Gustav Moller, 30, started work on his gripping Oscar contending film, ‘The Guilty,’ literally the day he finished film school. Here, he explains how he pulled it off.
When Gustav Moller, now just 30, graduated from the National Film School of Denmark in 2015, he had an idea for a movie and he started writing it with a fellow grad, the very next day. That idea was the beginning of Gustav’s intense new thriller, The Guilty, which is Denmark’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards on Feb. 24.
“It’s not only my first film, I made the film with my co-students from film school who were most of the crew,” he told HollywoodLife in an EXCLUSIVE interview. “This was an extreme idea in a way and we just kind of said, okay… we’re at the roulette table right now, and we should put everything on black… and really go the extra mile to try to make this work.”
The “extreme idea” that Gustav is talking about is a suspenseful thriller in which a police officer, who is being disciplined, has been assigned to answer emergency calls at a 911 center. While he is on duty, the evening before he will appear in court, to hopefully, be cleared to go back to street work, he receives an emergency call from a terrified woman, who claims that she has been abducted.
Asger Holm, played by Jakob Cedergren, finds himself inexorably drawn into helping the woman, Iben (Jessica Dinnage), after nights of dealing with calls from drunks, pranksters and nuisances. The film is shot entirely in the claustrophobic emergency call center with headsets, telephones and computers as the only props and with all the main characters, besides, Asger unseen and only heard through the telephone.
Moller often does long takes zeroing in on Asger’s face as he desperately tries to help police locate the abducted woman in a white van, that is on the move. As an emergency dispatcher he is NOT supposed to cross the line into “detective” work — trying to discover where the “kidnapper” might be headed and what might be his motive nevertheless, he can’t help himself.
To prepare for the film, Moller and his co-writer spent lots of time in real life 911 call centers to see how the actual real life operators worked. Nevertheless, “this is not a film about a typical 911 dispatch worker,” explains Gustav. This is a film about a police officer that has been through some very traumatic experiences and has made decisions in his past that are coloring everything he does, and it’s a character portrait of a person in a very dire situation. So, I wouldn’t say in any way that his actions reflect how these people work.”
Asger “is the guy who doesn’t do the job right because doing the job right would be to keep distance and to stay professional and to follow order… I think the people we spoke to, they would not act the way he did,” Gustav admits. Now, because Asger does cross the line from simply doing his “dispatch” job and passing along info to the police, and does gets emotionally involved in Iben’s plight, we as viewers go along on his tense journey.
The result is an intense suspenseful thriller that has multiple twists, which I can’t reveal. And Moller proves that you don’t need a massive studio budget, squealing car chases and martial arts fight scenes to create a riveting onscreen experience. “It feels thrilling but not in the traditional sense,” Gustav agrees. I feel I’m always going to be drawn to films that have a fresh take on something, whether it be a genre or a theme or whatever it is.”
He was inspired to conceive, The Guilty, after hearing real life 911 calls in a podcast called, This American Life. “Then I stumbled on a real 911 call on YouTube. It’s with this woman sitting next to her abductor in a car telling 911 and like in The Guilty, she has to speak in codes in order to not get revealed,” Gustav says. “It was so gripping, I felt like I was in the car, seeing this woman and even the kidnapper.”
Now, that Moller could be headed for the Oscars, he tells HollywoodLife that, “It’s just an honor to be representing Denmark with my first film.” He’s already working with some of his same team on another film project that, “makes you reflect on some complex issues.”
Check out our exclusive trailer for The Guilty, above and it can be seen in NYC at The Quad and Film Society of Lincoln’s Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and On Demand on iTunes, Amazon and cable VOD.