We catched up with local filmmaker Magnus Rutberg to discuss how he caught the film bug, how his working methods have changed over the years and where he continues to draw his inspiration from. This was one of the first interviews we made – roughly two years ago. Sadly it took us this long to share it with you.
BTC: Who are you and what is it that you do?
MR: I’m a filmmaker. When people ask what I do, I usually reply filmmaker, in particular documentary film. I have tried to gently pull myself away from documentaries; not that much fiction for me. I have edited one short movie and a long movie, but not directly worked that much with fiction. It’s fun too. Both documentaries and fiction are really close to each other. They are equally made up in a way. Documentaries are, if not made up, at least controlled in a way. An objective documentary does not exist. The one who makes the movie is not objective.
BTC: What sparked your interest in making your own movies?
MR: In high school we had visual arts and then you could also choose film. No one else chose film so we chose it. The teacher had bought a camera and so we could edit from tape to tape. We thought that we must learn this and it was a lot of fun! We made a movie as our final project, which we all enjoyed. It doesn’t exist anymore, thank God! It was a classic teenage movie. There were a few jokes and the like. I can see why YouTube clips look like they do, it’s a bit like you see things and just copy them exactly what you’ve seen. Not to say that we were as good as those who make YouTube clips today…
BTC: So you got the film bug and what happened next?
MR: Later on I took a Swedish film course in Lund, which in principle was only about Bergman. When I began to study in Lund after the army, I started on Student TV, which in those days was broadcast to all cable subscribers in Lund. That was a great school but it probably doesn’t exist anymore. It was great because you had to do everything yourself. There weren’t any tutors, you just had to figure it out for yourself and listen to those you worked with.
BTC: Was the film school a good learning curve for you at that time?
MR: It was a pretty good film school although sometimes it was hard to know when you did something wrong as there were no tutors. But we just carried on regardless! I remembered that when we cut, we did not realise how it should be put together for someone else to understand something; that feeling I can remember. It was a lot of trial and error! I was at Student TV for a couple of years in parallel with studying film, which was how I got into filmmaking. My parents aren’t in the film business; they don’t work in the arts. They are both municipal workers so it was probably just by chance that I got into filmmaking really.
BTC: What do you think afterwards was what attracted you?
MR: It was probably the craft in itself. I started on the technical side of filmmaking. Nevertheless, Student TV was an environment where one had to do everything. It was probably more about using the medium as a way to express myself rather than that I had anything specific to say. I still do not know if I have (something to say)?
BTC: Did you have a certain filmmaking style? For example, autobiographical?
MR: When I read about filmmakers who dig deep into themselves and their family – that’s not me. It’s not where I make my films. Maybe I’m moving towards that? One of my short films is about a small incident during the recent Swedish election. It’s not about me personally in that way. I do not really recognise myself as that kind of filmmaker who deals with his own deepest psychology and highlights something that is important to them. It may be a more respected part of the film industry I think? You are expected to have something to say if you take up space by making films. Films can be made in different ways. One can highlight something instead. There are a lot of amazing filmmakers who do not obviously dig into themselves. At the same time, every movie is in a way a reflection of you.
BTC: Has the reason why you make films changed over the years?
MR: No more than I have wondered if I’m going to stop. Maybe I should just stop and do something else? I have not yet come up with what that could be; I’m not trained for anything else. It’s a possible way forward and then I’ll make films as a hobby instead. I think I’m always going to make films but you can find another way to tell the stories. For me, I think it’s fun to make short films right now so that’s probably what I’m going to aim for. Things that do not take two years to complete, rather things that can be completed in 2-3 months.
BTC: You do commissions for others and your own projects. What do you see as the differences there?
MR: It depends. In commissioned films there is not always much room to develop; it is quite dry. I notice that I still benefit from thinking like at Student TV by approaching things from a different angle. That’s something that is not so expected in the commissioned films. In my own films, I do not need to make sure that something has to be communicated. Commission films are message-controlled; there must be no deviations or ambiguities. Then it’s enjoyable to make my own films that are not so super-clear; films that are a little skewed.
BTC: So you can have the best of both worlds by doing commissions and your own work?
MR: Of course, it can be great fun to do commission films when you get space to experiment a bit and to test something. When you have any idea that is a little more playful. Otherwise, it’s just about craftsmanship. I know what to do to get a good result.
