Film Courage: Where did you grow up?
Christian Hallman: I grew up in the middle of Sweden more or less, in a town called Norrköping. At the age of eight I moved to Malmo in the south of Sweden with my family, where I have lived since then.
Film Courage: How did growing up in a liberal environment shape your creativity from an early age? Do you feel children from strict upbringings have less creative ideas or the same, but are more controlled in nature?
Christian: I don’t know not necessarily. I think you can find creativity in both environments. I was just free to create and play with my imagination, like kids should be. I grew up with my mom and my two sisters, and only occasionally met my dad once a year since my parents divorced when I was about one year old and he lived abroad. My mom did a great job letting me grow up to become whom I wanted to become, leaving the options open. I’m thankful for that. I had a very broad imagination as a child and still have.
Film Courage: Many horror fans and/or filmmakers recall being creative as kids. Any special moments as a child which held predictions for being behind the camera?
Christian: I remember staging small stories with Lego figures and Star Wars figures, making up sceneries. There was also a lot of role playing which lends to that world of the fantastic. And I took scenes from films I saw an re-enacted them with the figurines.
Film Courage: What were your plans after high school? Did you follow them?
Christian: I continued to study. I knew I wanted to work with film somehow, but didn’t have a really good idea of how to get into the industry at that exact point. I had worked at a video store from the age of nine and watched a lot of films. Also my friends dad was a partner in a production house that produced corporate films and commercials, and we had been there a lot working on those learning in the background from an early age, so I had this knowledge about it. I started hanging out on music video sets and commercials, being a runner and a PA, just trying to get to know people who actually worked with film.
Film Courage: Did you go to film school?
Christian: I’d say my real film school was working on sets, learning from the ground up. Then I went to The European Film College, and I have also taken other professional courses in various film professional fields.
Film Courage: You’ve said that movies today focus too much on the shock value and less on story. When did you begin to see this change? What classic horror or thriller films did the opposite? Why do you think story has come second and shock value first?
Christian: What I meant was that Sensoria is not that kind of movie, and Mans and I didn’t set out or wanted to make a film that was shocking, violent or had shock value or was the bloodiest film of 2015, that was never our goal. There are enough of those out there, and there has been a trend to make those kind of films for a while. Don’t get me wrong, I like some of those films as well I just don’t see myself as doing them at the moment, and not with Sensoria anyway. We were more focused on making a psychological thriller, it’s supposed to be more of an experience than anything else. A study of human nature in a way. A lot of the thriller and horror films of the 60s, 70s and 80s focused more on story and character and building up the tension. I feel that it is more interesting to leave a lot up to the audience to figure out, they are more intelligent than some films give them credit for. This always goes in waves as well I think, and hopefully we are back to a period of more character and story driven genre film. There were some great genre films being made last year. The thing with making something very shocking or controversial is obviously that you get people talking about it, and you get attention for your film. There are so many films out there now that the technology is in everyone’s hands more or less, so you have to make your film seen and yourself heard, making a very controversial film is one way of doing that. And some of those films have very good stories and characters as well so sometimes you can have it both, but more often its not so.
Film Courage: Five films any aspiring horror /thriller filmmaker should see?
Christian: There are so many, so mentioning five is really tough, I’d say Jaws, Rear Window, Dressed to Kill, Alien and Rosemary’s Baby
Film Courage: What music do you listen to when writing?
Christian: It varies but a lot of film music, it depends on my mood and what I am writing. Anything from Hans Zimmer to Goblin or Fabio Frizzi and back. I also listen to all kinds of music actually, not really into just one thing.
“I think a general movie watcher moves on once they have watched the film, whereas a Cinephile or genre fan is more loyal and passionate and will dig deeper in the film. Also cinephiles most probably know what they are talking about in broader sense than an average movie goer. I think a lot of it has do to with passion.” Christian Hallman, Writer/Director – SENSORIA
Film Courage: Author Girish Shambu mentions in The New Cinephilia (via LA Review of books) how he once treated Cinephilia almost as a religion. As a movie lover, festival organizer, what is the difference between the way cinephiles regard films, talk about and scrutinize films versus occasional movie watchers?
