Tag Archives: When the Dust Settles

Gold Dust

Danish drama Når støvet har lagt sig (When the Dust Settles) sees a disparate group of characters brought together by a devastating terrorist attack in Copenhagen. DQ finds out why this isn’t another Nordic noir.

At first, there is little to link the ensemble cast of characters at the centre of Danish drama Når støvet har lagt sig (When the Dust Settles). A father is fighting to keep his family together, an elderly man struggles to come to terms with his limitations and a female politician is making headlines with her latest initiative.

However, through the use of flash-forwards, the audience is soon informed of the tragic circumstances that will bring them together – a devastating terrorist attack at a restaurant in the centre of Copenhagen.

Ida Maria Rydén

This use of dramatic irony, where viewers know more about the characters’ fate than the characters themselves, is the driving force behind the 10-part drama, whose first four episodes introduce the eight main characters, before the central tragedy unfolds in episode five. The remaining instalments then follow the aftermath of the attack, which has a profound impact on these people and their city.

As the series comes from Danish pubcaster DR, the home of Forbrydelsen (The Killing) and Broen (The Bridge), “maybe some people will be disappointed it’s not a Nordic noir show,” says Dorte Høgh, who created the series with her Dicte writing partner Ida Maria Rydén. “But it’s actually very different. It’s not exciting in that way. It has suspense in it, as you wonder what’s going to happen to these people, but there’s no action. It’s really just about ordinary people and their lives.”

The idea for the series emerged when Rydén and Høgh, who went to film school together, were discussing their shared fondness for Robert Altman’s movie Short Cuts, which follows 22 main characters through parallel and sometimes connected stories. From there, they thought about how people can be brought together by a single event, and developed the series for six months before taking it to DR. Launching on the pubcaster in January, When the Dust Settles is distributed internationally by DR Sales.

“We thought that idea of connectivity was so important because everyone feels divided somehow, but we’re not,” Høgh tells DQ. “The fact is we’re more connected than ever. So whatever you do has a butterfly effect on someone else. That was the beginning. Then we thought, ‘What’s the ultimate way to connect people?’ We figured out that would be terror.”

Rydén picks up: “When we started, we were curious to see how many ways you can react to a big event. We thought some of them might go mad, some become very vulnerable, and we just checked out these different approaches. They have all taken some nice and strange journeys, some of which have surprised us as well.”

When the Dust Settles tracks eight main characters before and after a terrorist attack

From the outset, the writers were keen to ensure the story featured a cross-section of society, with each character taking on a different role – the hero, the coward, the leader and the suspect, for example. “We wanted all the main characters to be from eight to 80 so we have all kinds of ages, and different genders, sexualities and ethnicities,” Rydén says. “Then we fleshed them out with everything we know about being human. Anybody can be in a terror attack, but how would they act? We didn’t know how it would end, we just went along with it.”

Crucially, the focus of the show is not on those who commit the atrocity or why, but with the central characters, whose lives are followed before and after the attack. That the incident doesn’t happen until midway through the series also seems unusual, but the writers were keen to show the ensemble living normal lives and dealing with everyday issues and problems until one event brings them together.

“We all know they’re getting on board Titanic, we know that as a viewer something terrible is going to happen, but they don’t know,” Høgh says. “We hope viewers become more engaged in the characters [as a result].”

Rydén admits that stepping away from crime dramas like Dicte and into a character-driven story was a challenge for the writers, who had to juggle numerous plots while ensuring that when characters weren’t in the ‘A’ plot of a particular episode, their storyline was still serviced and viewers still believed in them.

Stinna Lassen

“Normally, you can juggle four or maybe five characters, and we had eight. It’s horrible,” she says. “I’m never doing it again!”

Høgh adds: “We had to make rules for ourselves. They all needed to be either in some kind of relationship or outside a relationship, struggling to get into a family or out. So they all have problems. We also gave the characters a flaw. They make a mistake in the first four episodes or they have secrets, something they are not really showing. So the terror attack needed to have an effect on these people.

“But only some of them are in the restaurant. The closer they get in time and place, you don’t know who’s going to walk in because, right up until the last moment, some of them are talking about going out to eat, while somebody works there but [might be getting fired]. That’s the whole thing. You don’t know who’s there until episode five.”

