Inside the Dome

Inside the Dome

By Michael Pickard
April 6, 2023

In production

Norwegian drama Kuppel 16 (Dome 16) imagines a romance between two teenagers in a futuristic society divided by wealth and inequality. Tordenfilm producers Eric Vogel and Ingunn Sundelin tell DQ about building the world of the show, sustainable production and avoiding cliches.

Eric Vogel

At its heart, Norwegian series Kuppel 16 (Dome 16) is the story of two teenagers from different sides of the tracks whose chance meeting sparks a forbidden romance that puts them both in danger.

But like any good science fiction series, it uses the trappings of an otherworldly environment to discuss issues extremely relevant to modern audiences. Here, the blossoming relationship between Anton and Emma is set against the backdrop of a dystopian world where society is literally separated by inequality, as the show draws upon themes of class, wealth, poverty and the impact of climate change.

Anton (Johannes Blumenthal) lives a privileged life with his family inside a huge dome, a completely self-sustaining society where he is protected from pandemics, extreme weather, pollution and social unrest. Yet the 16-year-old is becoming more curious about the world outside the dome, a wild, sometimes lawless place under threat of ecological disaster where Emma (Flo Fagerli) lives among a clan made up of her friends and family.

But when Anton’s curiosity gets the better of him and he happens upon a chance meeting with Emma, he is driven to leave the protective confines of the dome and they are drawn together in the most challenging circumstances.

Produced by Oslo-based Tordenfilm, the 10-part series marks the latest collaboration between the company and writer Thomas Torjussen, following their partnerships on Zombielars, Valkyrien and Koselig med peis (Norwegian Cozy).

Ingunn Sundelin

The idea for a domestic young-adult story set in a heightened, futuristic world emerged as they were working on the third season of Zombielars, with development starting shortly after that series concluded. Norwegian public broadcaster NRK also joined the production in its infancy, while Global Screen later picked up distribution rights.

“It was actually 15 years ago when Thomas started thinking about climate change as a theme and he had been searching for a way to shine a light on that and find something that could work in a series,” producer and Tordenfilm CEO Eric Vogel tells DQ. “Then he had this image of a boy and a girl, one living in privilege and one living outside it, and looking at a burgeoning romance as a motor for describing this world while still keeping it relatable.

“It’s a vehicle to discuss equality – or inequality – and a lot of things. When Thomas comes up with his initial ideas, they’re always something he can pour a lot of himself into. He sees the setting as a means to lift a lot of themes he’s been thinking about for a lot of years.”

“It wasn’t about a need to make a sci-fi series,” adds fellow producer Ingunn Sundelin. “That was more of a tool to tell the story about something happening right now.”

But, wary of playing in such a well-known genre, the first thing they did was decide how they wanted to avoid any cliches and keep the story as original as possible.

Anton (Johannes Blumenthal) and Emma (Flo Fagerli) come from different sides of the tracks

“One of the cliches of sci-fi is that in the future, nothing is fun. It’s all just strict and humourless and self-important,” Vogel explains. “We wanted to make something on a social level, but not really fetishise technology or fancy vehicles. They have to be there, they’re part of the setting, but Thomas’ metaphor is if we made an office drama today, we wouldn’t keep filming the printer because it’s a fancy piece of machinery in an office.

“In the same way, he and his co-director wanted to find a way to just be in the everyday of these characters. It just happens that the everyday is quite different from our own. We can’t compete with the spectacle of North American productions on a high budget, but we can really use the Nordic viewpoint and the Nordic approach to focus on characters and have some levity, and try and make sci-fi with a new flavour.”

Sundelin admits they were initially uncertain as to whether it was even possible to make a sci-fi series on their budget, which came in at around €5m (US£5.5m) – which makes Dome 16 Tordenfilm’s most expensive project ever.

The Dome is set in a dystopian world where society is separated by inequality

But to ensure they could tell this story without going into the red, they brought onboard a VFX supervisor during early development to work out how the show could achieve the production design and visual aesthetics Torjussen – who also directs alongside Daniel Voldheim – and the producers wanted.

“Per minute, it’s the most expensive one we’ve done but it comes from the genre,” Vogel says. “As a writer, Thomas is the first one to say, ‘I’m a writer, I don’t know if I’m writing something that’s possible or something I think is really impossible but is actually easy.’ So having the VFX supervisor as employee number two after Thomas was an important part of the foundation to be able to construct a framework to do it.”

So how much of the world of the series was actually built, and how much was generated by visual effects in post-production?

“The rooms inside the dome, they are all mainly studio builds, with some VFX elements. But where it’s mostly VFX is outside in the dome and the public areas in the dome,” Sundelin reveals. “That’s a huge part of VFX, so that’s only green screen in studios. Part of the outside world is also VFX, but it’s mainly shot on location. [The VFX] is mainly views of the dome itself. We didn’t build a dome.”

Much of the filming is done on location with additions in VFX

“The approach was really to find locations and then think how we can put flourishes in and extend them [with VFX],” continues Vogel, who says the production team also sought to keep costs down – and sustainability up – by filming locally in Oslo and the surrounding area.

“We declared we were going to make the future just around us and augment that with digital work, but it’s actually very reality-based and locally based,” he notes.

But although the cast and crew didn’t travel, Dome 16 is truly an international series after post-production work was completed in the Netherlands. That strategy meant they could also utilise funding from Oslo Filmfond and the EU’s Creative Media fund.

“This is an international coproduction that never travelled anywhere,” Vogel says of working with partners including Storyline Studios in Oslo and Amsterdam-based Big Blue Productions. “Things are changing and happening now in terms of encouraging sustainable production in an internationally cooperative way. Locations shoots happen all around, and it’s only natural that you’re looking for financing [from international partners], but for this one, we stayed at home and that didn’t keep us from being international.”

Emma lives in the wild, lawless world outside the dome

Dome 16 launched locally on NRK at the end of 2022 and was screened to international audiences during Berlinale Series earlier this year. Tordenfilm are now developing a second season, while the company is also building on the success of fertility drama Made in Oslo, which also launched last year on streamer Viaplay.

But Vogel says he pays little attention to what channel commissioners say they are looking for, preferring to develop material he and his Tordenfilm colleagues feel passionate about making.

“The company is 20 years old and we started as a traditional feature film company,” he says. “Having evolved into series and done a few now – this is our fourth series with Thomas – we are best served by trying to make what we think is important to make and then try to navigate and find the partners.

“Jumping after the various shifting winds of commissioning and structures is very exhausting. I’d rather keep doing what we’re doing and hope that we are able to also attract partners and commissioners. The key to that is taking care of talent, crews and cast and also sustainability and continuity, and having the right mix of experience and new energy. We’re not going to make the next show by repeating ourselves. We really start with a need – somebody has a need to tell a story, whether it’s Kathrine [Valen Zeiner] who wrote Made in Oslo and Thomas or whoever, it starts with that. Then five years later, there’s a show.”

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