Christian: I don’t really know what to answer to that. Today everyone is a critic and cinephile in a way, everyone has an opinion and use it to write in blogs, on Facebook or Twitter. You can watch films and read about films everywhere, it wasn’t like that ten or twenty years ago. I think a general movie watcher moves on once they have watched the film, whereas a Cinephile or genre fan is more loyal and passionate and will dig deeper in the film. Also cinephiles most probably know what they are talking about in broader sense than an average movie goer. I think a lot of it has do to with passion. Cinema is a powerful subversive tool, when it is put together correctly with the music, the right mise-en-scene the right actors etc you get this magical thing. With that said there are more important things in this world than film. At the end of the day a film is just a film. But film can be used in so many ways, as an escapism, as entertainment and also as a tool to create awareness. Film also compete with so many other forms of art and entertainment.
Film Courage: Does Sweden embrace individuals looking to be filmmakers more so than the states? Is the pursuit of an artistic profession more embraced than other countries (in forms of grants, peer endorsement, etc.) or is it the same as other places?
Christian: I think it is the same as other places. The state funding system is of course different from how it works in the States for example but far from every filmmaker gets that money, it is good in the way that it ensures that some stories and films, which would never be told if it was only up to the economics of it, will be made.
Film Courage: Favorite book on horror filmmaking and by whom?
Christian: I don’t know about horror filmmaking book but film related book is probably Rebel without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez and Film Directing Shot by Shot by Steven d. Katz. I also had this book called The Deep Red Horror Handbook back in the late eighties/early nineties not really on filmmaking but it gave me a lot of info on genre film back then.
“We wanted to do a psychological thriller with a very immersive feeling. It kind of grew out of us wanting to write a story which was contained in terms of location and actors, a film we could realize and produce ourselves more or less. We had these ideas on what the story should contain and took it from there. Its a personal story for me and Mans about loneliness, moving into a new apartment, starting over and also about childlessness and experiences we’ve had and mixing this in with our fictive story of Caroline.” Christian Hallman, Writer/Director, SENSORIA
Film Courage: Was the script for SENSORIA initially written in English or Swedish? Which language do the actors end up speaking in the final cut?
Christian: It was written in Swedish. We did an English translation of a late draft so my DOP and some other people could read a proper English version of it. The film is in Swedish, so all actors in the film talk Swedish. On set though the language was English.
Film Courage: What intrigues you about telling this story?
Christian: It was a story me and my writing partner Mans F.G. Thunberg had been fiddling around with for a while. We wanted to do a psychological thriller with a very immersive feeling. It kind of grew out of us wanting to write a story which was contained in terms of location and actors, a film we could realize and produce ourselves more or less. We had these ideas on what the story should contain and took it from there. Its a personal story for me and MÃ¥ns about loneliness, moving into a new apartment, starting over and also about childlessness and experiences we’ve had and mixing this in with our fictive story of Caroline.
Film Courage: What does SENSORIA mean?
Christian: Sensoria comes from Sensorium and is the sum of an organism’s perception, the place where all sensation is, where it experiences and interprets the environments within which it lives. What we feel, see, hear, etc.
Film Courage: What universal themes are represented in the film?
Christian: At the core of it is loosing a child and loneliness, being unwanted and alone but it is also about belonging in a way.
Film Courage: Why a vulnerable yet strong lead? Why did you choose these traits for her?
Christian: It was important to have an actress that could portray all these emotions at once in a way, or have them inside of her and work with very subtile nuances, and I’m very happy with the performance I got with Lanna Olsson our creative collaboration was very good.
Film Courage: Did you come up with a film budget first before coming up with idea? Or was it the other way around of having the idea first?
Christian: We had the idea and script ready before we did the budget. But we knew we needed to write something which kept the budget down, since we were doing this independently with and knew we’d have a very low budget, this again resonating in having the few locations and few actors, and also shooting the film in 13 days.
Film Courage: Can share you what it was like working with Mans F.G. Thunberg? His style, approach etc.
Christian: Mans and I have a great working relationship and friendship. We are very different in our approach to writing which is why it works so well I think. Mans is more of a thinker, he refines and works on the characters and plot and then puts it on paper, my approach is more to put it on paper and re-work it, re-write it. Usually I have written a one pager of the concept and we both take it from there.
Film Courage: When working with a writing partner, what is the process like? Does one of you take particular parts of a story or do you both write a scene and agree on the better of the two?
