Recreating Authentic Emotional Moments: Kristian Håskjold On His Live-Action Short "A Worthy Man"
Kristian Håskjold is an award-winning director whose four short films have screened at more than 70 film festivals. His films are usually inspired by personal experiences or by the people who surround him, as he is extremely passionate about telling stories that have a personal touch. His latest effort, A Worthy Man, focuses on the sensitive topics of mental health and loneliness.
A growing depression hurls Erik into a tailspin, which in the end culminates in a desperate cry for help. The film stars Marina Bouras (The Idiots) and Troels Lyby (Shake It).
This moving short has screened at prestigious film festivals, such as Odense International Film Festival and Palm Springs International ShortFest, and has won 5 awards so far. We had the opportunity to talk with Kristian about the film, its subject matter, crafting personal stories, and much more.
Your films are usually inspired by personal experiences or the people around you. Why is it important for you to frame your stories within your personal experience?
So far it has been about being able to recreate some emotional moments as authentic as possible. My fear has been that it gets hard to write something believable without having had experiences close enough to the story I’m telling. It also gives me a feeling of importance in portraying the story and the characters. But I’m slowly moving into working with more fictional stories, but where I try to use my own emotional experiences too.
Where did the idea for A Worthy Man come from?
On a thematic level, in the film I really wanted to explore loneliness within a family. I grew up in the countryside in Denmark and had a feeling that the grown-up men around me in my childhood, like my dad and my uncle, most of them were really challenged when it came to expressing their emotions. Me and my friends were always pretty good at that and spent a lot of time reflecting on life and expressing how we felt about the things happening in our lives. In A Worthy Man, I wanted to show that if you don’t learn how to express yourself,especially when you’re feeling bad, then you can very easily have a breakdown, as it’s portrayed in the film. So the goal for the film was that it should have the quality of being therapeutic for middle-aged men and help them to get better at talking with their family members.
The inspiration for the film came from my uncle, who was a baker. I grew up close to him and his family and spent most of my childhood at their house since his son was my best friend. Because of my uncle’s profession, he had a weird day routine where he would sleep most of the day and work during the night. Because of this, he didn’t have that much time with his family, which of course had a different daily routine. The result of this was that growing up as a kid, I had a hard time understanding and talking to my uncle — he felt absent. I thought that this dynamic was really interesting and wanted to explore it in the film.
The short examines mental health and loneliness. Why are these topics important to you?
It was important to me to work with these topics because I saw a lot of it while growing up. I felt like loneliness had a lot of presence with the grown-up men in my life. And I have a belief that a lot of middle-aged men have a hard time talking about their feelings. So I wanted to focus on this topic in the hope of creating awareness of this.
What were some of the challenges you faced making a film centered around a dark subject like depression?
The absolute biggest challenge we had writing the film was that it’s insanely hard to make a story about a depressed middle-aged man interesting to watch. We spend a LOT of time trying to figure out how we could give him some drive that didn’t break his depression. In the end, we figured out to put some humor and love into the story; the baker should love to tell jokes and try to get through to the radio show — just to get some appreciation and acknowledgment from his surroundings. It took a while, but that was a great breakthrough for me, my writer Marianne Lentz, and producer Caroline Steenberg Dam.
Another big challenge was figuring out how the music and sound of the film should be. We started out with some music, which gave the film more of a magical realism feel, but it just didn’t work because it didn’t convey our character’s emotional state. So I spent a lot of time with my sound designer, Christian Munk Scheuer, and composer, Jesper Ankarfeldt, searching for a sound for the film. After a lot of exploration, we ended up with the music and sound, which is in the film today. We’re really happy with it.
The use of negative space does a really fantastic job of heightening Erik’s loneliness. How did you decide on/discover that visual technique?
Pretty early on, Director of Photography Rasmus Hasle Jørgensen, and I decided that it would be effective to show his state of mind. We wanted a heaviness to the images to match it. We also thought it would be a good contrast to the joke part of the story.
The film has a very striking look to the cinematography. How did you and cinematographer Rasmus Hasle Jørgensen arrive on this look?
When developing the story, Rasmus and I decided that we wanted to have Erik as a small character in a lot of big tableau shots. Again, it was about showing how Erik is feeling about his whole situation in life and his feelings about the situation. On a directing level, I really wanted to explore improvisational acting within tableau shots where you can’t edit the scene together. It’s a big challenge to work like this because your scenes have to be very clear and tight. If not, it will just become boring to look at.
What’s the most important thing you learned during the making of this short?
On my last short films, I’ve worked a lot with improvisational acting, but in the short film I did before this film, Forever Now, we only worked with a handheld camera, which made it possible for me to construct the scenes a lot in post. With A Worthy Man, I wanted to try working improvisational acting in tableau shots to become a better at [blocking as a director]. When working with tableau shots, you have to figure out the scene on the spot. You’re making all the variations while shooting, and if the scene doesn’t work as expected, you fix it right there in the moment.
What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
I hope that it will make the audiences reflect on their family members’ and friends’ well being. That it will make them want to have real conversations with each other. And if somebody seems like they’re not feeling well, either spend time dealing with it themselves or getting professional help.
I got some different projects in the making. First of all, I’m still studying at the Danish film school SUPER16. We just finished our mid-term production, which is called Crocodile Tears. I wrote it with scriptwriter Christina Øster, and it’s produced by Andreas Bak at Zentropa Productions. It’s a psychological drama about the hard times of a reunion between a father and his son, and the difficulties of it being arranged by the father’s new girlfriend.
Besides that, I’m just finishing a short format TV show called Chemo Brain, which will premiere on Danish TV in October this year. It’s a dramedy about a guy in his late-twenties, who get testicular cancer and goes through treatment. I’m very excited about it since it’s my first big directing job.
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