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Inside One of the Most Dangerous Film Shoots in History with Jon Gustafsson
We have all heard stories of difficult and even dangerous film shoots before but today’s story tops them all. In today’s episode we welcome filmmaker Jon Gustafsson. This filmmaker was in the belly of the beast as they say. His documentary Wrath of Gods documents one of the most dangerous and difficult film shoots in modern film history.
When Canadian director Sturla Gunnarsson and his cast and crew, including Gerard Butler and Stellan Skarsgård, set upon Iceland to film Beowulf & Grendel in 2004, they expected the usual complications involved in making a major motion picture. What they encountered was a ruthless Icelandic winter on a foreboding landscape, financing complications and a bizarre run of bad luck that led some of them to believe they were in an epic battle with the Norse gods themselves.
Filmmaker Jon Gustafsson was along for the ride. Hired to play one of Beowulf’s warriors, he’s one set with his camera as the crew battles hurricane force winds and he’s in the backroom as the producers scramble to shore up a collapsing deal, creating an intimate portrait of filmmakers fighting the odds in pursuit of a vision.
I’m also honor to announce that you can watch Wrath of Gods on Indie Film Hustle TV. Plus you’ll get exclusive bonus materials not available anywhere else. If you liked Lost in la Mancha or Burden of Dreams you will probably like this one.
Enjoy my conversation with Jon Gustafsson.
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Alex Ferrari 0:03
I like to welcome to the show, Jon Gustafson. How are you doing, john?
Jon Gustafsson 0:24
I'm very good. Thank you. How are you?
Alex Ferrari 0:26
Oh, thank you, my friend, thank you for being on the show you are in, coming from us from Iceland. Probably one of the more safer places in the world to be right now. Regarding COVID,
Jon Gustafsson 0:38
absolutely. And about to get even even more safe. Because there is some, there's some big, big news happening here with with COVID in Iceland. And we have like, on every given day, we have like between zero and maybe five positive
Alex Ferrari 1:01
siblings. Stop it. Stop it. I live in Los Angeles, please.
Jon Gustafsson 1:08
But we are on Isla an island in the North Atlantic almost by the Arctic Circle. We have a population of 350,000 people. We have one International Airport. So we can actually, and they have put in restrictions. Everybody who lands in Iceland now is forced to have a test at the at the airport, and then quarantine for five days and then be tested again. So we got some, you know,
Alex Ferrari 1:34
well, I envy you, sir in many, many ways. So, but we're here to talk about film talk, let's talk shop. So before we get started, how did you get into the ridiculous film business?
Jon Gustafsson 1:51
It's, um, it's a bit of a long story that I'll just try to compress a little bit. I my first love was music I that. But I was never really that good. As a musician. I ended up in studios producing, recording. And then, in in high school, basically, my friend of mine had a radio show. And I figured, you know, hey, maybe he can get me a job on a radio show on national radio. So I ended up getting a weekly show, playing one hour, a week of music. So I fell in love with radio. And I decided this, this, you know, this could be a career. And I went to BBC in London and studied radio production. And I came back and there was no, there were no jobs for me in in radio. So I figured television might be similar, you know, similar elements to work with. So I went to the TV station, and there was a crazy guy who had taken over the program's department and he was an old film director, used to do Viking movies. And he saw me walk in and he gave me a job on the spot. So suddenly, I had a job and television and I he actually gave me my own show, just sort of weird situation. And so I had my own television show for about two years. And then I said, Hey, you know, this is this is this is an interesting place to work. But I do I don't want to be in front of the camera. I want to be one of the other side. So I started looking for a place to study television production. And I found a school in in Manchester, England, so and i because I had worked in television, they led me into the second year. So I missed the first year. Second beginning of second year, was a class where they sat us down and said no, we're going to do a short film, go home and write a script and bring it back. And then we'll pick some scripts and we'll shoot them. And that was just an eye opening thing for me. Like Suddenly, a whole new world opened up. So I finished my bachelor's at Manchester Polytechnic, and soon realized they didn't know anything about filmmaking. This this sort of World of filmmaking that was opening up for me I was already like 25 or 26. But so this world of filmmaking opened up, but the the the guy who was the head of the film school, he said in one of our first classes, he said, Now, now you're a film students, you should see yourselves as filmmakers. So, you know, don't be afraid to walk around like this.