Producer Stinna Lassen (The Team) joined the creative team, which also includes conceptual director Milad Alami, just six weeks before shooting was due to begin in November 2018. “My main focus was to set a group of three directors who I thought were both experienced storytellers but also new to the TV scene and had a rich and original take on the material,” she says of bringing Alami, Iran Haq and Jeanette Nordahl together behind the camera. “Ida and Dorte are very experienced writers and I thought it would be exciting to pair them with quite new talent, which is a little untraditional for DR.”

The series also stands out as one of the first of its kind to air on the broadcaster, due to its character-laden, multi-plot storyline. “It’s very ambitious to want to tell a story where you follow eight characters with eight stories, as well as supporting characters and storylines,” Lassen explains. “Danish shows have become famous for quite intimate, character-driven stories, but this has the ambition of having eight nuanced main characters that are very different, in age, gender, sexuality and class.”

The producer split her time working with the scriptwriters, as well as being a regular in the editing room and watching dailies from the set. “It’s just continuous process,” Lassen says. “But it’s also like producing five feature films in parallel with different crews. It’s my job to make sure we’re all in sync from the beginning and people know what we’re doing, and then my directors will inspire the crew to carry out the vision. But obviously, I’m very much involved in overseeing everything that comes out of the material.”

With shooting taking place predominantly on location in the Danish capital, only the restaurant where the attack takes place and one character’s home were built in a studio. Lassen says it was a challenge to realise the scale of the story, with each character having their own “arena.”

The drama is being distributed internationally by DR Sales

“The number of locations we needed to find was a bit daunting,” she notes. “There was just a lot of moving around, which is always a risk because you lose a lot of time. But it wasn’t as big a problem as I anticipated.

“One of the characters, Jamal [played by Arian Kashef], is a Palestinian guy and it is a challenge in Denmark to find actors who are not extremely Danish and white,” she continues. “So just finding great actors, both professional and amateur, for that storyline was also a concern. We’ve been super-fortunate to find great actors, but it is a challenge in Denmark. We’re a bit behind when it comes to that, to be honest, but hopefully that will change so people can see different characters on screen.”

Then when it came to filming the terror attack, security on set was paramount, while the cast that day – a combination of main characters, extras and stunt actors – were involved in the planning of the scene a month before it was recorded. “We would workshop it again and again, we storyboarded it, then we would film the workshop and the storyboards. So by the time we were on set to shoot it, we knew exactly when people would do what and where the camera would be,” Lassen says.

“There’s no blood or gore – that’s not of interest. But the camera doesn’t look away either, so it has a dryness to it. It’s very unsentimental and the camera just observes, which makes it very brutal to watch.”

Rydén says she cried for 20 minutes when she first saw the footage of the attack. “It’s very simple, cruel and brutal. I was so overwhelmed – it was a bit embarrassing because I wrote that episode, so I should know what happens,” she says. “We call the style ‘naked.’ We’ve not done anything to the filming style. It’s not documentary but it’s very close. It feels real. That takes a good director. You can’t write that. That’s where Milad is very good, making it very sincere and very true.

“I think it will hit viewers hard, but I hope it will bring good feelings, even though it’s a tough show to watch. You will think about your own life.”

Høgh is correct when she says When the Dust Settles isn’t another Nordic noir but, like the best of the genre, it is set to grip viewers as the problems of an everyday group of people fade into the shadows in the face of a devastating terrorist attack.

The writer concludes: “From the beginning, these strangers have an impact on each other’s lives. These people are not connected, they don’t know each other, but there’s a reason why some of them arrive at the restaurant and some of them don’t, and it’s because of something someone else does.”

Milad Alami

Calling the shots
With the plan from the outset to tell a story of a group of unconnected people before, during and after a terrorist attack, the obvious decision was to place the incident itself bang in the middle of the 10-episode series.

With that in mind, there was no way conceptual director Milad Alami wasn’t going to film the focal point of Når støvet har lagt sig (When the Dust Settles) himself. So after shooting the first two episodes, the production jumped to episode five and that cold, unemotional and shockingly brutal moment when two gunmen enter a restaurant and mow down dozens of diners.

By the time the attack is shown on screen, Alami hopes viewers will have come to care deeply about the characters – feelings that will have been encouraged by the way he chose to film the series.

