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Royal Swedish Embassy, Tokyo

By: Michael Lara

“When I’m coming and I’m tired and I’ve forgotten myself. It’s like I’m still wired to the outside… But I put up walls a little each day to give myself space… And everyday I’m losing sense and losing how to sense.” Tragic, yet ultimately triumphant, this disarming ebb and flow of Babybird’s ‘Old Skin’ wholly encapsulates the generous bundle of emotions prevalent within Martin Jern’s main character Emma as her budding sexuality and emerging confidence shattered through a party night forgotten and gone awry. Fjorton suger (‘Fourteen Sucks’), Jern’s second cinematic tapestry collectively sewn with his collaborative directorial friends (Filippa Freijd, Emil Larsson and Henrik Norrthon), airs out raw visages of their Swedish youth in a rich tale encompassing temptation, innocence lost, alienation, greed, fear, joy, despair, deceit, love, family, friendship and above all, redemption. This universal transitional struggle threaded between generations and genders resonates from its pulsating peephole into Swedish youth culture, deliciously driven and readily affirmed via house parties and other extracurricular activities.

Taking time after a screening and a following short Q & A session at the Royal Swedish Embassy in Tokyo, Martin Jern further elaborates on his muses for it and offshoots discovered from his own yellow brick road…

Thirsty: It (the screening) was pretty good huh?

Martin Jern: Yeah, it was good. It was good.

The movie was pretty much a time warp for me. I remember encouraging parties like that. Many of your characters made me think of those from my high school back in Pleasanton, California. So who did the casting for that?

Martin: We did it ourselves’. There were four directors on it and we were producing, directing, editing it and we started out with casting about 4 months before shooting. We just went to all the high schools around the city where we grew up because we wanted the right way to speak really, the right accent. That’s really important in Sweden, which no one else will really understand (slight smile).

The father I thought was hilarious.

Martin: Yeah, he was pretty funny. He was quite a character in real life too.

How long did that process take to get the right fit?

Martin: I think we found the girl pretty fast. Because she was just really good once we found her-the main character Emma. And then we just tried to find people that would fit with her.

I tried to keep up (showing my screening notepad) scene by scene…

Martin: Really? (eyes big and a big grin)

Yeah, scene one, scene two, scene three and goes on and on (turning a page for each).

Martin: That’s impressive...

Also noting the use of color. Was there a psychology behind that? You had the usage of orange, brown and yellow in the beginning and at the end.

Martin: Yeah, we liked to get started, wanted a warm feeling for what’s about to happen. It’s like right before something good that could have happened instead of that way. She’s really anticipating, wanting things to happen. The blue one is really cold. And then when they get back at the end. To make it kind of a bittersweet film and a bittersweet end I think that was important.

One scene that really stuck out in my mind and made me go, “Oh I remember that” was the whole head spinning and when she wakes up fully-clothed with vomit next to her. What makes your head spin?

Martin: Ah…like in the movie or? What do you mean?

I mean as far as your self. What puts you completely in that other zone? We all have been there on substances I think.

Martin: Yeah.

You know, what gets you discombobulated so to speak?

Martin: Ah, I don’t know. Maybe like, um, well coming to new places and exploring new people and uh, I guess that kind of stuff. When you were younger, it was a lot easier because everything’s new and everything’s... You simply don’t know how to deal with all the situations happening so you just kind of go with the flow.  And then you wake up and think, ”What the fuck! What happened?” I guess that happens less and less as you grow older because you learn how to get yourself out of those different situations better.

What about the flow of production? You were the writer, but a lot of times there was ad-libbing. Was it something you all just set in motion?

Martin: We had a script and showed it to the kids and they were like okay. And um, we were talking about it and they were making a lot of differences to the dialogue to kind of make it their own. On the first day of shooting-we didn’t have any rehearsals and stuff like that. We talked a lot about the whole stuff. I met them alone and in a group. And then, the first day of shooting, we were just all, “Let’s do this!” We were all really into it. We did a scene until we got it right and sometimes we did it loads of times in different ways. We changed them and if it didn’t work out, we’d do it differently the next day. We lived in that house the whole time while we were filming and everyone was there. Even the actors who weren’t in the scene were there. We just hanged together those 5 to 6 weeks.

Right on. Now there’s a lot of picking up the pieces in your film. Realities are shattered. What about for you in your life? Has there been a catalyst for you to pick up the pieces? Like that question you use in your film, “What is the worst thing that you’ve ever done?”

Martin: Yeah-yeah-yeah, right. The worst thing I’ve ever done? You know, that’s really difficult to talk about (slight smile). And uh, it all depends on what you are talking about and in the context. I don’t know. You’ve done a lot of crazy stuff I guess so I put it into the movie and like, a blend of it all and put it into the characters. Get yourself in there, you know. I’ve done all that stuff and worse. And uh, especially that young, when getting drunk, you get insanely drunk. You don’t know when to stop. You just keep going and going and you kind of just get used to it. You’re always blacked out when you wake up (laughing).