I worked for AutoImages for a few years while in parallel working with photo and video clips for TV4. It was quite good to do it at the same time as the documentary film process, which is usually quite long, and on TV4 a job was done the same day. If it didn’t turn out exactly as planned, it still got aired. The next day it was forgotten. As soon as it is aired, it’s gone. That was a pretty good school for me, as I usually take my time on what I do. Having to get things out of your hands fast, i.e. not thinking about a clip too long but rather getting it done and getting it delivered.
BTC: Can the slightly more distant reflection in making commission films be something you might benefit from in your own creation?
MR: It’s really much harder if it’s about something that I’ve visualised in my own head, I do not have anyone to discuss the idea with in the same way. Someone else can’t tell me that it’s not quite right. It’s more an internal process in my mind. I understand why many filmmakers tend to pair up with someone they almost always work with. If you are a director, you will find a producer that has the same goal. Or a director and a photographer. It would probably have been good for me too to have someone that shares the same vision. It’s not about having detailed discussions but rather a shared long-term vision.
BTC: With your own films. How does that process start? How does it become a project?
MR: I work in a few different ways and cover all sorts of angles simultaneously. I have ideas that are desktop ideas. It can be a scene or something you read. It can also just be a title. I have many titles that have no story at all. It’s just a title that might be something interesting; there it lies like a great heap of inspiration.
For a while, I was cutting out a lot of newspaper articles as I thought this is a great documentary idea. I continued it for a while but most of the time I did not develop any of them. It just added to that great heap of inspiration! Then I also film a lot of stuff that I do not really know what to do with such things I stumble upon out in the streets. I usually have some kind of camera with me. It might be that I film an incredibly strange cloud formation outside an airplane window. Then I try to do as long a take as possible. So maybe I can use it for something. I end up doing nothing with most of these clips.
BTC: How do you archive and structure all this information?
MR: It would have been so damn good if I did! But I didn’t. At the moment, it is also spread out across different hard disks. Some I have gathered in a way so I know where it is. Sometimes I go through the archive to look for something specific but instead find something completely different. Something I’ve totally forgotten about like a reverse treasure hunt.
BTC: Do you have folders where you collect material for a specific idea over time?
MR: No, not in that way. I collect it more in small fragments. Then I think that you can combine almost anything really. Only then you can find a good reason to do that. It doesn’t have to be filmed at the same occasion. The connection can be found later. For a while, I thought I would do a little short film that was only strong visually. I thought I had no material for fiction. That would have been good to have in case a great idea shows up.
BTC: So what happened next?
MR: Then I edited a lot of material I had filmed with my still image camera in our summerhouse. It wasn’t intended for anything else but filmed snapshots, which led to a collaboration after a director had seen that clip. It became a bit like a showreel of expression. For example, like when a still image photographer takes a lot of photos and archives them. Then they can bring up an old picture far, far later, when you see the connection with other photos. That’s how collecting film clips work for me as well; it’s about combining things together.
BTC: Can you expand on that a little? Perhaps give us an example of what you mean…
MR. Once when I was going to Way Out West, I watched my old clips from previous years. Then I found a shot that was of the crowd, but only on the legs of someone as they were digging a weird guitar solo. It’s some kind of occupational injury – when I see something visually interesting then I have to film it. That take is a minute or so. I found it very interesting in retrospect. The take in itself is a short film actually. The question is just how to package it? What should the title be? How should it be presented?
I’ve had a lot of use of a short film I saw a few years ago called Fågel där uppe (Bird up there). It was shown on SVT and was about three minutes long. It was made by an artist called Mårten Nilsson. I do not even know if he filmed the material himself or if he has bought a roll at a flea market and just nicked a scene. It’s an existing scene shot on Super 8, which he comments on as if he has directed it for real. “You with the plank come in now,” then a man with a plank comes in to the scene. “Come back.” Then he comes in again. I thought it was such an incredibly cool idea that even, at the very least, could be something. It does not have to be so complicated or communicate so much dramaturgy.
BTC: So it can be something simple?
MR: It can only be a scene. The combination of the title and how you make it is enough. It was very inspiring to me that film! It made me realise that you can actually make a film that consists of just one single scene! When you only see that image of the legs that are digging the music in sync with the tune for one minute, it becomes very strange. First, why do I look at this? Then after I while you might start seeing something else in it. It is in this direction that I’m thinking about working with short, fast-paced projects.
BTC: Do you involve others in your own projects?