“We talked about having a more immediate and poetic approach to the story,” he says. “These types of series often have a more classical visual style but we wanted an immediate, rough appearance so that when we are with the characters, we really are with them. The first thing you see is the characters and you follow that person around. We had to be clear our main characters are the most important. We had to work with natural light and a handheld style, and to be more immediate with it.

“Because it’s about eight characters who are different in sex, background and class, instead of changing the visual language with each character, it felt interesting to give them the same space and the same visual language.”

When it came to the attack in episode five, Alami worked closely with DOP Sebastian Winterø to ensure the attack was filmed in an authentic and ugly way, as far from a blockbuster action movie style as possible. They also leaned on influences such as Gus Van Sant’s school shooting movie Elephant and the films of Michael Haneke to put the audience in the restaurant with the characters as events play out.

Some sequences in the episode had to be rehearsed, particularly when it came to utilising the numerous extras who filled the set. “We have some long sequences when actors are running everywhere; it just never ends,” Alami says.

“We were doing one scene where two actors were hiding and start crying and it just gets more awful. I shot it six or seven times because I wanted to reach a point where they were in the moment. We weren’t going after an action thing – all the violence in the series is super realistic and really dry. Someone gets shot and they fall down. It’s not like you usually see in films. There’s something eerie about that when you see it and work with it.”

When the Dust Settles marks the first television series for Alami, who returned to the set to film episodes nine and 10, with most of his previous work being feature films directed from his own writing. He was keen to join the project because of the creative freedom the writers and producers would afford him and the opportunity to tell a story about a diverse cross-section of society.

“Of course it was a challenge doing something I hadn’t written myself and trying to understand how I would approach an eight character, multi-plot show,” he adds. “But we had one week of discussions about all the characters, so when we were shooting it, all the things I was unsure about were gone. It felt very creative. I was more nervous before doing it than during filming.”

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Beyond Borgen

Writers Adam Price, Jeppe Gjervig Gram and actor Birgitte Hjort Sørensen made their names on Danish political drama Borgen. Michael Pickard finds out what they’ve been up to since and how the series shaped their careers.

When Borgen first aired in 2010, the idea that a television drama focusing on the complexities of Danish coalition politics might travel around the world must have seemed optimistic at best.

Even local pubcaster DR, which commissioned the show, wasn’t convinced it would have an international future. “The head of drama then, Ingolf Gabald, said from very early on, ‘Guys, don’t ever think this show will travel because it will not,’” remembers series creator Adam Price (pictured top centre with members of the Borgen cast). “It’s funny now. Of course, you can say in hindsight he missed that one because then it was sold to almost 100 countries.”

Gabold can be forgiven for his caution. But buoyed by the international success of Scandinavian exports such as Wallander, Forbrydelsen (The Killing), the Millennium film trilogy and Broen/Bron (The Bridge), Borgen was swept up in the wave of demand for series coming out of the region.

Price worked on DR series Herrens Veje (Ride Upon the Storm) starring Lars Mikkelsen

In the near-decade since Borgen made its debut, its stars – including Sidse Babett Knudsen (who played prime minister Birgitte Nyborg), Pilou Asbæk (her advisor Kasper Juul) and Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (journalist Katrine Fønsmark) – and those behind the camera have gone on to make series that have kept Danish drama in the global spotlight.

Price most recently wrapped on another DR series, Herrens Veje (Ride Upon the Storm), a two-season, 20-episode drama about a family of priests who each choose their own path to a meaningful life. It stars Lars Mikkelsen and is produced by Sam Productions, with StudioCanal distributing.

“I really wanted to try to understand religion,” Price says. “Religion is one of the most important and essential topics to choose when we’re talking big drama, and it’s a source of worry for so many people. It’s almost as if the debate about religion itself has become radicalised. It’s as if there’s no limit to what we are able to say to each other. I really wanted us to discuss and debate religion because, if we talk about religion, we might not kill each other.”

The writer says that although he is a fan of Nordic noir, he was keen to ensure Borgen’s successor didn’t follow the path of a “dark, gritty crime story, typically with dead people in forests and lonely, socially awkward police officers who have to solve the cases.” Instead, Price decided to explore a new genre, Nordic magical realism, with a story about spirituality and faith. “It’s incredibly important not to keep moving along the same alleyways. Even the Brits are now producing Nordic noir and have been for several years. It’s not a speciality of the Nordic countries anymore,” he says.

