What inspired you to begin working on Arctic?
Two years ago, I came across a depiction of what Mars could look like one day during terraforming, (adaptation to be like Earth). I wondered what would happen if someone were stranded on the outskirts of that barely-hospitable environment. Ryan Morrison (my writing partner) and I began working on a story, initially setting it in that world, inspired by stories such as Cast Away, All is Lost, The Red Turtle, and A Man Escaped. However, the story seemed to be encumbered by the technicalities of survival in an oxygen-deprived atmosphere. So we decided instead to pit our protagonist against the cold, in the harshest survivable environment on Earth: The Arctic Circle.
Is the landscape as important as Overgard in the story? Is it a character in its own right?
Nothing brings home the fragility of a human quite as starkly as the sight of a mere dot, tramping through an endless ocean of white snow. Nothing represents survival quite as vividly as an individual, slogging through a howling gale, barely visible through heavy spindrift. The tundra is exactly where Arctic needed to be set. A parable of man against nature, yes: but also a story about the endurance of altruism under extreme circumstances.
What does selection at Cannes mean for you and your first feature?
Our selection by the Festival remains surreal to me. It is the ultimate validation of our efforts. Over the past 12 years of digital and commercial work, I've learned that attempting to guess the future is a fool's errand. However, I hope that our inclusion in the Festival helps me continue working on projects like Arctic.
How did you meet Mads Mikkelsen?
We first spoke over Skype, after Mads had read the script. What was supposed to be a short conversation became a two-hour dissection of the screenplay. Mads's incisive questions immediately showed me that he understood the character, the story and the intention of each moment. Coupled with his unique physicality, I immediately knew Mads was perfect for the role. He carried that unyielding dedication to the role into production. One specific shot comes to mind: to show the vastness of the Arctic, I wanted to depict our protagonist as a barely-visible dot surrounded by a sea of white. A stand-in was to walk nearly a kilometer away from camera over a frozen lake. Snowmobiles weren’t allowed on the lake at the time, so it would require a half-hour trudge through wet snow just to get to their mark. Any assistant wearing a red parka would have sufficed… but Mads remained steadfast in his commitment to being in every frame of the film. We handed him a walkie-talkie, and off he went.
Cold, snow… can you tell us about the atmosphere on set?
Our shoot was taxing, both physically and mentally. Especially for a Brazilian man acclimated to the weather in Los Angeles! We dealt with winds upwards of 30-40 knots; doors came unhinged from cars and were taken by the wind. Temperatures were far below zero. We had snowstorms, production vehicles blown off the road, road closures and equipment trucks stuck in the snow, far from set. Then, towards the end of the shoot, there was melting snow, freezing rain and loss of locations due to exposure of plants previously blanketed by the snow. Throughout production, the conditions changed just about every hour, destroying continuity of weather. The entire crew was undaunted. Despite the brutal conditions, the long hours and the 5-day weeks, not a single person left us, throughout the entirety of our 19-day shoot.
Did you put some of the spirit of your YouTube videos into the way you did this first feature?
I attempt to create my YouTube videos in a universal way. There's often no dialogue. There's a heavy reliance on music, facial expressions, and other non-verbal cues to understand the story. I carried that through to the creation of Arctic. The distinct lack of explanatory dialogue encourages us to lean closer, to attempt to decipher each minute facial expression and to admire our main character's silent performance. It means we could take something different away from the film than the person sitting next to us in the theatre.