Blasted Silly!

An interview with Blasted! director Martin Sofiedal.

In what feels like a lifetime ago, I spent most of my time producing low-budget commercials, music videos and strange short films. In fact, more often than not, there was no budget to speak of, but the lesson was clear: if I wanted to make movies, which was my dream at the time, I had to create something.

One of my dream projects was a film about the UFO mysteries surrounding the Norwegian valley Hessdalen. Here, strange lights have been seen flying through the valley since the 1930s, and to date, no one has been able to explain it. And even though I’m not a believer in the UFO myth (life on other planets is a completely different thing, though!), I love science fiction featuring UFOs and aliens.

But my project went the way most such projects go: nowhere. And I found my way into marketing and, later, film journalism. But then, at the start of 2022, during an interview with Norwegian actor Rune Temte (whom you might have seen in Captain Marvel and The Last Kingdom), he told me that he had just finished shooting a Norwegian UFO science fiction movie. Curious to a fault, I got to researching.

It was Hessdalen! Having left film production over a decade earlier, I was thrilled that something like this was finally becoming reality. I didn’t care that it wasn’t my own project: A Norwegian science-fiction comedy about the Hessdalen mystery? Yes, please! I needed to track down the director.

I finally cornered the 37-year-old Norwegian director Martin Sofiedal at a restaurant in Oslo this summer. Here is the result of what was a nerdy, hilarious and pizza-fuelled conversation where we talked about (among other things) filmmaking, special effects, the recipe for happiness and of course, Blasted  Gutta vs. Aliens! Or Blasted! Bros Before UFOs, as it is titled internatinally.

But before we begin, a warning: There are mild spoilers from Blasted – Gutta vs. Aliens in this interview.

How did your film career start, and what has it been like working in the Norwegian film industry?

Well, it’s been an interesting journey. As you would expect, I had the old “Eureka! I’m going to make a movie!” thing happen to me in high school, but my career didn’t start there. It was more of an “Oh, I’m going to make a movie!” moment when I bought my first camera.

I went on to study in the Film and TV production course at the Noroff School of Technology in Oslo and did digital media for one year, and then I worked at Riket’s Røst, a kind of Norwegian equivalent of The Daily Show. That was my entrance to my first professional work in the film industry, although it was more of an assistant type of job. After that, I went to the Westerdals School of Communication in Oslo for three years, and that kind of sums up my film education.

When I finished at Westerdals, I had bonded a bit with a producer who kept giving me commercial jobs, and I had bought a camera and started doing some things of my own. Working with scripts and fiction has always been the part I found most fun and interesting, so I started making sketches and that sort of thing.

I’ve seen the sketch Hils (Say Hi). It’s funny! Didn’t it win some awards?

So you’ve seen Hils? Yeah, I’m quite happy with it. It’s been shown worldwide, and it’s going to the Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival soon. So that’s fun. I’ve done many things like that and started doing it very early.

I guess I eventually became a proper official film director, but as it’s not a protected title, I felt it would be a bit too cocky to call myself one before someone else had started calling me that. 

Kind of like a journalist…

-Yes, exactly! As soon as someone else says it, I guess it’s ok. I joined a production company about ten years ago, and that’s really all I’ve done.

When you ask me about the film industry, I’ve never really been a part of it until now because I’ve been mostly writing and directing commercials. My first movie was more of a side project where I didn’t involve many people from the industry because I did everything myself. But I did manage to gather a handful of very passionate people and up-and-coming filmmakers to help make the film a reality.

I guess this kind of work takes a lot of passion?

-Yeah, I finally went completely freelance around 2018. I worked in film, but the money I made was from directing commercials. In 2019 I told myself, “Nope, I can’t take it anymore; I’ve been doing this long enough. This isn’t what I want to do; I’m not going to do commercials; I’m going to make my own stuff”.

Luckily, I had already built a network, had been looking into the film business, and made a lot of acquaintances. Among them Are Heidenstrøm from Miso Film, who worked at Fantefilm at the time and had seen my first film. Making movies has always been the goal, but I followed my own path to get there. I didn’t go directly from film school to making movies.

Now that you’ve finished Blasted, are there any special film projects you feel drawn to?

-Well, yes. I’m quite fond of the sort of thing we did with Blasted, and I’m very inspired by everything that Marvel has done with the superhero genre. I love the thought of making movies that are just shamelessly entertaining. You notice when filmmakers really enjoy themselves and have fun with the ideas when they try to put some heart and soul into a project.

Moving on to Blasted, I have to start with the most pressing question of all: Where does the «Bip Bop» thing come from?