Ride Upon the Storm launched in the UK on streaming platform Walter Presents in January this year, the same month that Greyzone, which stars Borgen alumna Sørensen, also debuted on the Channel 4-backed service.

Few spotted Borgen, a drama centred in Danish politics, would have global appeal

The 10-part series, produced by Cosmo Films for TV2 and distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment, follows the events that lead up to a planned terror attack in Scandinavia, centring on brilliant drone engineer Victoria Rahbek (Sørensen), who is taken hostage.

Her captor is part of the terror cell planning the attack, with Victoria chosen so the group can acquire the components it needs from her company. Victoria must risk everything to steal the equipment while also working as a double agent for the police, who will do anything to prevent the attack.

“I could sense there was a high level of ambition from the people who created it,” the actor says of the show, which is written by Morten Dragster and Oskar Söderlund. “Greyzone is the term we have in Danish for ‘grey area’ – all the things that aren’t black and white, which is life. Often in fiction, there’s a given right or wrong because it reads well and you know who to root for, but in real life that’s hardly ever the case. So it really interested me that they wanted to dive into this complex world.

“It’s easy to write off terrorists as madmen or psychopaths. In our case, Victoria is forced to look behind the cold, brutal man she meets to try to understand how he became like this.”

At first, Greyzone appears to be a typical crime show or thriller, Sørensen says, before it reveals the internal psychological drama between Victoria and her captor, Iyad (Ardalan Esmaili). “It almost becomes like a play because we’re confined in this small space, her apartment. He intrudes into her world and then they have to live together in this odd way. All of the action takes place between them, at least in that part of the storyline.”

Borgen co-writer Jeppe Gjervig Gram

After her breakout role in Borgen, Sørensen landed parts in British dramas Marple and Midsomer Murders, starred in feature Pitch Perfect 2 and also appeared in HBO series Game of Thrones and Vinyl. What she enjoys about acting, she explains, is the opportunity to dive into different worlds, genres and characters, particularly when this gives her the chance to learn something new.

“I had a lot of great adventures abroad. The thing about working overseas is the budgets are usually bigger, so the toys are usually bigger – I would never get to do something like Game of Thrones in Denmark because we couldn’t afford it,” she continues. “It’s been so adventurous, but also, because it is a much bigger pond, I naturally become a smaller fish. I haven’t said I’ll never work abroad again, but there were a lot of days where I just sat on my own and I missed my family, so I made a conscious choice to move back home and be here and work here, and I’m really happy.

“Because Denmark is such a small country, it’s so familiar so it’s a very safe and comfortable way of working. Sometimes the sense of hierarchy is so strong in the UK and US, you feel like you’re just doing a job, whereas I feel more like part of the process in Denmark.”

One of Price’s Borgen co-writers, Jeppe Gjervig Gram, followed up the political drama with a series of his own creation, Bedrag (Follow the Money). The show, again for DR, explored the world of financial crime over three seasons, the last of which aired earlier this year and focused specifically on money laundering.

“After doing the second season, I felt we had spent so much time in expensive boardrooms and with CEOs that we’d told most of the stories I wanted to tell in that arena,” Gram says. “Piv Bernth, then head of DR drama [and Gabold’s successor], was very open to us pursuing a completely new direction. I came up with the idea of doing something about the laundering of drug money, which has always fascinated me as I live in a neighbourhood where there’s a lot of gang activity. I absolutely still love the first two seasons, but feeling completely free to change as much as we needed was a great starting point for fresh storytelling. DR is a place where they care a lot about the writer’s vision. They allowed us to do that even though it’s quite a big risk for the broadcaster.”

That kind of freedom is rare in television, particularly from a free-to-air public broadcaster. Gram admits it was both refreshing and daunting, but with Follow the Money’s third run earning rave reviews, “DR’s wonderful gamble in the form of maximum trust in the writer luckily paid off, and the freedom of creativity has been a true pleasure,” he says.

“I’m very proud of the third season and the way we’ve done it, especially where we have been brave and taken risks and chances because that’s really what makes interesting series at the moment. There are so many series being made right now and it’s the ones that take risks that stand out. Of course, some won’t work, but that’s part of taking risks.”

