together with her newfound animal friends, she starts to think… What would their lives be like if humans did not exist?
We shot the film on Öland and the incredibly beautiful farming landscape. We rented every spare bed in the whole village, and for the locals who helped us on set, it was their first time on a film set. But it wasn’t like any other set. All the actors were in animal costumes, the same kind who lives there. So the cow farmer who usually drive his cows in a wagon now drove a human dressed as a cow in the same wagon. Perhaps they thought I was out of my mind? And yes… perhaps they are right.
For more about Joakim, visit his website here.