-Haha! I know exactly where it came from. I randomly found an Instagram post four or five years ago that said: “How to cheer up in two easy steps: 1: Whisper Beep Boop to yourself. 2: Repeat until not sad.»

How to Cheer Up in Two Easy Steps:
1. Whisper «Beep Boop» to yourself.
2: Repeat until not sad.

-Random Instagram Post

That’s hilarious, that is! And strangely heartwarming.

-That’s right! It’s so much fun. All I remember is, «Yup, I’m going to put that in the movie.» I guess it’s because it was the absolute silliest thing I could think of to include. I love silly stuff like that!

Yeah, of course, you made this movie.  

-Yes, dad jokes and stupid puns all the way!

If you were to give some advice to other people who are interested in film education and want to enter the film industry, what would you say?

I’d say that you may call it cliché, but there’s a reason it’s a cliché: Make something! Make something! I can only tell what has worked for me. You must love making movies, and you must understand that making movies isn’t easy. You have to be both extremely naive and very realistic in your expectation at the same time.

Just make something and never limit yourself; that’s the most important thing. You won’t get anywhere thinking, «I’m going to make this little movie perfect.» You learn so much every time you make something new. You may have a simple idea but just film something. Time and time again, you learn something new when you make something. And that’s just the basics.

You must keep going and need new things to show all the time. That’s the way it is when making movies. I’ve learned that you need to show something visual. I wouldn’t have gotten Blasted made if I hadn’t made a pilot for it. You can’t assume people understand what you’re talking about when pitching a project.

Show don’t tell, right? It’s the same story with the big movie directors, like Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg. They got a camera when they were young and started making movies in their backyards.

-Yeah, it’s like the lesson I learned with my first feature film. I had an idea and wanted to go through with it. It’s a little personal, too, because I had recently lost my father. Not that he has anything to do with the story, but it got me thinking about the whole «life is short» thing. So now I’m just pushing it. There’s no point in waiting. And if there’s one thing I was told very clearly by people like Are from the company Miso Film, it’s that it matters that I made this movie and that I managed to finish it. It has come out, not in the cinemas, but I got it out there. So many people are just talking but aren’t making anything, so making something and proving something means a lot. So yeah, it feels good having finished Blasted.

Follow-up question: If I now, at the tender age of forty-five, suddenly decided I don’t want to be a film journalist anymore and want to make a movie instead. What would you say to me? I do have a film education, though it’s fifteen years old.

-I would say the same thing, make a movie. Age and education don’t matter; you still have to make something, prove something. You can’t just say you have the education; you must prove that you can make something, show something, show commitment. There are no shortcuts.

sofiedal blasted clapper board
Making films is a deadly serious business. I promise…

The humor in Blasted is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about the movie. And the chemistry between the guys is just great! Could you talk a little bit about what it was like to work with the actors in Blasted?

-I hardly have words for how amazing those guys were! We had a long casting process, a lot of back and forth, and coming to agreements with Netflix. The thing is that I love impro and believe it’s the best way to get natural dialogue and come up with a lot of situational humor along the way. When you have an amazing team like these guys, I could go: “Hit it, guys! This is the movie where we don’t hold back!”
As I always say to new actors: I’d rather speak up if I don’t like something you’re doing, but if you don’t try it out, I won’t know what it is. I don’t have all the answers; we’ll have to try stuff out and see what happens.

When you have an amazing team like these guys, I could go: “Hit it, guys! This is the movie where we don’t hold back!”

-Martin Sofiedal

I love table reads and think it’s a lot of fun because we can experiment. It was awesome that they were all so aware of what they were doing and gradually began to understand what I got a kick out of.  I would sit and just laugh a lot; it was the best job in the world, being entertained by those guys. Ninety percent of what Kasper says in the movie is just André Sørum going crazy!

That’s what I noticed. That there’s a lot of improvisation, a lot they’ve come up with themselves. And it makes the conversations flow and seems more natural.

There’s so much you can come up with together. For example, I came up with the idea of having Audun collect all the mobile phones. It was more fun to end that scene and all that stuff with the guys picking their team members in the paintball fight. Those things just happened during the table reads, and it was hilarious. It might even be one of my favorite scenes in the movie because everyone was allowed to bring their own thoughts and ideas.

You’ve worked with some of the actors in Blasted before, right? I saw one of them in Hils (Say Hi).

Yes, Eirik Hallert, who plays Pelle in the movie, is a very good friend of mine and Fredrik Skogsrud, who plays Mikkel. I feel a certain pride in having such good friends and feel they’ve done a lot of good work, although they haven’t gotten the really big roles yet. The fun thing about Netflix is that they don’t necessarily want «star power» in every production; they want the actors and the movie to work. And they ended up liking it!

