94th Academy Awards Nominee 2022 
Best Live Action Short Film
Interview

Martin Strange-Hansen
On My Mind
facebook.com/On-my-mind-shortfilm

Henrik wants to sing a song for his wife. It has to be today, it has to be now. It's a question of life, death and karaoke.

 

Hi Martin thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?

 

Actually quite OK. I mean, it has been tiresome that everything was affected by the covid situation. Lockdowns, cancellations and postponements of jobs and gatherings I was looking forward to. 

But on the other hand it has also been a year of intensity and remembering what’s important in life. I mean, I’ve been spending more time with my parents than in many years, taking long walks outside and moving more social life and gatherings outside, like dining with friends outside. Even in the winter-time with temperatures below zero degrees celcius. So it opened for new ways of connecting.

 

Congratulations on your 2022 Oscar Nomination Best Live Action Short for On My Mind, what does it mean to you to get this type of recognition for your short film?

 

As this is a story which is rooted in a very personal experience, I’m deeply deeply honoured and humbled that it is nominated. Even though the story stems from something personal, I’ve experienced that it resonates deeply with audiences, as it touches with on a universal aspect of human existence. The nomination means that I’m now able to share the film with a much broader audience, this is something which especially warms my heart.

 

You’re no stranger to the Academy Awards having won Best Live Action Short for Der er en yndig mand (2003) and the Honorary Foreign Film Award at the 2001 Student Academy Awards, what where these experiences like for you and will nerves still set in ahead of the ceremony in March?

 

I was fresh out of film school when I won the student Academy Award, and also a brand new filmmaker when I won the Academy award for “This Charming Man”, so it’s not wrong to say that they have both been defining moments for me in a way. But I was also so young, that I almost couldn’t fully grasp how big it was. I was to busy making plans to really cherish it. This time around I think it’s something completely else. Now as as mature filmmaker, where I have the years under my belt with the experiences of ups and downs, I feel such a strong inner joy by the notion that my fellow filmmakers in The Academy have responded so well with the film, that it’s made it thus far. So I’ll most likely be even more nervous this time around -and tears of joy will probably be right underneath the surface.

 

The Live Action Short Film (and Animation Shorts) are perhaps two of the most significant Categories at the Academy Awards because they shine a much needed light on Short Films, and for most of the audience watching outside of a film festival they might never get to see them. What more can be done to make Short Films more accessible to wider film audiences?

 

I think that curating is the answer. The general public now have possible access to immersive amounts of short films on sites like Vimeo and the like, but that also makes it hard to get started. Because where to start? So I’d love to see programs with curated bundles of short films on big platforms like Netflix or National Broadcasters, maybe hosted by, or in talks with, prominent filmmakers. Also what Shorts-Tv is doing now, where all the Oscar nominated short films will be touring Cinemas in packages is brilliant. I’d love short films to have a more visible place in the Cinema-scape. It would be great to have a more steady output of short-film bundles touring cinemas, not just the Oscar-nominated ones. Short films are such an intense and often thought provoking experience, that it potentially could have a great audience appeal. When I introduce people who never have seen short films to the format, they often becomes quite fascinated and hungry for more. Also I think The short films could benefit from another kind of venue than traditional cinemas. They are great for bringing people together, in venues where you don’t need to sit for 2 1/2 hours straight.

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"Also during my time in Film School I got the opportunity to follow the acting studies on the Danish School of Performing Arts, not because I wanted to be an actor, but because I wanted to know the actors craft."

On my Mind comes from a very powerful and personal place, as a filmmaker did you have any apprehensions about making a film that was/is so personal?

 

Not really. I think that most of my films stems from a sentiment or emotional state I’ve experienced. That being said, then this story is told from a much more vulnerable place than my previous films. What I have given some thoughts though is how much of the entire story behind it I want to make public. My wife also has a share in this experience, so I’s important for me that she’s also in on that I’m sharing this story. 

 

How cathartic has it been for you writing and directing this short film, has it been helpful to you?

 

It’s funny, I get that question a lot. But I must say that as it’s now 21 years ago my daughter died, and it hasn’t been a taboo for me to talk about or remember, it is not a therapeutical film. I mean, there’s also so much light and love connected with my memories of my daughter, so for me the film is about commemorating and celebrating what my daughter taught me about life through her being in the world.

 

Can you tell me how On My Mind came about and what was the message you wanted to convey with this film?

