Louise Vesth, producer

PROFILE. She is behind this year’s Danish Oscar nomination, and she has signed her name on record-breaking box-office hits and artistic experimentations. We asked the busy Zentropa producer Louise Vesth to characterise her partnerships with five notable Danish directors and the special demands each has made of her as a producer.

Christian E. Christiansen

Films: Life Hits (2006), At Night (Oscar nominated short, 2007)

Standing your ground

"Christian and I were in the producing programme together. He was a real catalyst for ideas. After film school, we did Life Hits, a tough teen drama about an at-risk girl gang in a Copenhagen suburb spinning out of control on drugs, booze, violence and bullying."

They had a good story, but funding was hard to find. "Investors and funds liked the story, but a lot of people doubted that Christian could pull off the switch from producing to directing."

The results put all their worries to shame and Life Hits proved to be the first Danish teen film in a long time that spoke to teens in their own language.

"It taught me that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. My partnership with Christian was about defiance, you know kind of like saying; make room for us too." One of Louise's most important functions as a producer was to believe in the project and to make it plain that she was ready to go all the way with it, regardless of the scepticism and funding-policy challenges they ran up against. "I got really good at insisting. We told each other: We'll do the film no matter what – and that's a motto we still work by."

About

Louise Vesth, 39, graduated from the producing programme at the National Film School of Denmark in 2001 and has since worked as a producer at Zentropa. Vesth also holds a BA in economics.

The Hollywood Reporter recently named Louise Vesth one of 12 international female leaders in the film industry to watch.

Louise Vesth has produced Nikolaj Arcel's period drama "A Royal Affair" which is a candidate for the Best Foreign Language Academy Award 2013, presented on Sunday 24 February in Los Angeles.


Mikkel Nørgaard

Films: Klown (2010), The Keeper of Lost Causes (2013)

Adaptability

Mikkel Nørgaard was Louise Vesth's directing partner at the National Film School of Denmark. "My partnership with Mikkel is special. Because we, so to speak, became blood brothers at a time when we were both learning to take our first steps, it only seemed natural that we should work together later on." When comedians Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam were looking for a producer for their TV series "Clown", Vesth and Nørgaard got a chance to team up again, and they continued their partnership on the spin-off, "Klown".

Nørgaard's decidedly exploratory approach to filmmaking has taught Louise that good ideas can't be pre-ordered.

"My role in Mikkel's projects is to be very adaptable but also move on to a decision. I'm responsible for the finances, after all. At the same time, it's important for me not to jump to conclusions and to have the nerves to go really far before I start panicking. So I try to give as much space as possible before beginning to interfere."

"To me, the role of the producer is to find the balance between what's artistically justifiable and what's realistic financially. Working with Mikkel, I have definitely got better at facing financially unfathomable decisions and making it through. And I have learned never to settle for things just being okay but always to strive for excellence." 


Nikolaj Arcel – Oscar nomination 2013

Films: Truth About Men (2010), A Royal Affair (2012, Oscar nomination 2013)

Clearing the way for steely determination

"Nikolaj is the hardest working and most detail-oriented of all the directors I deal with, and he's extremely aware of what he wants. Working with someone who is so determined can be a challenge. There aren't a lot of byways with him, just one big highway. On the other hand, it's extremely powerful. Nikolaj asks a lot of himself and the people around him, so you have to stay sharp and really be thorough in your decisions."

Vesth and Arcel, who were in the same class at the National Film School, first worked together on the dramedy Truth About Men. She recently produced Arcel's A Royal Affair, which earned an Oscar nomination in the Best Foreign Language film category.

"Because Nikolaj is so persistent and determined in his work, my role is to make sure that everything about the production is in order. So I use a lot of the organisational and strategic skills I learned studying economics. You have to create order to clear the way for his steely determination. That may not be my best skill, so I get that out of our partnership, too." 


Lars von Trier

Films: Melancholia (2011), Nymphomaniac (2013)

Coolness and chaos management

When Louise Vesth came aboard as a producer on Lars von Trier's apocalyptic Melancholia, the Danish film industry, including the Zentropa film company, was still in the throes of the recession. Her role was to drive the enormous production "through the system," streamlining and tightening up the finances. To Vesth, working on a production of this scale was a welcome challenge.

"Lars' films really let me unfold my producer gene and my chaos management skills. I very rarely get to the place where I say, ‘I can't solve this.' I get incredibly stubborn and I'm basically a very optimistic person. I generally operate well when there's a bit of resistance, and my skills – cold-bloodedness, my fairly coolheaded way of dealing with problems – definitely come in handy on big productions."

Vesth's partnership with von Trier has grown closer on Nymphomaniac. They now have what Vesth calls "a real director-producer relationship." Louise's role is also about politics. "Lars' films are so internationally oriented that a lot of the work is about him as a person, Zentropa as a company and Danish cinema as a whole. My role is to make sure to keep the profile and maintain the brand that is von Trier." ´


Peter Schønau Fog

Film: Du forsvinder (Danish title, expected release 2014)

Getting to the core of the story

Peter Schønau Fog received unanimous critical acclaim in 2006 for his debut film. The Art of Crying was adapted from a novel by the Danish writer Erling Jepsen chronicling his abusive childhood in Southern Jutland. Since then, Fog has kept a low profile, in part, Louise Vesth says, "because of the director's perfectionism and high demands for quality". The two are now teaming up on Du forsvinder, an adaptation of a novel by Christian Jungersen about a man who suffers from brain damage and the impact on him and his family.

"In a new partnership like this one, it's important for me to find out what the core of the story is. That makes me a better guide and sparring partner later on in the process, because I know exactly what it is the director wants. I look at how we can go in and carry the job and create a story that's interesting to the domestic market but also has international appeal, as every project we do at Zentropa ideally should."