The series produced by Maipo Film for NRK is among ten international event series platformed at the first TV drama festival in Cannes. DR Sales handle world sales at MITV.

State of Happiness (Lykkeland) tells of a changing nation, a Klondike town, and four young people who are thrown into a whirlwind of opportunities. It’s the summer of 1969 in the small coastal town of Stavanger. International oil companies have been test-drilling for years, but nothing has been found and they are in the process of leaving. The night before Christmas 1969, the gas flare at the oil rig Ocean Viking is lit. Everything is about to change.

How does it feel to be selected at Canneseries?
Synnøve Hørsdal: We are thrilled! It’s such an exclusive platform, with only ten international shows carefully hand-picked. It’s also a fantastic launch pad to attract world buyers, with MIPTV running in parallel.

First of all what impact did the discovery of oil in the early 1970s have on your families and do you have any recollection of the time?
Mette M. Bølstad: I was very little then but I do remember the scepticism that lasted a long time. Although we found oil, people didn’t believe it would be possible to make any money out of it. At the time, my family was living very frugally; the discovery of oil helped us improve our life style. Norwegians in their 60s-80s today, think that the success story of our country linked to the oil boom is something they made happen.

SH: My family and I moved to Stavanger in the late 1970s when I was 10. Everything then was about oil. Petroleum activities have played a key role in the development of today’s welfare state in Norway, but it’ really only in the early 1990s, when the Oil Fund was created that Norwegians really profited from it financially.

Why did you focus on 1969-1972 and set the core of the action in Stavanger?
MMB: Our idea was to focus on the defining moments that were to have a drastic impact on Norwegian society. That specific period between late 1969 when Ekofisk [first largest off shore oil field in the North Sea] was found, until 1972 when Statoil was set up and legislation was put into place, was absolutely crucial. It took three years for Norway to understand what was going on.

Through our series, we see what happens at a local level, in Stavanger, because this is where the major changes took place, but of course the story of the oil boom is relevant on a national and global level. In season 1, we focus on how the local community is affected, as people get work and their life styles start to change. One of the major questions at the time was who should control the oil, the state or private companies, ships owners for example? This is why we have set the action partly within a shipping and cannery family.

SH: This is a specific local story, but also very universal, about how the whole society in the Western world changed during that period.

Tell us about your decision to centre the story on three youngsters from Stavanger and a young American, working for Phillips Petroleum…
MMB: At the beginning, we had four Norwegian characters in their early 20s whose future would be changed by the oil business, to make like a history lesson for young Norwegians. But the Americans from Phillips Petroleum are really the ones who found the Ekofisk oil field. So I thought about bringing in a US character who would be the opposite Coca Cola kid, who comes to a small place, thinking…’I’m gonna kick ass, change things’, but then decides to be part of the oil treasure hunt and to settle in Norway. Another major character is the young secretary Anna Hellevik who carries the change for gender parity, and who gets into the political rooms.

How did you deal with the dilemma of defining where fiction starts and ends when you base a drama on reality, and how much research was necessary?
MMB: To create a drama that is not too heavy-handed, you have to do a huge amount of research, to know about things without talking about them too insistently. A lot of information was not available anymore, so I had to read newspapers from the time at Stavanger to see how things happened on a daily basis. That helped me develop details for the dramaturgy. For instance, on the topic of how to sell and acquire land to build an oil base, I had to find out about the laws of the time, the pricing, do technical research. I didn’t have to be specific with names, places etc. However, when you do want to be specific, you need to decide where to change names to start to fictionalise. It’s a constant balance.   

SH: This was very tough and frustrating for Mette, to know when research didn’t really fit the drama, understanding how to implement research and facts into drama. We did create rules about who would be fictionalised and who would be real. For the real people, we stayed away from their personal lives. 

How did you cast rising UK actor Bart Edwards, and the newcomers Anne Regine Ellingsæter, Malene Wadel and Amund Harboe?
SH: Besides Bart who is amazing, we needed very young actors, who could have a dialect from Stavanger. We did a huge casting and had fantastic results.

It must have been fun to recreate the 1970s through set design and music…
For the set design, we were conscious not to make it a style show, although one family is from a higher social class so there are beautiful costumes and set decoration. We also wanted homes not to be only from that period.

How did concept director Petter Næss collaborate with the two of you?
I had worked with Petter in the past so it was easy. We had time to discuss the vision for the series, the general storyline, the setting the characters. It didn’t feel rushed.

SH: It was a proper collaboration between the three of us. He also asked Mette to read with some actors, as they were not so experienced.

MMB: There is a lot of technical information, knowledge about the work their characters are doing which they had to understand to be able to deliver.

Norway is the number 2 among ‘Happiest countries in the world, according to the 2018 World Happiness Report, and the oil boom has played a key role in this ‘state of happiness’. But isn’t people’s perception of oil changing today, through its detrimental effect on the environment?
Yes Statoil have just announced they want to change their name to Equinor and scrub the mention of ‘oil’ in their name to tackle energy transition and in the future, oil won’t be such a major energy resource. It will be interesting to see how we will look at ourselves in a few years.

MMB: One of the biggest challenges always in writing is to be patient. It’s easy to have a negative spin on everything, a kind of ironic distance with past events. But we need the patience to live with the people in the time, without this kind of negative hindsight. A friend of mine who worked in the oil business lost his job two years ago. He said it was better viewed from his friends to say he was unemployed than to say he worked in oil. That says a lot about some Norwegians’ views of oil. It was crucial in the first season to get close to the characters, go into the story and see what happens. That’s when you can keep the idealistic point of view and capture the euphoria of the time.

You are in the middle of the writing season 2.  How far in time will it be after the closing episode of season 1?
We jump five years. We start in 1977 and finish in 1980.

Will you do a massive launch for State of Happiness in Norway?
We haven’t discussed the details of how we will promote the show, but we’ll probably do a major launch in Stavanger during Olje messen [energy meeting place] in August. The series will air on NRK after the summer.