Adaptive Directing: Johan Renck Juggles Downloading Nancy

Madonna, Beyoncé, New Order. Nike, Mercedes, Dom Perignon. As a music video and commerical director, Swedish auteur Johan Renck has worked with the biggest names in the world.

It’s not surprising that he gathered up an all-star cast of players for Downloading Nancy, his feature directorial debut. Aided by the talents of Maria Bello, Jason Patric, Rufus Sewell and Amy Brenneman, Renck is bringing the story of a lonely wife whose life changes when she meets a new man on the Internet to the big screen. His first stop? The 2008 Sundance Film Festival, where the film made its premiere last January.

As the eve of the film’s June 5th release, Renck spoke with MM about the challenges of making a feature and why juggling skills can come in handy.

Jennifer Wood, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): You’ve been a successful musician, photographer and music video and commercial director now for several years, but Downloading Nancy is your feature directorial debut. Which of your previous “job titles” has been the most helpful in making the transition to a feature film director and why?

Johan Renck (JR): All of the things I have done have in common that they deal with translating an emotion or a feeling that you have into something that could be conveyed to others. Making a film is yet another instrument in achieving this. Eventually (hopefully), you reach some kind of understanding of this process. However, making a film is a very complex process; a slow-moving mother of a beast that requires you to juggle quite a lot of stuff on many levels—from strictly technical to emotional. By having done a fair share of videos and commercials in the past, I found that I could calmly rely on my knowledge with regards to how to document what I had in front of me, and thus focus more on getting the content right. Thus, in a way, I had a few less balls to juggle.

MM: This film has been in the works for a while now—with production originally slated to begin in 2005 with Holly Hunter, William Hurt and Stellan Skarsgard attached to star. What has been the biggest challenge in riding the Hollywood “roller coaster,” and adjusting on a creative level as the foundation of the film has changed?

JR: I would say that the time spent prior to the actual production was the hardest aspect to accept; the longevity of the process. I come from a place where I am used to deciding to do something and then just doing it. The process of making a film happen is like building a house of cards in a tornado—but you have to start from scratch, with enthusiasm, over and over again, perpetually.

MM: There are so many music video directors who have made the transition to feature films—Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze among them. Do you think that, as a whole, music video-turned-movie directors share some sort of overall sensibility or experience that influences their work?

JR: Not really, to be frank. I mean, there are a lot of significantly different directors who have done that leap… However, it is not hard to understand the transition between the two. And it is quite obvious that the world of music videos and commercials is a nurturing ground for some extreme talent—you only have to look at the names mentioned in your question. MM

Top image courtesy of Strand Releasing. 

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