Alex Ferrari 4:56
And you're holding up. I'm sorry. What is it Like, like I know this, but I don't I don't know the Okay, so people listening he's holding up he's putting his hands together and not the standard like you know, letterbox or or the shot of like the framing your shot with it you know that famous those famous director shots where you see them holding up their hands, trying to frame it with their fingers. He's holding up a drop some sort of I don't even know what that is. So that that says a lot about the teacher, I guess. But I think the nicest guy you could find, you know, so supportive, so encouraging. But I found out his background was from the pottery department he was a pottery teacher, so that would explain the the pot the pot look. So you're starting off with you're starting off with a bang, okay.
Jon Gustafsson 5:52
Yeah, but, you know, I actually was in a great class made some one of my best friend from from from that class. It was a small class, but you see, she ended up making a film that was distributed by Miramax all over the world, and, and so on. So, so, you know, it was not completely hopeless. But I realized that these people did not could not teach me filmmaking and I was spent two years in Manchester and it was raining the whole time. It was raining and cloudy, foggy. And I figured I'm going to continue down this path, but I'm going to do it where the sun shines, you know, so I applied for some schools in LA played to like three schools and got into one called CalArts, California Institute of the Arts, and got into a master program there for directing theater and cinema. With actually amazing teacher gold Alexander Mackendrick, who was one of the Ealing studios, sort of golden years. Directors. He directed. The lady killers, the original Lady Killer. Oh, wow. And another one called man of the white suit. Which was an Ealing comedy. He made whiskey galore. Very sad. You know, the ladykillers probably the most famous one. And then he moved to the states and did sweet smell of success with Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster.
Alex Ferrari 7:42
Wow. So he was he was he was a heavy hitter of his day.
Jon Gustafsson 7:46
He was very much and then he pretty much got ruined by Lancaster. Like, that's the ruins his career. And so he ended up teaching, he had emphysema and, and he you know, smoke too much all his life. Sure, sure. Sure. Sure. So he drive his buggy around school and, and teach us directing. And so so it was like old school filmmaking, film language. Pretty much the way they would shoot films at Ealing studios. God, it
Alex Ferrari 8:34
was very old. It was the old style of filmmaking like, you know, more studio style kind of filmmaking, which then leads me to one of the main reasons I got you on the show is because of your film, Beowulf and Grendel which is, you know, I'm just curious how that whole studio mentality worked. I don't think it was very, very similar. How did that work out? Well, first of all, tell us about Beowulf and Grendel, how you got involved with the project. And then we'll go into the misadventures, let's call them of the making of
Jon Gustafsson 9:12
Beowulf and Grendel was directed by one of my best friends, a guy called Sterling Gunderson. He's one of the leading directors in Canada. And he was born in Iceland, grew up in in Canada. And it was it was his dream project. He has been had been making movies for a while and he was no Oscar is an Oscar nominated director. And he wanted to make this big, big film in in Iceland's Bible story of Babel and grant all he wanted to shoot it in this sort of primal landscape of Iceland and So, he called me one day and asked, he had a list of actors, and he just wanted to, like, you know, run them by me. What do you think about, you know, the big names of young guys. None of them seem to seem to seem to fit. But the last name was Gerard Butler was pretty much unknown back then. And he said, so, you know, have you heard of this guy. And as it happened, did, I got five days earlier, my friend from Manchester had called me and said, I just finished a film with Gerard Butler and, and Emily Mortimer, and it's going to be playing at Tribeca, and Miramax is giving us a limo 24 hour limo, like for the whole duration, you know, come down and party with us for the Tribeca festival. And so, I knew I was I was going to be hanging out with him. So I told sturla to come down to Toronto with me. And so we we met up with with Jerry and still ended up casting him for the film. So it's digital a basically asked me to come along and shoot sort of behind the scenes stuff. To do a website for the film, it was probably the first time our film was being promoted as it was being shot, at least a film off that level. So I would be like interviewing Jerry taking pictures, interviewing different people putting it onto the web, as little web videos, little behind the thing behind the scenes, things. And with no money, just a little, tiny little Sony mini DV camera. He gave me a little mini DV camera and gave me a box of tapes. So in order to, you know, justify having me there the whole time. He cast me as Bible warrior number two, Bible, played by Jerry had an army of 10 people. And some of them had names. And then the Bible's warrior number one babbles warrior, right. So I was just completely at the bottom of that list of 10. Warriors, pretty much. It was interesting guys in that in that team, one of them ended up on a game of thrones, playing the hand on Game of Thrones, for example. And so I was there in Viking costume for 40 shooting days. So I basically basically lived in these remote country hotels and guest houses. And 40 shooting days in chainmail armor, um, you know, this sort of leather stuff. helmet, had my own sword, and some other weapons.
