Henrik Hanson (2014 BFA Screenwriting) has directed commercials, music videos, and documentaries for artist like Swedish House Mafia, Alesso, and Roxette. His newest film, Nickname Szanto, is a documentary short about one of Sweden’s best gamers, Therese Szanto.
It can be tricky finding the right character subject for a documentary film. You have to look for people who like the camera and understand what’s going on and what will be required of them. But it’s also important to let them know how you work. It makes them much more relaxed when you tell them how you like to work. It wasn’t clear from the start what the story of my film would be, we just wanted to make a documentary about professional gamers. We specifically looked for professional female gamers, and found Therese Szanto, a professional Counter Strike player. After hanging out with Therese we learned that there was a huge gap between boys and girls in the e-sport community, and Therese wasn’t happy about it. That was eye-opening and didn’t quite make sense to me since e-sport is a new sport, and the game has nothing to do with physical ability.
Therese and I spoke over skype a few times, before visiting her and beginning production in 2016. My crew and I drove 400 miles to her house in Hålanda, Sweden, without bringing any professional cameras for our first visit. Instead, we brought a DSLR camera which is much less intimidating, and did some small screen tests and interviews on the spot. We established a relationship first, finding out who she was and if she was even interested, and invited her for lunch at a local cafe to let her know who we are.
I was a bit skeptical about Therese at first and thought she was putting on a happy facade, but I soon understood that’s just the way she is – happy and open, and very optimistic about the future of e-sport. Therese was a hardcore gamer girl, a Viking if you could ever call a gamer one. We were pretty cautious to not scare her away at first, so we came back about a month later with a larger crew and started shooting. At first I wasn’t sure if she could keep up with our demanding production schedule, including early morning shoots. Our first day began at 3 AM, shooting a beautiful Swedish sunrise. We also asked her what she thought would be interesting to show, and kept her involved in the project. It was incredibly generous of her family to allow total strangers to film in their house, not only because they didn’t know us, but also because we were from totally different backgrounds and cities. Now we are all good friends. I think the goal of a filmmaker should not just be to make a good film, but to also build relationships.
Making this film was truly a collaborative effort from the beginning. I learned that a film gets better when you involve more people in the filmmaking process. I was originally supposed to edit the film myself, but realized I needed help as it became very complex with over 20 hours of footage for a 5-minute film. We made a cut that we were very happy with, and sent it to be sound mixed and color graded, thinking we were finished. But when I went around town screening the film for big producers and production companies, I got really honest and tough feedback and I realized that the film wasn’t good enough. It felt too much like a trailer, and it was either too short or missed an ending. About a year later I applied for the venture RÖST (Voice) that the Swedish Film institute has together with the Swedish National television. Their idea was to give funds to short doc film from the Swedish society, and Therese was a voice from the e-sport world. So I got a grant to finish the film from about 150 other films that applied. And a year later we went back to re-shoot scenes, shoot more interviews, and bring in a new editor with fresh eyes. I wouldn’t recommend working like this.
My wonderful editor Lovisa Siren looked through all the footage and created the strongest scenes from the footage of Therese with her team at the Dreamhack tournament. So many scenes that I thought would never make the final cut ended up being used, and scenes that were beautiful and had “great light” didn’t make it.
I directed and produced this film from the start, which is a little different than the way I usually work. I have worked on music videos and documentaries about artists like Swedish House Mafia and Alesso, but those are huge productions with a lot of egos and busy schedules. They always want your film yesterday. Therese had none of that, which gave me the opportunity to take my time and reshoot scenes to make them perfect. I don’t have a problem with recreations in documentaries. When I pitched the film for the Swedish Film Institute and the Swedish National Television we had to have a script with lines, which made the shooting so much easier, even though it was a pain writing dialogue for a doc. I may be blurring the lines, but nothing was made up – only recreated.
The best advice anyone has ever given me is to just go make your film. You have to be the one to create and start projects, “films don’t make themselves.”
Do it right away, don’t wait for tomorrow, because tomorrow there is going to be something else that needs to be done.
Follow Henrik on Instagram @HenrikHanson to keep up with all his latest work.