Giggles and temper tantrums, vulnerability and sass – the young actors run the full spectrum with unfaltering authenticity. Shooting his second feature "You & Me Forever" without a script, Kaspar Munk put his trust in the improvisational skills of his teenage cast.
"What's important in a scene rarely comes out in the lines but lies in all the unspoken things going on between the characters. Working with kids and teens as a director, I think it's important to give them a chance to speak and use words they can identify with."
Like the director's first film "Hold Me Tight", "You & Me Forever" revolves around a group of ordinary suburban 16-year-olds and the relationships among them. Laura and Christine have been best friends forever. One day they meet the fascinating Maria, and their friendship is put to the test. Searching for an identity, they curiously explore the boundaries between friendship and love, as Laura and Maria, in particular, plunge head first into experiments with eroticism, sex and alcohol. All the while, powerful, conflicting emotions are churning just beneath the surface – from overflowing joy in life to loneliness and abandonment.
In 2010, "Hold Me Tight" won the Danish film industry's award for best children and youth film and took home a string of international prizes. While the film was kept in an intense, measured pace and a near-stylised visual expression, the tone and storytelling style of Munk's second feature "You & Me Forever" are upbeat and lively. "I wanted to make a film that's bursting with life," the director says. "'Hold Me Tight' was really tough to make, the constant close encounters touch with the dark sides of life and the mind. 'Hold Me Tight' was a film about lacking joy in life, while 'You & Me Forever' is fuelled by a lust for life. It's much more dynamic and energetic in all ways, in style as well as content."
Production without funding = freedom
The difference between the two films is also reflected in the production process and the director's choice of method. While "Hold Me Tight" was shot in a classically controlled process, with a script and written dialogue, "You & Me Forever" came together in a far more improvised way.
"In traditional productions like 'Hold Me Tight', I miss having the time to explore the possibilities and ideas that come up during the shoot and to pursue my creative impulses. It could be something visual or it could be about the actors or the characters' emotional states and development," Munk says.
"So I deliberately started making 'You & Me Forever' without funding – not because I couldn't get any, but because I didn't want any. Part of the concept was to have ultimate freedom, so I could pursue potential ideas and experiment with methods."
The young actors were central to the process. All are unschooled, though most have acted in films before. Julie Brochorst Andersen, who plays the lead role of Laura, also starred in "Hold Me Tight". And Frederikke Dahl Hansen, who plays Laura's in-your-face friend Maria, has experience from TV and films – she played the lead in Heidi Maria Faisst's youth film "Rebounce" from 2011. "You & Me Forever" in part grew out of Munk's wish to work with these two actresses. He wanted to continue exploring the teenage universe with a focus on the actors.
Work began with three weeks of improvisation and several scenes were shot that made it into the final film more or less intact.
"We proceeded from conflict material and basic emotional elements in the actors. For me, it was an intuitive process driven by fascination, though I was also very conscious of shaping the situations into scenes that would work dramaturgically," Munk says.
The director eventually reached the point where he realized that the project would break his back financially and artistically if he kept going the way he was. So he made a deal with the Nimbus production company. Developing the project with them, he wrote an outline and received production support from the DFI.
"I actually kept filming the whole time while this was going on, including when we were applying for funds," he says. "It was important for me to get back in the saddle quickly after my first feature. The first scenes for 'You & Me Forever' we shot while all the commotion around the premiere of 'Hold Me Tight' was going on, which felt good. I would much rather go right back to filming than sit around for a long time contemplating my next project."
A way with teens
The shooting took 10 weeks in all, on and off over six months. Though Munk didn't write a script for "You & Me Forever", he very carefully prepared his 30-page outline. No dialogue was written. The lines were created in a dialogue between the director and the actors before shooting each scene.
"This was possible because what's important in a scene rarely comes out in the lines but lies in all the unspoken things going on between the characters. Working with kids and teens as a director, I think it's important to give them a chance to speak and use words they can identify with and that come naturally to them." Some of the scenes are very intimate and challenged the actors' boundaries. So it was crucial for Munk to create a lot of confidence and a feeling of security on set. Working with a small crew helped.
In "You & Me Forever" and his other films, Munk shows an uncommon knack for working with kids and teens. The three shorts he made before his features are all about teens, as well. Are youth films his specialty?
Munk smiles. "No, I don't see it that way. I have now, at least for a while, said what I wanted to say about teen life, and the next two projects I'm working on are about adult characters. Of course I won't rule out that I might return to the teen universe some day. There is so much great emotional and dramatic material there that is the same for girls and boys and universally familiar, also to adults."