Alex Ferrari 13:29
So then and then so he hired you basically, to do a documentary or look behind the scenes, or did you just just, we're just there to kind of document things in and you're like, wait a minute, there's a documentary here. Let me do a little bit more with it.
Jon Gustafsson 13:43
It's right from the start, things started going wrong. We were supposed to start shooting at the end of July. And because of financing, because of the British co-producers mostly, they didn't put in their money. The shooting got delayed, everything got delayed into the fall. So this from from very early on, this became a story of things going wrong. So when you're when they're going to build a set on top of a mountain, on the south coast of Iceland, with the open North Atlantic, right there in front of you. And then you get delayed into the fall. You're into the storm season. You know, those big storms that come up the East Coast of the US and they they spin up basically across the Atlantic. So we have a lot of those because some of the some of those storms and hurricanes hit to the east coast. Some of them are just out at sea but they all end up in Iceland so we have a very stormy season. For all season, so things went wrong, right from the start.
Alex Ferrari 15:08
And then so Okay, so because from from your movie wrath of God, you know, it's it is arguably one of the most difficult sets and difficult productions I've ever seen. Go going through a documentary. I mean, I saw the documentary of the abyss with James Cameron, which arguably was one of the toughest, obviously, Apocalypse Now. Hearts of darkness. Obviously, that's a very difficult one. But this is this is up there as one of the more difficult ones because it just seemed like you were just getting not only pounded, but you were getting pounded from multiple directions and nothing seemed to be going right. Can you tell me about the Viking blessing because apparently, it might have been a blessing or a curse depending on how you look at it.
Jon Gustafsson 15:52
The composure for the film, baby grand total is a is an incredibly good composer. He's also the head, pagan priest of Iceland's of Botha, pagan religion. So certainly got into to come on the you know, the night before the first shooting day and perform this, this ritual, a pagan blessing. And so he's doing his ceremony there and we don't understand the word he's saying, but we're whole or the whole crew, you know, we have like, you know, Jared Butler, we have Stellan skarsgard, from Sweden, and you know, all these all these big actors and stuff, people around. And then after the ceremony, Stuart law, the director, he he falls and hits his head on the rocks and then this beats where we were it's a rocky beats, and is almost knocked out. And like, the sound that went through the crew was like, a sound of of terror because we realized we may have just Jinx the production.
Alex Ferrari 17:15
So you guys already that was a really a bad omen that the director almost knocked himself out and almost killed himself at the beginning, where the when the blessing was happening. So this was already a bad scenario walking in. Now,
Jon Gustafsson 17:30
but everybody I see, as you as you will see, in this in the documentary Wrath of gods, we were already almost canceled a few times, we don't worry, everybody will be sent home a few times, because they couldn't pay the salaries because the funding was not in
Alex Ferrari 17:47
it. But that's the oldest like I mean, I wrote a whole book about my adventures trying to make a $20 million movie with the mob. And it was similar It was like the financing would like we just we got enough just to pay the crew and keep the crew happy for another two or three weeks and then we got to find more money and before the real money drops and was just constantly constantly chasing money, but you have you know, your pf people in another country. And and you've got sets built and weather is coming and you got issues with all that. The financing, you know, the financial just never You were always behind the eight ball essentially with financing. Correct.
Jon Gustafsson 18:24
The production was the spoiling the documentary completely. The the production wasn't financed until two weeks after the shoot ended. Oh, wow.