 

Well I had just delivered a script for a feature and another short film a month ahead of schedule, and because of the corona lockdown, my calendar was kind of empty. Then it struck me, why not use this lockdown creatively? I mean all the bars are closed, so we can probably shoot in a bar for free. And the restrictions have closed down all the theatres so many actors are free and able to do the film. And as long as we keep the film crew ultra small, we can do it in within the constraints of the lockdown. That’s why the crew is cut down to the bare minimum: 8 people on set + 3 actors. I already had the idea about a man trying to sing the same song over and over on a karaoke. So from there it took 6 weeks to get the script ready to production. 

In “On my mind” it’s so important for the main character to sing this song because it connects him with the life he’s had with his wife. In those decisive moments in life where you have to say goodbye, rituals becomes important. And in a way rituals helps you in the process of letting go. And coming to terms with letting go, also gives an inner peace. 

 

Being both writer and director how much flexibility did you allow yourself or your cast with your screenplay?

 

I’m ruthless with my own material. If it doesn’t feel organic when I rehearse it with the actors, it has to change. So I had several readings with the cast via zoom while writing the script. That gave me the opportunity to work in new dialogue and ideas along the way - based on the work with the actors. The wind coming through the bar I owe to Camilla who plays the bartender. I remember at one point she said that she felt that the bar owner was such a stingy character, that it would be great to have the protagonist’s presence in the bar interfere with all his receipts. Then it struck me, that I could use that to implement the spiritual element further in the film. So I’m a great believer in having a flexible process and not being fixated on what’s on the paper.

 

Rasmus Hammerich is incredible as ‘Henrik’ before you started casting On My Mind did you have any ideas of who you wanted to take on such a powerful and heartfelt role?

 

-I can’t express enough how much I appreciate Rasmus’ performance in this film. I think he has so many layers in his performance. You can feel that there is this deep mournful undercurrent in the character, but that he’s also so unaccustomed to deal with his emotions that he holds it all in. In the first drafts of the script the protagonist was a small nicely dressed man, and the bar owner a big somewhat scary fella. So I first approached Rasmus with the bar-owner in mind - but he turned it down, saying that it was a kind of role he had played many times before. That had me thinking: “what if I swap my first idea around, so the protagonist is big and strong, but because of the situation he’s in he’s actually quite fragile?”. That idea really grew on me, as it gave more depth to the character, but also was playing against the cliché of the big strong guy. Big guys also cry. So I called Rasmus and said “challenge accepted”. And boy I’m happy I did that.

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What has been the most valuable lesson you took from making this film?

 

When life is turned upside down, if you face it without fear, it can be used creatively. 

 

What has the experience been like working with your award-winning producer Kim Magnusson?

 

Kim and I have been working together several times before, but this time is the first time we work so closely on getting the film out in the world. And here in this process with the Oscar-shortlist and now the nomination I feel that I could not be working with a better man. He’s both calm and knows what to focus on. 

Also I must say that I know very few producers who genuinely believe and support the short film format as Kim does. So coming to him with this project, and getting his outmost support, was a really good experience.

 

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking and how much did you time at the Danish Film School help prepare you for your filmmaking journey?

 

I’ve been deeply fascinated by the magic of camera and editing since I was 8 or 9 years old when I saw “The adventures of Robin Hood” with Errol Flynn. At one point in the film I remember that a soldier was being shot with an arrow and I was like “Whoa how did they do that?” That got me really psyched. I wanted to try that out myself. 

My time on the Danish Film School as been really essential to me: 4 years with practical exercises and trials and errors in the field of directing, has really given me a solid groundwork for my filmmaking. Also during my time in Film School I got the opportunity to follow the acting studies on the Danish School of Performing Arts, not because I wanted to be an actor, but because I wanted to know the actors craft. That has been so valuable in my approach with the actors afterwards.

 

Since your debut has your approach to the way you write/direct your films changed much & any tips or advice for emerging filmmakers?

 

Yes. At first I was very concerned with style and camera movements, planning every shot into last detail. But the more experience I’ve gotten, the more at ease I become. I now find that what’s important is the characters and my work with the actors in getting the material feel organic. In that sense I feel I’ve moved from head to body in my approach to filmmaking: “Head” because earlier on I wanted to think and plan it all out. “Body” because I now feel that films and storytelling is a sensuous process. So my advice to young filmmakers would be to take in actors early on in the process, when the script or idea is on an early stage, and then try to work through it with the actors. You get so much more out of that process, than what you can think up yourself. So be generous and open with your ideas.

 

And finally, what do you want your audiences to take away from On My Mind?

 

A smile, a tear -and a fond remembrance of loved ones you’ve lost.