Not until your characters are alone, can your audiences really feel how they are dealing with their destinies.
We speak to co-writers/creators Ida Maria Rydén and Dorte W. Høgh about DR Drama’s premium series When the Dust Settles, set to premiere on Denmark’s public broadcaster DR February 2, 2020.
The two screenwriters are close friends since their time at the National Film School of Denmark. After graduating in 1999, both embarked in successful parallel writing careers.
Rydén wrote among others the sold-out musical Love Me Tonight, the theatre play Make Up (winner of the Reumert prize in 2002), the feature films The Gold of Valhalla, Hush Little Baby. She was episodic writer on several series including the international Emmy award-winning Nikolaj & Julie, before show-running three seasons of TV2’s popular crime series Dicte, together with Høgh.
Høgh started her career as a successful journalist and TV host in the 1990s, before joining the National Film School of Denmark’s screenwriting course. She collaborated with director Per Fly, co-writing The Inheritance, Manslaughter and The Woman Who Dreamed of a Man, and co-wrote the crime series Anna Pihl. Her short film The Pig (which she wrote and directed) was Academy-Award nominated in 2009 and won for the Audience award at the Hamptons’ International Film Festival.
The character-driven series When the Dust Settles centres on eight different characters before and after a terrorist attack at a Copenhagen restaurant. The viewer follows their lives, apparently unrelated to each other, until flash backs connect them all to the restaurant tragedy, narrated in full only in episode five.
Concept director Milad Alami (The Charmer) who makes his long-form debut, closely collaborated from pre-production stage with the co-writers and producer Stina Lassen to bring authenticity and cohesion to the multi-plot storyline. Episodic directors include Jeanette Nordahl (Wildland) and Iram Haq (What People Say).
In the starring roles are Karen-Lise Mynster, Jacob Lohmann, Peter Christoffersen, Malin Crepin, Henning Jensen, Viola Martinsen, Katinka Petersen, Arian Kashef.
The series was produced by DR Drama with co-financing from SVT, NRK, Yle, RUV, and support from Nordisk Film & TV Fond. DR Sales handles global distribution.
What does it mean for you to be nominated for the Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize?
Ida Maria Rydén: I’m very honoured that we are nominated for this prize. Very few film and TV prizes go to scripts, so for us writers it is a very important prize.
Dorte Høgh: It’s fantastic!! Ida and I have never been nominated before, so it’s a great honour.
When did you get into screenwriting and why?
IMR: When I finished my master in Danish literature, I knew I liked writing. I didn't want to do it the academic way, though, as I was too fascinated by theatre and of the possibility of expressing human relationships through dialogue. I therefore applied to the National Film School of Denmark.
DH: I was a tv-journalist and fed up with people not telling me the very best story, so I decided to write it myself.
What aspect(s) of TV screenwriting do you find most challenging but also most thrilling?
IMR: The aspect of time. As a TV series screenwriter, you often have six to 10 hours to tell your story, so you can unfold really complex stories. But at the same time, you always feel the need for more time. For every action-packed sequence you write, you have to find time for the quiet moments. Not until your characters are alone, can your audiences really feel how they are dealing with their destinies.
DH: I hate structure, I try to get around the plot and I love the part of getting inside the characters, and really asking myself, what would this person do in this situation?
How do you share the writing process with Dorte and what makes each other's writing collaboration inspiring and unique?
IMR: TV screenwriting is 50% talking. When you work in pairs, you are each other’s ears. You can say the things you are thinking and there will be an immediate response. A good idea is easier to detect when it is said or yelled out loud. Dorte talks a lot and I talk a lot. And sometimes we listen :-), and when we do, we often get another – and better – angle to a solution. And then the collaboration becomes a ladder from where you can actually see your series unfold in many different ways. Ways you couldn't have thought of by yourself.
DH: We storyline all episodes together and write every second episode on our own. What I’m not good at, Ida does great!
What type of stories and genres make you tick?
IMR: The one we created now – the multi-plot character-driven story. And I have a soft spot for the few very good romantic comedies. And heist movies! DH: I like drama about our society and our time.
How was it to create your very first show for DR Drama?
IMR: It’s been like an inter-rail tour in the 1980s. A lot of stops and taking new directions – getting lost and found – sleeping badly. But most of the time in good company. And the best thing was meeting a lot of totally dedicated people, all speaking different languages: languages of costumes, photography, scenography, all agreeing that this was an important story to tell and working their butts off to make it as authentic as possible.
DH: I would say it was mostly good, and all the way an easy journey regarding the script and story.
What was the starting point for the series?
IMR: Our influence for the series was the films Sliding Doors and Short Cuts. We wanted to examine when and how people meet, what they can do to each other.
DH: Our intention was to do a multi-character series about how we affect each other and how our lives are interconnected.
Why did you choose a non-linear approach?
IMR: This structure allows us to feel compassion for the characters, so when the drama actually happens in the restaurant, the viewer is immediately involved in the stories. We wanted to make people care and live with the characters.
DH: We wanted to avoid the linear structure of a disaster series, where you see the tragedy occurring at the beginning, the people involved and how they survive. For us the driving element was people’s encounters and connected lives. It was almost natural in a way to find this structure, to put the violent act in episode five, because you need to know the characters before the tragedy actually happens.
How would you describe the core of the series?
IMR: It’s about cohesion-the thought that you always connect to someone, and therefore hold a bit of their happiness in your hands.
DH: It’s all about the responsibility we, as individuals, have for each other but seem to forget.
What's next for you?
IMR: I don’t know. I hope that 2020 will surprise me and come up with something exciting that I haven’t yet thought of myself.
DH: I’m writing a book, a musical and a new series. It’s all very difficult, but at least I don’t have time to make any trouble!
Too read more about all the 2020 Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize nominees: CLICK HERE.