Christian: It is different for us every time. With Sensoria Mans wrote the first draft alone since I was on a TV series at a first Assistant Director at the time, we had talked about the idea, story and characters, and he went back and penciled it down. Then when we had that on paper, I came in and started re-writing it and we bounced it back and forth between us for a few months. Other scripts we have written usually one of us starts to write a few scenes, send them over to the other who then does a re-write on them, at the same time as he writes another few scenes, so we are both writing and re-writing at the same time. Usually we also write together and even act out the scenes in either Mans or my apartment to our neighbors horror I am sure: ) But before we are even there I’ve usually written a one pager, or one of us have written a step-outline which we then develop and have as our guide through the writing process. Then again, each script has been a little bit different so it is more up to the creative impulse at that specific time.
Film Courage: Who is your protagonist Caroline? What are her strengths, weaknesses and goals?
Christian: Caroline is a woman who has lost her child and in that process her family. Her boyfriend/husband blamed her, and their relationship ended. The trauma of all this has been her prison for a long time. This is where we meet Caroline. She is trying to get out of it but it is hard. Underneath all this she is a strong woman, she is a fighter, but she is barely hanging in there. She is also numb to a lot of what is going on around her due to her state of mind. Her strength is that all these tragic things that has happened to her hasn’t broken her totally. Caroline is psychologically traumatized. It’s this thing also that Caroline’s life puzzle is not in order, as she says in the film, a piece is missing, which kinds of sums it up. Her goal is to try and get her life back (to have a child again) but life/the apartment and My wants her for themselves. She is the perfect victim for them. At the same time you can view it as they are both getting what they want. Neither of them are alone anymore, and Caroline has a child and My has a mother but it’s conflicting and not what Caroline choose.
Film Courage: How long have you been planning the film? What went into the pre-planning?
Christian: We started talking about SENSORIA in early spring of 2013 with the aim of filming in January 2014, the project then got postponed until Nov 2014 which is when we shot it, and then it had it’s world premiere at Fantastic Fest on September 27th, and then a general release now on January 22nd 2016. So from idea to finished film about 2,5 years I guess. If you count from filming to finished film it was about 10 months.
Film Courage: How much time did you spend on your Kickstarter campaign before you launched? Why did you launch it?
Christian: A lot of time. I spent most of 2013 just researching Kickstarter and successful campaigns and also unsuccessful campaigns. And I wrote our campaign and re-wrote that many, many times. It was also a debate if we should put it up before filming or after filming. We also struggled with should we put it up on Kickstarter USA (since it was not released in Sweden at the time) but then a release date for Sweden came so then we decided to go with it.
Film Courage: Why did your Kickstarter campaign succeed?
Christian: Hard work and a well thought out campaign. I mean it is hard to say, but I know we worked hard to make it happen. And for me it was important to get a successful campaign, that was more important than the money. Because the promotion of that you can’t really put a price on.
Film Courage: Did you know most of your Kickstarter backers for the SENSORIA campaign?
Christian: Maybe one third to half of the backers where people I knew or friends of friends I was hoping I had a big enough network that we would succeed. But it’s hard. In Sweden people don’t really know how to deal with crowd funding so it was tough to get people there going even if they were friends.
Film Courage: For your Kickstarter campaign, you had a special blood donation perk?
Christian: Yeah, we added that in the middle of the campaign, more as a fun thing, to keep the campaign alive. And it went to the blood used in the bath scene. There was supposed to be another scene with blood as well but that ended up not being used.
Film Courage: In your Kickstarter pitch video for the successful SENSORIA campaign you reference Brian De Palma and Roman Polanski. What are these two filmmakers’ signature styles in creating dramatic moments and suspense?
Christian: First of all they are both great filmmakers and storytellers. Both Mans and I are really big fans of their films and they have for sure influenced our approach to filmmaking. They both have this great way of building a scene and tension, using their characters and location. We reference them in the Kickstarter video because for Sensoria some of their films were great inspirations.
Film Courage: What emotions do you feel your film brings forth in viewers?
Christian: It depends on what you bring with you when you watch it. In that sense it is very open to what emotion you’ll feel at the end. It’s supposed to be a very claustrophobic horror filled moment that you are left with. Trapped, holding your breath kind of feeling. Depending on how you view Sensoria the ending can be both happy or dystopian.
Film Courage: Did you storyboard your scenes?
