Meta Louise Foldager, at age 33, is facing the biggest challenge of a skyrocketing career that has amazed the Danish film industry and landed her as a central producer at Zentropa.
"If you went back in time and pretended you were a producer for Carl Th. Dreyer, what would you focus on? I would focus on letting Dreyer be able to make more films and letting him make exactly the films he wanted to. It should not have been so hard for him to get his films financed."
Lars von Trier's new film "Antichrist" is now ready in script form and will be up and running over the summer. Emerging from Foldager's office after our interview, I find Trier reclining in a sofa, beaming like the Buddha: A creative crisis appears to have been overcome, the furnace stoked with fresh provocations!
FILMS WITH BITE
Clearly, Trier is only too happy to be passing his recently penned project into Foldager's capable hands. Problems do not intimidate her. On the contrary, they stimulate her.
"Films where everything runs like clockwork are not really the most fun to work on. Certainly it's more challenging to be confronted with problems," she says.
To be sure, Foldager's name is not associated with middle-of-the-road products. She is drawn to projects with bite. One, Omar Shargawi's "Go with Peace Jamil", is the first film to depict life-and-death religious conflicts in Denmark's Muslim immigrant community. Before it opened in Denmark, Shargawi's film had already attracted considerable praise, especially after it won the Tiger Award in Rotterdam.
"AFR", another off-beat hit for Foldager, was a challenging mockumentary about the fictional murder of current Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. In 2004, Foldager produced "King's Game" was a huge popular and critical hit that blazed a new trail in Danish cinema.
ANOTHER AMERICAN STORY
Like other Trier productions, "Antichrist" is shrouded in secrecy. Technical innovations are in store this time, as well, though the form will likely be more extroverted than Trier's "Dogville" or "Manderlay".
"Antichrist is a thriller-slash-horror film," Foldager says. "We plan to shoot in late summer, and the budget right now is around 8 million euros. The screenplay has just been finished, so now we can start casting. The film will be shot in Germany, near Cologne, but the action is set in the US. We have found our main location, a cabin in the woods. That's really all I can say."
Stylistically, will the film take the same minimalist tack as Trier's recent pictures?
"I wouldn't say that. It's hard to talk about without getting into what the film will be like, and I don't want to do that. You might say, though, that "Antichris"t mixes certain minimalist elements with highly visual, expressive stylistic features that are more in the vein of Lars' earlier films, like Europa," Foldager says.
What's it like to work with Trier?
"For me, it's very special. Maybe I can explain it like this: If you went back in time and pretended you were a producer for Carl Th. Dreyer, what would you focus on? I would focus on letting Dreyer be able to make more films and letting him make exactly the films he wanted to. It should not have been so hard for him to get his films financed," Foldager says.
"That's my approach to working with Lars: He should make more films and make them exactly the way he wants to," she says. "You help get some films started that you know will interest people — years from now, too — and for me that’s both fun and a great privilege.
"He's not hard to work with, actually, for the simple reason that he always says exactly what he means. Of course, that can hurt at times, but you always know where he stands, and I value that honesty," Foldager says.
"I DON'T DO ANY ONE THING, BUT I'M PART OF EVERYTHING"
How would you more generally describe your work as a producer?
"I strive to be the film's woman from start to finish and, it follows, the director's closest collaborator throughout," she says.
"If you have a working partnership with a director, you are the film's steady anchor point from the first glimmer of an idea and throughout the whole preparation process of writing, researching, casting and financing.
"It's a weird job in a way, because I don't really do anything specific — I don't have main responsibility for the screenplay, casting, promotion or production. In terms of financing, I can choose to work with specialists, too. Nor am I responsible for production management — though I'm there, on set, every day, watch the dailies, and talk with the director. Should any problems with the production arise, I'm the one who has to solve them. I have general responsibility and I'm involved from start to finish as a catalyst and a fixed anchor point," Foldager says.
"It's my job to make sure that everyone working on the film has the best possible tools to deliver the best possible performance in their areas of responsibility. My role during the editing phase varies a lot, though I keep close tabs in the post production phase as well. I'm the one who calls in possible editing consultants and deals with the music production, which can be a very demanding and crucial process sometimes. Then comes promotion and festival follow-up, in which I also play a part," she says.
"In brief — I don't do any one thing, but I'm part of everything! I'm the employer. I make sure there's enough money, and that everybody is happy and has the conditions they need to do their best for the film.
"It's a long process. It can range from a year and a half to well over a decade, sometimes. I have two projects I know I want to complete, but they may not come to fruition for ten years or longer. So, it's extremely important to pick the right projects before spending a big chunk of your life on them," Foldager says.
LIKE BEING IN A RELATIONSHIP
Which of the many aspects of your work are most exciting to you?
"Actually, the films that run smoothly are not the most exciting ones. It's certainly more challenging to confront problems, films with grit in the gears, and then try to make a difference. It may be that I need to come up with certain material things, or it's more of a psychological thing when people have a hard time working together and I have to try and bring them together," Foldager says.
Do you have a particular method for handling disagreements?
"No. On some films, something magical happens and everyone works well together. In other cases, just as inexplicably, there's bad chemistry from the outset. You have to be sensitive and set things straight, if possible. If you can't do that, if an employee is irredeemably on the wrong track, you have to let that person go. The sooner the better, preferably, or you could hurt the film."
"My closest collaborator is the director, of course, and the better I get to know him or her, the better my chances are of getting a sense of how he or she works with the different people on the crew.
"So it's a huge advantage to know the director really well. Then you have the best opportunity to find out whom he or she will be able to work with.
"Working with a director is a bit like being in a relationship. When you meet for the first time, you practically fall in love with all the energy and ideas you are both bursting with, and you really want to work together. Then, you get to know one another better, which of course means that you also discover one another's faults. At some point, you reach the stage where you start loving one another despite your flaws and shortcomings, and only then does the real collaboration begin. And hopefully, it will last for years and years to come".