Alex Ferrari 18:42
So then how did you guys keep going?
Jon Gustafsson 18:46
That's, you know, telefilm, Canada put in a few million. They decided to trust the process. The Icelandic film fund put in like $1 million. And they were just told that everything was fine. They were just told that hey, you know, it's all good. It's fine. It's all good. And they decided to, to trust the process and paid all the money. So they managed to keep it going. And managed to bring Jerry over. And, you know, start shooting and all the time, afraid that the crew would just disappear because if crew doesn't get paid, like why, why don't they stick around?
Alex Ferrari 19:40
Right. This is not like crew not getting paid in Los Angeles, Sunny Los Angeles where they might be able to hang out for a couple days. They're there. They're literally in battle with nature at this point in the game. I mean, you're getting hurricane storms hitting you. You. I mean, what Tell me Is it true because I I saw I saw this and I have to ask you, is it true that if a crew member would have fallen or an actor would have fallen into the water where you guys were shooting, that they had about three to five minutes before they die?
Jon Gustafsson 20:14
Wait, they so they, they rented a Viking ship replica, like the only real Viking ship replica or like you know, full size faking see a replica that there is there is in Iceland. And they wanted to put it on what's called the glacier Lagoon, which is like the coldest water in the world. It's a, it's a lagoon where a glacier is melting, and you have these pieces of glacier breaking off and floating through this, this rather big lagoon. And when they finally got the Viking ship to the lagoon, and put it in, it turned out it leaked like a sieve. Because the boat had not been trapped, it had been standing on dry land for for a few years. And there was no money to pay the owner to prep it
Alex Ferrari 21:13
to seal it. Not sure everything was fine. Yeah, of course, yeah, I
Jon Gustafsson 21:16
know, you need to put it in the water, the wood needs to expand and all the cracks to close and all of this. So this was this was never done. So once they put the ship into in the water, it started sinking. So they managed to make it float by putting in a lot of pumps. So we would sail with with a full sail and everything through this glacier Lagoon, between the icebergs, with Jerry and the the army 10 of us on on the on the boat, they would, they would shout, you know, cut the pumps would turn off the pumps, roll the camera, and we will grow as long as we could, but the water was racing in, in the boats. And when when we you know, when the captain said, That's it, they would cut the camera and we would stop ups.
Alex Ferrari 22:23
So you need that. So you made the tell me that you have your entire main cast, Gerald Butler is one of them. Big You know, he wasn't a big movie star then yet, but you have Gerald Butler, you have you the other cast with one of the main, I'm assuming one of the main set pieces of the movie, which is this big boat in the coldest water in the world. And you decided or the or the director decided, you know what, we're going to go out with pumps. And we'll pump out the water as we go. Now if the pumps would have broken the the ship would have sank, and they really would have been a big problem.
Jon Gustafsson 23:03
Is that correct? Well, you know, luckily we didn't find out. But but the the guy who was like head of security for the lagoon said, If you fall in life expectancy is between three and five minutes. So just wait for the rescue guys to come and pick you up. And it is, you know, incredibly cold, but you have to trust that they had, you know the way to get us back to shore and all of this. But if everybody had gone down at the same time, like you know who would they say first?
Alex Ferrari 23:48
So you this is insanity. This is this is the definition of filmmaking insanity. Because I mean, you can see Terry Gilliam in Los Mancha. And you can send you could see these there's so many stories of crazy directors doing crazy things to tell their story. And that's fine. I'm not saying your director was crazy. But this is this is a bit. This is a bit insane. I mean, obviously you had safety. It wasn't just like, you went out with a bunch of it. This wasn't an independent film with a bunch of people. Let's go and risk our lives. You had safety crew around and you know, but if something would have really gone wrong. There might have not been the depth to help everybody at the same time. I know I was not first on the list.
No, you were obviously well let's head henchmen tend to number two. Number two number two, you weren't even bail wolf warrior number one.
Jon Gustafsson 24:45
You were not so um, I was always hiding this little sony vegas Hummer, right you're doing this behind my shield, right or or behind? A cape I had like this sort of Cape sometimes or like a thingy, over my shoulder. So I wouldn't, I wouldn't always carry this little Sony camera with me.