Christian: No we didn’t. We did concept art for a few key moments in the film very early on that I used to visualize the film for the crew and for the actors. Instead of Storyboards I worked with floor plans to map out the camera positions, this was very important to me since I knew we only had 13 days to shoot the film, so I had to know in my head all the time what each shot was. So every night after filming I blocked out the next day and drew floor plans which we then used the next day, sometimes just me, sometimes myself, my DOP and Mans. This way I was always one step ahead and we never stopped to ask ourselves what the next camera position was.
Film Courage: What camera(s) did you use? How did you know you had the right camera to film this story?
Christian: We shot Sensoria on the Panasonic GH4. We wanted a small camera since we knew we were shooting in a small apartment and wanted to get into small corners etc. But we wanted more than the GH4 could give us, so we connected it to the DMW-YAGH to get time code out for synced sound, and we also wanted to shoot full 4k with 10bit which the camera couldn’t do on it’s own so we connected it to a Odyssey 7Q which gave us full 4K 10 bit recorded on SSD discs in ProRes 422 and made that work for us. I think we were the first in the world shooting with that set up, because up until then the 7Q wasn’t compatible with the GH4 and some other cameras, an update came a day or so before we began filming, and I had some technicians tinkering with it building us cables etc to make it work. Initially we were waiting for the Atomos Shogun but that was delayed and we needed to find another way to do what we wanted to do.
Film Courage: How long was your shoot? How many indoor and outdoor locations?
Christian: 13 days. We shot the apartment, stairway, basement and attic in the same house, so that saved a lot of time and was essential to make our schedule work. Then we had two exterior days with the cemetery, and around the house. We had one day of re-shoots but only pick ups of shots of the house so no scenes with actors.
Film Courage: As a first time director, what was the most surprising element about time management and making your day? Any fears/expectations that did not actually manifest?
Christian: Time was and is always your enemy. You always want more time, but you have to embrace it not to have it break you. We started this film though knowing that we would never really have time, and also we tried already in the script make sure that what we wrote was possible to do within the time we knew we had. All my years as a first assistant director, production manager and producer as well as directing other things kind of played in here. But of course it was scary to stand there and be in charge of this with everyone looking to you for answers. It’s a very lonely place sometimes, you have people around you all the time, but you are still alone.
Film Courage: How long did it take to finish post-production? Any challenges?
Christian: Post production took 9 months. It was spread out over five continents; editing, color grading, compositing/vfx and sound mixing was done in Sweden, my sound designer was in San Francisco, and we had an additional sound designer assisting who sat in France, and then our foley artist was based in Russia and we did the music in Spain.
Film Courage: How many actors did you audition for each role? Where did you cast them from?
Christian: Most of the actors where offered the role directly by me. It was actors whom I had worked with on other films and TV series where I had been a first assistant director, Mans and I also re-wrote the parts to fit them once we had them on board. The characters we did more proper castings for were Caroline, My, Emma and Elsa. A first assistant director friend of mine who wants to do more casting helped out and was in charge of most of those casting sessions early on and then I came in once we had narrowed it down.
Film Courage: Did you hold casting sessions? Any taped auditions?
Christian: Yes for the role of Caroline, Emma and My as well as Elsa we held auditions, and those were taped.
Film Courage: When did you first meet Lanna Olsson? What attracted you to her for the role of Caroline?
Christian: Lanna heard about the film from a mutual friend. She contacted me, we talked, she read the script. She was the last to be cast, so I had her read opposite Norah Andersen who plays My and also Alida Morberg who plays Emma to see how that would play out and it worked. Lanna had the qualities as an actress I was looking for in the person playing Caroline. The right vulnerability, but still strong. And our talks about the character just felt right.
Film Courage: Despite being a feature film, how does SENSORIA differ from the other films you’ve written/produced?
Christian: Well it is the first fiction feature film I’ve directed as well as produced and been more or less sole responsible for in all ways. Besides that it was just a different beast. It was bigger than any of my previous productions.
Film Courage: Most (if not all of your prior projects) were short films, with the exception of the documentary Desperately Seeking Seka. How much of a contrast was it for you to work on DSS as apposed to SENSORIA (which you directed)?