You also have Rune Temte in the movie, who I know and have interviewed before, and who’s been involved in some huge productions, including Captain Marvel and The Last Kingdom. A big, burly guy who often seems to get the tough-guy roles, despite being so nice!

-Yeah, he’s just the nicest guy in the world!

We must talk about references; there are loads of them in your movie. I’m sure you could stitch together the science fiction elements of Blasted from various movies from the 90s. Were there any particular movies or filmmakers you had in mind when looking for inspiration?

-There’s a lot of inspiration in different ways. Style-wise I’ve drawn a lot from Edgar Wright and the Cornetto trilogy. Taika Waititi is great fun, and I love the humor style in his movies. A lot of the style of Blasted came out of how the movie was cut, with the all quick cuts; I’m very fond of abrupt transitions. For example, they do that a lot in Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. But visually, there was a lot of inspiration from movies like E.T. and that era of classic films. But we’ve drawn inspiration from modern sources, like Super Eight by J.J. Abrams. It’s very good and has a very clear style.

sofiedal blasted laser tag
Laser tag: John Wick style!

We wanted to make the whole movie very thorough, and we strived to make even the simplest office scenes appropriately lit, trying to make them as cinematic as possible. We always thought, «What can we do here to make it more cinematic?» We’re not going to mess up the visuals. We can mess around a lot, but what you’ll see on screen is supposed to look good. There’s inspiration from everything like The Hangover, Men in Black and Attack the Block. World’s End is also a distinct source of inspiration. I guess it’s the movie you might find the most similarities to, although I think it’s a little funny now when I think about it. It’s a completely different story. It just happens to be about five guys and a space invasion happening somewhere they don’t live.

What about Hessdalen, our very own «Norwegian Roswell»? Did the choice of the genre come first? Or did the idea start with Hessdalen? There was a documentary about the «Hessdalen Lights» on YouTube, right?

Yeah, I liked it, and I suddenly thought about the lasers, the lights in Hessdalen, and «This works!». What if these lights possess people? Then they would be sensitive to lasers, wouldn’t they? Making it a science fiction movie was very natural when I realized that. You could say the idea for the whole project was a bit of a coincidence, and I just realized, “This is what I want to do.”

There are some great effects in Blasted; not something we usually see too often in Norwegian films. The effect at the end of the film with the UFO coming out of the mountainside. That was a model, right? Or was it computer graphics?  

-The UFO was CGI, and so was the monster. The only physical thing was a tentacle, and we didn’t really use it that much. It was just an arm’s length, and we only used it when the guys were getting punched in the face by it and when it touched Kasper’s thigh. I wish we’d had a longer one. It was hilarious to watch, though, when we were waving that around, I was thinking, «What the hell are we doing»?  And you can’t hit hard with it either, so we had to speed it up afterward. It looked incredibly silly on set, and I’m very happy with how it merged quite well into the movie in post-production.

What would be your dream project, then? Say you had a hundred million dollars to make a movie in Hollywood.

-That’s a very good question, I don’t think I’d have a very concrete project in mind, but I know what the project would have been content-wise. I really want to make a superhero movie. My first film was a treasure hunt movie, an indie movie, and I really want to make another treasure hunt movie on a larger scale.

Treasure hunting and those kinds of adventure-based stories are so immersive. I love The Mummy; for example, I think it’s an amazing movie. I’d love to make a sequel now that Brendan Fraser is having a renaissance. Or is it Brenaissance?

Adventure movies are just so much fun. That’s why I love The Mummy so much. I also have a very clear idea for a new Men in Black movie, by the way. I really liked the first MiB movie, and it’s one of the primary inspirations for Blasted.

I love the humor in Men in Black, but I think they should have picked up on the lesson I learned from Shaun of the Dead regarding how they treated the zombies there. Nothing is scary as soon as you play around with and mess with monsters. Even though they’re messing with the zombies in the movie, they’re presenting them seriously, if you get my meaning.

sofiedal blasted clapper board
Make stuff!

Shaun of the Dead is legendary!

Yes, but I’ve taken that lesson very much to heart, something I also brought into Blasted. We treat the characters seriously and rather have all the silliness flow around them.

At this point in the conversation, the silliness was gradually taking over, and I was running out of questions. We talk about gaming, film production in general and other nerdy things before realizing that it’s time to end the interview.

Check out Blasted – Gutta vs. Aliens. It is great, popcorn-y fun. Watch it with a group of nerdy friends. It’s on Netflix.

A big thank you to Kai Simon Fredriksen for the photos. Check out his Instagram profile here.