Alex Ferrari 25:10
So you were filming you were filming the documentary while you were acting in the movie. So like, between takes or between while they were pumping the water out or something, you would start shooting behind the scenes, you would do some on the set interviews, because I saw there's a lot of on the set interviews with Jared Butler and other cast members and things like that. That's insane. I mean, talk about a real true documentarian, you're in it?
Jon Gustafsson 25:34
Yeah. And, and the, the interesting thing is that, I mean, I hadn't, I had never really worked on on a big set like this. And I was just I was, I had done some documentaries before of a television, smaller stuff. But I was watching my friend go through hell, right, the guy who gave me his camera, and he gave me a box of 50 tapes, and said, just film stuff, just, you know, grab it. Right. And I was watching him basically go through how the director of this of this movie, right. And and watching him, you know, I was I thought he was he was losing his mind. You know, imagine being faced with this dilemma. Do I just cancel now and send everybody home? Or do we go on that, that leaky Viking ship and try our best to tell a story
Alex Ferrari 26:34
now, so if it was and then there was there were some sort of there was at times hurricane force storms that hit you guys, while you were on? On on location? Correct?
Jon Gustafsson 26:46
Yes, one. I remember waking up or getting up after a sleepless night. And the coming out to the to the to the into the breakfast and being told the set disappeared. So the whole set got blown out to see. And because they had built a set down by the seaside, somewhere closer to the sea, and everything was just gone. And it's it's in the documentary I went on there with the first car and there was there's like crew picking up stuff somewhere way far in the distance and tried to drag it back. God all these other dining facilities and all the porta potties and it was like it was like an explosion happened. And it was a disaster scene.
Alex Ferrari 27:43
I just as you're saying as you're telling because I've seen the documentaries I've seen I've seen this stuff it's it's it's remarkable to think that you know it you the the the strength that you need as a as a as a human being as a filmmaker to lead all of these people into into war because it's as you're battling the elements, you're battling financing, you're battling all of this stuff is pretty remarkable. It really is.
Jon Gustafsson 28:15
It's, it's absolutely incredible. And you see another day we lost eight cars because of flying rocks. The wind was so strong that it was picking up rocks and smashing, windshields and so on. And when when when the front windshield or back, back window or whatever is smashed out. You cannot use that car in a winter storm. Right? You just you know, put it away. So eight cars, we lost eight cars in one day. And I was living in one of them with the producer rolling the camera filming the producer and the director arguing or having a heated discussion. We wanted to send everybody home off the mountain the director wanted to keep them there in case the wind went down and we could shoot something then this rock comes flying and smashes the rear window of the of the SUV we were sitting in and and you know got it on a camera. And that was the moment when I realized I have a documentary. I have a story. Just you know, catching enough stuff. When that happened. I figured this could be a standalone documentary. So the this was supposed to be like, you know, what
Alex Ferrari 29:48
do you call it like, behind the scenes? Yeah, behind the
Jon Gustafsson 29:51
scenes additional footage. Instead of bonus bonus material. It's called bonus material on a DVD. You know, because that we would have the movie and then you would have bonus material. And that's that's what I was supposed to be doing. And at this point, I realized I have my own story. So the but the interesting thing is everybody, almost everybody, I'm just gonna I'm just gonna lie and say everybody, because it's not true about obstinately everybody, but almost everybody refused to leave the interview. They just said we, we have to get through this, this. This was such a such a challenge. And it the biggest challenge was not the brittas corporate users who refuse to send us money. It was the elements, the storms. And I don't know, have you been out in a big storm, or in a mountaintop in a big storm? It's it's, it's fascinating because you you have this the power of nature that you were fighting, and it makes you stronger?