Christian: I directed, produced and wrote Desperately Seeking Seka. So in that sense it was the same. But SENSORIA was a much bigger beast to master, so an incredible different experience. I learned so much about myself and about the craft of directing from the actors, it was a great experience but also very challenging.
Film Courage: Where is SENSORIA currently available to watch?
Christian: In North America from January 22nd on VOD on itunes, Google, Xbox, Vimeo on Demand, Vudu and Amazon. And in Sweden from January 25th on DVD and VOD. It is also still playing festivals and next up is Fantasporto in Portugal at the end of February.
Film Courage: Are you also submitting it to festivals? Are there any other plans for distribution?
Christian: Sensoria played 11 festivals in 8 weeks at the end of 2015 starting with the world premiere at Fantastic Fest on September 27th, and now we are selected in official selection at three more festivals and in consideration for about ten more. We have sold the film to quite a few territories and it will come out there during 2016 I am sure, hopefully more sales will follow at EFM now in February and then in Cannes, 108 Media is working on that.
Film Courage: As someone who has run and worked with film festivals, what are musts for any filmmaker before submitting what they think is a rough cut of their film?
Christian: I think you need to think on where you want your film to end up even before you shoot it. You need to have a festival strategy in place as well as a distribution strategy. This can change and be adapted further down the line, but you need to have it there, so you know who you are targeting. A seasoned film programmer can see past a work in progress or rough cut and make a decision on the film. But I don’t think you should send in your film until you are ready to do so, because once you have shown it you have shown it, but that is a hard thing to judge when to let go, when is the right time to send it in etc.
Film Courage: One piece of advice for beginning screenwriters?
Christian: Tenacity. Read a lot of screenplays. Then write and write. Writing is re-writing
Film Courage: If you feel inspiration for a project waning, how do you reignite it?
Christian: Yeah, that is always hard. I have a very short attention span, in that I am very passionate but if something does not move in the pace I want it to, I can definitely get to that place where I don’t want to do this anymore. When that happens I always try to go back to that one thing that got me inspired in the first place and usually that gets me back to where I need to be. It’s also about being in the moment, of that exact moment, then you are focused and it is harder to loose the passion since you are so caught up in it.
Film Courage: What’s next for you creatively?
Christian: We’re working on the next film now. The script is ready, so just trying to get the financing in order, we’ll see how that goes, but I hope to be filming during 2016. It will be a film in English, it is a small film also, but it is larger in scope, more locations, more characters, the story is more intricate and complex, has more twists, its sexier and more violent in a way. I feel this film is the next logical step for me. Also I am right now working on a documentary so we’ll see what happens with that. And I’m looking for other interesting projects to direct.
CHRISTIAN HALLMAN (writer/director/producer)
SENSORIA is the directorial narrative feature film debut for writer/ director/producer/editor Christian Hallman. He is an alumni of the European Film College, and his first experience being on a film set was at the tender age of nine at which time he also started working in a video store.
Back in 2002 he produced and directed the feature documentary “Desperately Seeking Seka” – a candid inside look at the 70’s adult film industry and one of its leading ladies. He has also written, produced and directed short films as well as numerous commercials and corporate films for popular brands and corporations, working both in Sweden and internationally; including directing the 10th year anniversary film for the Øresund Bridge connecting Denmark and Sweden.
He was a development producer on the Swedish Vampire-comedy film “Frostbite”, produced by Solid Entertainment (director Anders Banke) which won numerous awards at international film festivals including Fantasporto and ScreamFest, LA as well as being Production Manager/Line Producer on the actual shoot.
Christian has worked extensively as a First Assistant Director on Swedish TV series such as “Wallander” (Season 2, 2009) and “Halvvägs till Himlen” Season 1 and 2 (Halfway’s to Heaven) as well as feature films such as “Yarden” by Måns Månsson.
In the summer of 1995 Christian worked on the Swedish feature film “Vackert Väder” the debut film for writer/director David Flamholc, both behind and in front of the camera. It was an intense summer where Christian among other things learnt how to sync and edit film on a Steenbeck.
Besides being a filmmaker, Christian has worked with genre film festivals for the better part of the last 17 years, as a programmer/ program director, festival producer and advisor, as well as helping filmmakers develop festival strategies.
2006-2008 Christian had a production deal with Maverick Red in Los Angeles.
Christian and his writing partner Måns F.G. Thunberg have several projects in various stages of development.