Arnar Knútsson • Filmus Productions
by Jorn Rossing Jensen
03/05/2012 - Based on "some shit that actually happened", Icelandic director Óskar Thór Axelsson’s thriller Black's Game [trailer] was a dream start for Icelandic producer Arnar Knútsson - it was selected for Rotterdam’s Tiger Awards competition, picked up by TrustNordisk, then launched in Berlin to sell the UK, Germany and France. On March 1 it opened No 1 on the domestic charts and has now exceeded 60,000 admissions, as the best-grossing R-rated release ever.
Knútsson’s first feature after his Filmus Productions had made commercials since 1999, the depiction of the underworld of Reykjavik – the early days of organized crime in Iceland – was co-produced by Danish Drive director Nicolas Winding-Refn.
“I am just an avid fly-fisherman that sometimes dabbles in film … I made shorts when I was a teenager, and soon after graduating from college I realized that working in the film industry was what I most wanted to do for a living,” he recalled.
Cineuropa: What is it with you Icelanders? The size of a Parisian suburb, and you go more often to the cinema than anybody else in the world, and you produce up to 14 films in a year?
I think Icelanders are just a bit hyper-active. The population is small, but will not settle for "just being a mother or a fisherman". Your average mom probably has a gold medal in sports, and your average fisherman writes poetry in his spare time. The typical Icelander is like a Jack of all trades, and I am no exception. I used to play in a rock band (with executive producer Andri Sveinsson) – actually we used one of our songs in Black's Game.
How did Black’s Game get started, and what was your role in the production?
I read the book in one stretch, when it came out in 2004, and when I finished it at nine in the morning, I made a fresh cup of coffee and called the author Stefán Máni and asked him if I could film it, and he agreed. I worked closely with the director developing the script, casting, financing, getting the right people on the crew, afterwards on the editing, sound design, local marketing – but when ut comes to the shooting, I try to step back and leave the floor to the director.
A difficult film to shoot?
The development and financing took time – the 2008 financial crash did not make life easier – but the actual filming went smoothly. We had an amazing crew, and we were lucky: we had scheduled a winter scene on May 1 and expected it would not look very wintry, but the night before it started to snow, and it snowed constantly on the day we needed it.
Winding-Refn said that he found in the film 'a true freshness that kindled my interest in the gangster genre in the first place'.
Could be because it is a gangster genre movie in the small country of Iceland. We were very strict about making it truly Icelandic – despite the action, the violence, even a bank robbery, there is not a single gunshot in the whole film - we do not really have guns, and there is not so much crime. Probably you could say we have gone down to the basics and that is what interested him.
What are you good at as a producer – and anything you think you should improve?
After more than 15 years, I have slowly begun to learn my strong and weak points. When I started out in the business I took all the work I could get - except for make-up and computer graphics I guess I have tried everything - so I know what people around me are doing, I can both respect their work and contribute to it. I would say say I am pretty good at seeing the big picture, planning, making decisions. But sometimes I can be too quick for my own good. I have a low tolerance for group decisions and long negotiations. I am perpetually late for meetings, just by a few minutes; I am told it is a birth defect.
What’s on now, and and what’s next on your agenda?
I am currently doing a bit of work for the BBC, and this summer I will shoot a comedy series for television, Anna stands up for Denmark. I am also developing some scripts, including the film noir The Gold Crash, with Black's Game director Axelsson, set to lense late 2014.
Producers on the move is an initiative of the EUROPEAN FILM PROMOTION