Alex Ferrari 31:12
Well, I mean, it's like a like a sword, like a sword becomes stronger, the more it is bent and beaten, and heated and bent and bent. And that's how a sword becomes stronger as you continue to fold it and fold it and beat it and heat it and fold. And that's as filmmakers, that's what happens to us. Every time we're in a production. We're getting beaten, we're getting folded, and we're and we're getting stronger and stronger. That's why when you You know, I've had the pleasure of interviewing some very accomplished filmmakers, who are samurai swords, who are like the ultimate samurai swords because of the battles that they've gone through. And then I've also talked to, you know, the film student who has no idea what's coming to them. And that's what I try to do with this show. And with everything I do is try to warn everybody, you're it's not a matter if you're going to get hit in the face. Everyone gets hit in the face. I don't care who you are. It's about keep keeping going and preparing for the hit but you're going to get hit there's no way that you're not every every filmmaker ever every artist ever gets slapped, hits hit that's life. But you guys were man, you guys were you were I think
it was the entire UFC was coming in and being there at the same time now is it true also that because it's not enough that you had hurricane winds a leaky boat that can you know water that can kill you the set caught on fire as well didn't it
Unknown Speaker 32:42
though, because they had like, you know, it's a Viking long house and there's a rubber soles towards the center of the fire. So of course they had some propane, gas, you know, stuff going on underneath. And one day like this was this was towards the end when when you imagine somebody who has been beaten down and just rises up again, like like, like their spring, like you know, on a spring, we were all like that. So when the set caught on fire and these guys come running and screaming everybody, everybody out this guy or via I think Jerry went walked like calmly out, and Stellan skarsgard walked calmly out and just lit a cigarette and he's like, you're really getting your stuff you're on aren't you?
Alex Ferrari 33:35
This is this is really good for the documentary, isn't it?
Jon Gustafsson 33:43
And it became like, the sort of the documentary became in a way something that that kept us together a little bit because we wanted this story and especially Jerry at the end wanted to this story of this madness told everything we went through and let me tell you he was not a huge star by then. But it was very obvious he was going places and that's it comes out in the character. Somebody who's willing to do this will be willing to suffer this month's for what he's doing. And I never heard him complain like like not complained complain, you know, we'd all say, you know, we're all curse the weather and the conditions, but he never showed anything other than determination. And the EU It was so obvious this guy is gonna survive. This guy is gonna go places.
Alex Ferrari 34:56
And he didn't you don't remember we're hearing it but When did he find out that he got 300? Because it was it was a during it was right after,
Jon Gustafsson 35:05
it was right after. It was. I never know the the actual the other side, but I know that they were looking at our website, they were looking at our photos and our videos and stuff that was coming out of our set. And it became very obvious, very early on that Jerry was material for a you know, I got hero before that he had done like, Phantom of the Opera. Right. And it went nowhere sort of thing. Because it was supposed to give him this recognition. But you know, then you end up with a guy with a mask covering his face. And you know, how you don't get any face recognition out of that. So, so that didn't work. But it became very obvious as he put on the chainmail and the sword and the helmet. And we were writing a lot of horses, I had to do like horse riding training for for three weeks to just be in the army. And he did as well. And he was so good at it. And he showed that, that that hero character that that that warrior character. And so 300 was a logical next step.
Alex Ferrari 36:41
So if it wasn't for Beowulf, we might have not had a Gerald Butler Lee Unitas
Jon Gustafsson 36:46
I'm just gonna, I'm just gonna choose to believe that I'm sure agents and monitors and whatever who say,
Alex Ferrari 36:55
Look, I've lived in this town for a while and I know how this town works. And they go, Oh, look, he looks like Like, if he would have just had fan of the opera, it would have been a tougher sell. But having those images that footage that thing he looked I mean, you look at look at them and Beowulf, it's not that big of a leap over to 300. It's not at all it's not at all. And that's what Hollywood loves Hollywood likes it. Okay, that makes sense. He looks great. So it's basically a giant casting video. For Jerry.
I think I think it paid off for him. You know, he did. He's done. Okay. He's done. Okay, he's,
Jon Gustafsson 37:33
but But you see, if you if you look at it, how many male actors of that age with charisma have what it takes to play King Lear notice,
Alex Ferrari 37:50
there wasn't many. And there was a lot of them were part of the 300 that might have been able to play that part. But the gravitas that Jerry brought the, the and then also the ability to do that workout. I mean, he I mean, that says a lot. The working out that those guys did was ridiculous to get to that shape. So there wasn't many at that time, there really wasn't. And it's he was a special special guy.