MR: Yes, I do. Though it is usually at a stage where it’s even incomprehensible to myself and then it is hard to express what it is to somebody else. I have realised that it is still better to try to express it because the feedback you get usually improves it. Sometimes it will end up becoming something else than I had in mind. Maybe this is something I need to get better at? Trying to communicate ideas to people early.
I often test ideas with someone who knows a bit more how I think, although sometimes it’s superfluous and a little cohesive every now and then. To get a little direction. Sometimes it’s enough to present an idea, you do not even need to get any feedback. Just that you hear yourself formulating it starts the thoughts.
BTC: Can you sometimes think that what you see or film would be a perfect film clip?
MR: Yes Yes! The worst is when I do not have the camera with me and witness such things. “Damn, if I only had the camera with me! This was such a good scene!” I saw a middle-aged man once that was waiting for the bus over by the city library. He was on his way to work or something.
Så såg jag också en sådan där valskylt, en bock med en affisch på. Mannen tittade sig lite omkring. Sedan gick han fram och så slog han igen den där bocken och kastade in den bland buskarna. Så kom han ut igen och stod och väntade på bussen. Han städade väl bort lite valpropaganda han inte gillade. En sån fantastisk scen alltså! Jag tänkte, det här måste jag ju återskapa på något sätt! Om man kan filma sånt! Det hade ju varit så roligt.
BTC: Is reaching out a more evident driving force for you today than when you started?
MR: It is at least a lot easier now than it was ten years ago. Then there were not so many ways to reach out. We had SVT. You could create your own movie screenings. You could, of course, send a VHS or DVD to someone. There weren’t more open ways of communicating.
Maybe I should work more with continuity? If I’m going to publish something myself online, continuity seems to be an important part. People forget so bloody fast it feels like. Obviously it would be a lie if I said I do not care if anyone sees what I do or not. I want someone to do that otherwise it’s not worth it to keep on going. It does not have to be a huge audience, it’s almost more important to have a more direct communication with a few people. Those connections! I can absolutely understand those who make movies and then just screen it for their nearest and dearest; that’s enough as well. But, of course, that depends. If the purpose is to become known yourself, it will not be enough. But if you don’t care about that, then… Some films find a home at a local screening. Then I can post it online afterwards.
BTC: Today, the expectation is completely different. You can reach the whole world in a second. But it may also be a burden: Why do I not reach more people?
MR: Yes, it can of course create stress as well. But it is certain that some realism creeps into it too. You have to realise where you have your space, I think. Otherwise it will only be difficult. If there is anything that reaches a festival, it will only be a combination of 99% luck and 1% chance. The groundwork has to be done too of course. Besides that, it’s completely out of your hands. There are certainly a lot of other ways to reach out if that’s the only thing you want to do.
BTC: Is making shorter films in a fast process a form that is a conscious choice? Any kind of antidote to the slowness you talked about earlier?
MR: Yes. And also a little bit of frustration. There’s a constant flow of new ideas, new impressions and new thoughts. It will be like a critical mass; it will be too big at the end. It turns from something positive to a kind of burden. Then it’s quite nice to be able to do a little thing. The little boat we push aside and then I’ll start building on the next thing. With that type of project, I do not feel I have to reach out. It’s fun if they reach an audience, of course, because it’s great to hear what others get from their impression of seeing something. There are also no windows for movies between 1 and 3 minutes. It’s all about the web I guess?
BTC: Is that feeling a driving force in itself? To be done.
MR: I have discovered that I have great use of the big ball of material I collect. It may be a title I came across ten years ago but I did not have a project. Then I may film something and find that it fits well with that old title. Suddenly, it marries. It’s probably a bit how I think artists work? You have a number of paintings that you paint on and off. You bring something out five months later and immediately see that there is a need for a new line just right there.
However, with film it is a bit more difficult. It’s not physical in the same way, it’s in a way something that’s not there. Or it’s not like a physical object. The film is invisible in a way. To produce a film is perhaps to make it concrete. It’s only then it exists as an object in a way. Before that, it’s just a data file and some notes in a notebook. For example, if I had worked as a sculptor, I would have had something physical to relate to throughout the process.
BTC: Do you write a lot about your ideas and films?
MR: Yes, periodically I’ll do it. I have different phases. Sometimes I just have to see a lot of new things. Experiences tend to bring a lot of new expressions from the outside. Then I do not write so much. In other periods, I write a lot myself. Then it comes out very much at once. Ideas. Scenes. Sometimes I have so much commissioned work that I do not do any of this. On the other hand, the more boring job the more exciting side projects turns up in my head has been shown. Maybe it’s like that for everyone?
