No Spreadsheets, please!

INTERVIEW. A passion for cinema is what drives Jesper Morthorst, this year's Danish Producer on the Move in Cannes. He believes that a knack for spotting talent and the ability to work in a close creative partnership with the director are cardinal virtues for any producer who wants to succeed.

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Producer Jesper Morthorst. Photo: Jette Jørs

"I see my principal task as understanding the talent I'm collaborating with. I have to understand the director's visions and support them. If I can't do that, I'd rather back out of a project entirely than expend a lot of energy trying to change it."

"I have to understand the director's visions and support them. If I can't do that, I'd rather back out of a project entirely".

Jesper Morthorst has found the recipe for becoming the best producer he can be. In his work, he counts on having an almost intuitive sense of his director and pushing her to dare carry out her artistic ambitions. Unlike the prevailing image of a producer as someone tasked with reining in runaway financial and creative ideas, Morthorst makes a virtue of not being the one who always says no. He would rather nurse talent and supply the courage that can elude even the most dedicated director over the long haul of a film's production. That's where Morthorst thinks his talents lie.

It's important to find out what you're good at, he says. "As a producer, you have to be able to recognise both your strengths and your weaknesses, and then you just have to put the blinds on and power through. Focus is one of the greatest virtues a producer can have."

ARTHOUSE PRODUCER

Ever since Morthorst was 10 or 11 and his parents dragged him to see "Pelle the Conqueror", "The Last Emperor" and other spectaculars at the local cinema, he has harboured a profound interest in the medium of film. Today, he nurtures that passion both at the cinema and at home, where his collection of films keeps him entertained when he's not working or going to the movies with his girlfriend, who's also a filmmaker.

Morthorst always knew he wanted to work in film, though he dabbled in other areas of the industry before he found his place as a producer.

Initially, he wanted to be a film journalist, allowing him to combine his two great interests, film and writing. But all that changed when he started studying film and media at Copenhagen University. Once he was introduced to the practical side of filmmaking, he was hooked. Armed with his bachelor's, he enrolled at Copenhagen's alternative film school Super16 and also started working for the Nimbus production company. Today, he works at Alphaville, the arthouse company founded by the director Christoffer Boe.

At Alphaville he has been able to hone his profile as an arthouse producer. Not that there is any guiding principle behind his dedication to small films, he simply goes where his interests take him. "I have tried launching more commercial projects, but I lost interest in them along the way, so I came to the conclusion that I wasn't cut out for that. I think there's a big connection between what you're into and what you're good at."

READY FOR A FRESH CHALLENGE

Morthorst's reputation as a rising star in Danish film and TV was underscored when he was hired to produce a new TV drama series that will broadcast in the fall. "It's completely different from what I usually do. Here, we have to hit home with a million viewers on a commercial channel. But even though the format and the forum are new, I'm not ramping down my demand for quality."

Morthorst's first reaction was surprise when TV 2 offered him the job but also delight at a fresh challenge. After having spent some years now on refining his skills as arthouse producer, he feels ready to try out the TV series format and its inherent call for reaching out to a broader audience.

"I wrote my bachelor thesis on postrevolutionary Iranian film and thank heaven not a lot of other producers did, because then the film world would probably be too boring," he laughs. Diversity in the film landscape does matters, he says, but more importantly, every aspiring producer must carve out his or her own profile and stick with it. "There are a lot of people in the world who can work an Excel spreadsheet. A lot of people can juggle 5-6 million euros and go 'No, no, no! No helicopter shots!' A good producer, to my mind, is someone who can do everything else but that. Someone who understands people and can spot talent."

Jesper Morthorst is producer on Birgitte Stærmose "Room 304".

Factbox

JESPER MORTHORST

Born 1977, Denmark.
Graduated from the alternative film school Super16, 2006, and holds a BA in Film and Media studies from the University of Copenhagen.
Worked at Nimbus Film 2003- 2008. Presently at Alphaville Pictures Copenhagen.
Morthorst's shorts and documentaries have competed at such major festivals as Cannes, Berlin and Venice, and have won awards in Berlin, Rotterdam, Melbourne, Sydney, Stockholm, Sao Paulo, Los Angeles (AFI) and Rome.
Was nominated for a European Film Award for Best Short Film in 2010 for Birgitte Stærmose's "Out Of Love". Collaboration with Stærmose continues on their first feature film "Room 304" with domestic release this fall.
Is presently developing new feature projects with directors Birgitte Stærmose and Louise Friedberg, and is producing a new primetime drama series, "Rita", for the Danish national broadcaster TV 2, to be aired in the fall of 2011.

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