The similarities of games utilized in your film are universal I think too.

Martin: Yeah.

So if someone asked you, “I have never…”

Martin: Ah… (chuckling into a wide guilty grin). Well, you’re supposed to say that when you haven’t done it. So I don’t know. Did you play those games?

Yeah, that’s why I say there is no difference. The whole talking about nipping a bit from the parental stores and the brother and sister helping or hurting each other amidst their tomfoolery. But hey, you still haven’t said…

Martin: Well, I, uh, I don’t know. I um, I don’t know what I haven’t done (sheepish grin).

Okay well, moving on, I think everyone in the film is grasping for an understanding. And for you, the director, what is fundamental to grasp?

Martin: Um, well, I always try to get the realness out of the character, to make them not act. I really want to see what they are thinking in their eyes. Getting that feeling is really, really difficult. Like being a director. Just telling people what to do, to stand over there and all is very easy to do. But getting through to them, especially young people, to get through to them and to understand what I am looking for-that’s what is really difficult because you never know what to say. You never know what kind of response you are going to get.

Have you seen this movie (showing the DVD case for it)? Charade-Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.

Martin: No I haven’t.

I highly recommend it. Definitely watch it. One of the big things is that is all a game and you are not sure who is telling the truth. And in your movie and as a director, how is it a game? How is it a charade?

Martin: Well, it’s always a charade in being a director because you’re always waiting for someone to tell you that you suck and that I don’t get it. You are implying that you know a lot of things-that you know what other people feel and what they are supposed to do, how they are supposed to act. Like you are God on a set. You’re always waiting for someone on the set to tell you, “Fuck off! You have no idea what you are talking about.”  And being exposed like that, but you just have to say, never mind that.

What’s the most important thing to care about when you are looking at the players in your movies or that they themselves care about and why?

Martin: Well, I think the most important thing to me is to make them feel comfortable and uh, make them trust me so that they can go wherever I want them to go. And uh, I think it’s really important to care about them for real. Which is easier with amateurs too I feel. With the professionals, you know they are just doing their jobs and they can go home and they do another movie next week, another subject. To love them and to make them love you back so that you can trust each other.

How about getting the music for your film? Like Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting and others, music plays such an integral role. Certain directors it’s critically important like Wes Anderson, Cameron Crowe and…

Martin: Absolutely. That was really important to us. Once we began shooting the film. We tried our best to get the feeling from the songs. Some of we got and some of we didn’t. But that was really interesting in post-production. We called all of these independent labels and told them to send their stuff to us because maybe you’ll get in the movie. And we got all this from different ones. We got material from older people and younger people. That was so much fun. I think we took at least a month just trying different songs. Calling their labels and all, you know.

Was it a silent vote?

Martin: No… I think once we got the song we wanted, we all voted on it. And um… sometimes we just called the band and said, “What about making another song for the movie or a soundtrack song?” It also was a really difficult experience in talking with all of these labels and their lawyers. We had so little money. And we had bands on Sony, BMG and Warner and stuff like that. It felt really good fighting about it too. “No, we want this song!”

So, if you had to pick a song that best represents the main characters each, what songs would it be? Marcus, Aron, Emma, etc.

Martin: Song in the movie or ???

Or maybe some songs from your own mental library… You know, we talked about punk music earlier.

Martin: Yeah, yeah, yeah…

We talked about NOFX, Lagwagon.

Martin: Yeah, with the skateboarder dudes, definitely NOFX. I mean, we tried to get some of those songs, but we had to get a local band instead so like that song they were all dancing to. That’s a local band in Gothenberg. Definitely…

So what songs? Include the parents too.

Martin: Ah, um… Let me think about it for a while. I have to take a look at my ipod. I listen to a lot of techno right now. I listen to them a lot. The Radio Dept. for the girl Emma. For the big brother (Markus), I really like the song “Little Sister” because he’s a tough, but sensitive guy. I’m sure he listens to really tough music, but once inside his head, that’s probably the song that’s playing inside his head.

What about Aron?

Martin: Aron, um, well, something fun because he is a happy guy. Um, have you heard Satanic Surfers?


Martin: “I hate my girlfriend’s dad.” Something like that.

Since you brought up dad, what about him?

Martin: The dad…(chuckling)

His role is a bit small, but still meaty.

Martin: Yeah, well, he’s like my dad. He probably listens to Pavarotti and sings to it when listening to it.

And the mom?

Martin: I don’t think the mom has time for music. She’s like never around. She probably just listens to the radio.

How about the brother’s friend who is the bastard to all?

Martin: Patrik? Well, I’d say he probably listens to hardcore techno. He’s like into hardcore German techno. You never know what he’s thinking. He doesn’t feel he’s done anything wrong. He doesn’t get it.


This Swede definitely gets it and looking forward to entering his next sound & vision world. Until then, here are some portals to his mindscape:



All opinions expressed by Michael Lara are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

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