Even if I edit my own stuff, I can get in my head to edit something completely different in parallel. Just because I have to. It’s almost like the brain tries to find a way out so that I wouldn’t feel so trapped by the things I have to do. A filmmaker I know urged me: “Just edit the scenes you enjoy editing all the time!” So I tested it. In the end you have to edit what’s not as much fun. But it makes you shrink a bit of the material that was not so good but was supposed to be included because you felt it communicated something important.
BTC: That you only edit what you enjoy editing, does that make what the film will become clearer to you?
MR: Yes, you have to start work anyway. And the best thing I think is to start from the beginning in a clip and go towards the end. That’s how I did it when I started out, and it does not work really for me. I cannot edit that way. Is there any editor doing that? I’d rather start cutting a good scene. Then I see what it could fit with. Instead of writing down on paper exactly what scenes in what order from the beginning. It’ll end up being too static then.
BTC: When you make your own films, you basically do everything yourself. Is it a bit blurred along the way even for you or is it more about a need of control?
MR: Making a longer documentary, it’s more about economics actually. I know, for example, what it costs to hire an editor for example. Obviously I can ask someone that I know to make it a bit cheaper. Of course, I also know that everybody is in a tough spot economically so it feels better to have a budget that is more realistic. Such a big project finances myself in principle. But if I hire an editor, already then it’ll be difficult. So that’s a lot because of the economy of the projects, because I really enjoy to collaborate with people.
It is also about finding the right people to collaborate with. Especially when filming, it’s good fun not to be a solo photographer but rather to have someone who is a photographer that I know has his own creative thinking. Then it will probably not end up as I think it will be but it will probably be something that is even more interesting. Yes, that’s probably more of a financial question, as I said.
Economic reasons are a very sad reason for not finding co-operation. I see a problem in the fact that there are so many one-man filmmakers. The ones that become the most successful as a filmmaker are probably those who find a partner and work together in several projects. Some people work with a sibling or relative. Take the Coen Brothers for example.
Some meet while they are studying or after their studies and continue to have a common vision. Sometimes it’s just a coincidence; a photographer and a director who find each other. I really can understand that. Teaming together and returning to that same team. Control? No. It’s probably more in the cutting phase in that case. Then you shape everything to what you see in your head. On the other hand, if you bring in an editor from the very beginning, then it’s that person’s task to do that based on his own head based on what I’ve communicated. Then you have to let go of control and be content with that it may not be as I’ve visualised it but hopefully it will be even better.
BTC: Much of your work seems to be about playfulness, curiosity and chance. In your films, but also in how you take on making films. Where does inspiration and new impressions come from?
MR: Other films and filmmakers in essence. It can also be still images. Music. It’s really a little bit of everything. All kinds of art expressions have something to be inspired by and to see what is possible. It is really strange that you need to get an impression from the outside to understand what is possible. In any way, all people limit themselves. A fantasy barrier, but also some kind of creative barrier for how far you can go or how far you can take it. By seeing others passing their barriers, one feels that it is possible! Inspiration can also come from just observing. It sounds like such a crazy cliché, but if you can switch on that mindset then you can absorb the smallest absurdities in any given moment.
BTC: Is it then the pure coincidence? Or is it more conscious and planned; An event takes place on Tuesday that seems promising.
MR: Well, it may be a bit planned. Then it may also be that I see someone else’s work, a photo exhibition, then suddenly I see pictures everywhere I did not see before. It also has a lot to do with that. That inspiration turns on a certain gaze. How to look at everyday life. For my part, it does not work automatically. I have to have something that expresses it. An ignition.
I’m still doing photography a lot. Both for pure coincidence, when I happen to have my camera with me, and it can also be something very specific that I go out to look for. Mistakes are also quite interesting. Things that do not go as you have imagined play a rather big part. Bloopers. It’s not so often, but sometimes it happens that I have material that I’ve filmed, which I didn’t intend to shoot. Instead of just seeing it as junk, I can think that I do not necessarily need to delete it because it can be something I can actually use. This is also a little stupid because you get so much material.
BTC: If we look forward. What do you see? Projects you want to do? New tracks to explore?
MR: I should be doing a part-time job somewhere in order to make the economy go around. If I look at my finances over the past 15 years, it has not improved at all. It’s just as half-ass as it was 15 years ago. If I compare that to others of my age, who have so-called real jobs, it is as though we belong to two completely different social classes. Haha!