Greyzone stars Borgen actress Birgitte Hjort Sørensen

Price remembers being afforded the same freedom when he, Gram and Tobias Lindholm were writing Borgen. Of course, at that time, there were no expectations placed on them, either in Denmark or internationally. “We had a great cast, we had a reasonably good budget and all the freedom in the world, which was amazing,” he says. “We could just write the show we really wanted to write. We could basically lean back and try to make the best show, in Danish terms, we could possibly make. That very local nerve in the show made it very global. That freedom meant so much to us.”

Borgen’s success has also launched many careers, he adds. “All of a sudden – and this was the case with Ride Upon the Storm – we could finance a Danish show with money from several European broadcasters because we were known names for them and they really wanted the next shows.

“Birgitte, Pilou (Game of Thrones) and Sidse (Westworld) have also had amazing international careers that began with the Borgen years. The freedom and lack of expectation at the time we were doing it was tremendously important.”

On Borgen, “it was the fact we always had so much fun,” Gram says. “We never argued. We could disagree on something but we would always look for something even better because we trusted each other’s instincts. That’s something I remember well. It was very playful and ambitious in the way we were searching for ideas.”

Sørensen was only two years out of drama school when she landed her part in Borgen, which she credits with making her a household name in Denmark and thus providing her ticket to working abroad.

“I’m immensely proud of it, I loved doing it. I feel like I got an extra education, not just working with cameras, which you don’t really learn in drama school, but also it was an introduction for me to take an interest in politics and the world, so I feel like I grew up on that show. It’s very dear to me.”

DR’s Bedrag (Follow the Money) explores the world of financial crime

Price is now heading into production on his next series, Ragnarok, a six-part drama for Netflix. The Norwegian-language show unfolds in the fictional small town of Edda in the middle of the Norwegian countryside and is described as a modern-day coming-of-age drama rooted in Norse mythology.

“It is a story about climate change,” Price explains of the high-school set series. “We’re asking the question, ‘Is the world coming to an end?’ I have done politics, I have done religion – now we are coming to the end of the world.”

But it is something he learned on Borgen that Price keeps with him long after that show ended, and will prove particularly useful now he is working on a series that will roll out simultaneously in more than 190 countries worldwide.

“You have to write a story that means something to you,” he says. “You cannot have all kinds of thoughts about how someone will react to it in South America. You cannot let thoughts like that disturb you too much, because you will end up confused in your choices. You have to focus on your story. If I believe it and feel it and make other people feel it, then it stands a chance of working internationally as well.”

Let the Danes begin

Four new dramas hailing from Denmark were showcased during Berlinale’s Drama Series Days event in February. DQ rounds up the selection.

Når støvet har lagt sig (When the Dust Settles, pictured)
A terrorist attack at a Copenhagen restaurant is dramatised in terrifyingly vivid fashion in the latest drama from pubcaster DR, created by Dicte’s Ida Maria Rydén and Dorte W Høgh. Yet rather than dwell on the incident itself, the 10-part limited series is a character-driven piece that focuses on a group of people both before and after the attack and examines how their lives are interwoven. It is produced by Stinna Lassen (The Team) and DR Drama and is being sold internationally by DR Sales. When the Dust Settles is slated to air locally in January 2020.

Sygeplejeskolen (The New Nurses)
Following the success of the first season last autumn, The New Nurses is returning for a second six-part run, continuing the 1950s-set story about the first intake of male nurses in post-war Denmark. It is produced by SF Studios and Senia Dremstrup for TV 2, with REinvent Studios distributing.

Den Som Dræber – Fanget af Mørket (Darkness – Those Who Kill)
A reboot of 2011’s Those Who Kill, this eight-part serialised crime thriller asks not whodunnit but ‘whydunnit’ when a profiler is called in to help save two kidnapped girls from a murderer. Commissioned by Nordic streaming service Viaplay, it is produced by Miso Film and written by Ina Bruhn. Fremantle is handing worldwide sales.

The Rebels from No 69
Based on the true story of radicalised white youths who started riots when they were evicted from a shared house in Copenhagen, The Rebels from No 69 is described as a coming-of-age series that follows 20-year-old Camilla, who leaves her parents’ home under the pretence of living with her older brother but ends up moving into the house. When the council sells the property to a church, its inhabitants barricade themselves inside, leading the army to storm the premises. Currently in pre-production, it is produced by Made in Copenhagen for TV2 and distributed by REinvent Studios

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