Jon Gustafsson 38:13
Because like, you know, you can even edit me out for being politically wrong. But insulting, but a lot of the other actors in a similar place at the time. Were not that manly. I agree with you. No, that's not I wanted it. You know, and I understand I understand. I understand what you're saying. But, but he was able to show a manliness that that, that that justified him being able, you became
Alex Ferrari 38:47
Yeah, he has the testosterone level. Yeah. Without without question, Jerry. And that's not something that he tries to do. He just has it. There's actors who have that, you know, from Stallone to Swartz Nagar, you know, to those, you know, the classics like those guys. They just have it naturally. And then you see other actors who will remain nameless, who try to act it, but you can tell that they're really not. Gerry's, one of those guys that has no question about it.
Jon Gustafsson 39:17
You know, like Crowe has said, Oh, yeah, Russell. So, so. And so, there are a few and he was one of them.
Alex Ferrari 39:28
Yeah, no, no question about it. Now.
Jon Gustafsson 39:31
I'm not I'm not saying he was the best actor in the world back then. But, but he had what it took. He was the best for that part. And I think and he was the best for Bailiff at that moment in time. He did what he was, he was a good match, not just in front of the camera, but also behind the camera and having the gusto to continue to move forward. When obviously the gods were not with you. on this on this shoot in many ways, oh, that There were days when we were on. I remember the scene we're on. We, Jerry and his army. We all walk up this hill to the top of a hill and Stellan skarsgard comes running out of the the Viking lung, how's the meet Hall, and we all meet at the top of this hill, and a gust of wind. So strong, came along and moved everybody about two feet to the side. Like the wind picked up everybody and just threw us two feet. And, and everybody just kept going with the scene.
Alex Ferrari 40:41
Because I mean, and William had been on a lot of productions where crew crew sometimes doesn't want to move forward in the tough situations or actors might not want to move forward. And in a situation like you guys were in, if you would have had a lot of dissension in the ranks, it would have not flown if you would have if Jerry would have been a prima donna and said I don't want to do this. It's called it's done. You can't move forward the whole the whole production shuts down.
Jon Gustafsson 41:09
Well, this is this is exactly a Jerry was the opposite of that. He was obviously for Prima Donna, he he was one of the one of the main elements in driving this forward and making this happen by never complaining, you know, Stellan skarsgard you probably know who he is, yeah, he he was another one of those those guys he like, cool, cool as a cucumber through the whole thing. And, you know, the toughest different most difficult things he's he's he's what he's been through. Not necessarily but one of them. And nobody complains. The incredible crew and the the, the stunt master a British guy called Peter pedrera. He was he was very worried about the whole situation. He's he's done like, you know, stands for all the big British movies. And he was quite worried when we were on top of the mountain in a storm. But we've stayed friends since and he for at least many years after he always had a DVD of my documentary in in his back. So on these big movies, you know, whatever they're shooting James Bond or or Harry Potter or whatever. He said, he told me this once. He said young at every every production gets to a critical point where people are getting tired and they want to go home and they're about to give up and complaining like crazy. That's when I have a beer night. I bring my whole crew and anybody who wants to come with me. And I play them Wrath of gods. And I say you think you guys got it's tough. Take a look at this documentary. And it always fixed this morale.
Alex Ferrari 43:12
Like, I know we might have a tough shoot, but nothing compared to that. Let's go out there and finish this movie guys. Now I have to ask you, would you do it again? Yes, of course.That's the insanity of filmmakers. We are weird.
Jon Gustafsson 43:33
You know, and I do all the time. You know, I decided to live in in Iceland, you know could have lived anywhere. But now this is it's one of those things you know if you you make it through you I will do it again in a heartbeat. It was crazy madness and fantastic people you know on a one this production for example. Because we got delayed for for about three weeks stolen had arrived in Iceland and then we got delayed. So for three weeks roughly. We had nothing to do except sit in this mountain hotel. Eat, drink smoke and tell stories. So every night in this one room set usually stolen telling stories usually sell and telling stories about last year hit his brother, you know he calls in his brother and and you know enormous camaraderie and and then when you go through this, this hardship together. It sort of in you know bonds. It creates a little bit of a bond And nobody wanted to leave because nobody wanted to be the guy who left you know, the guy who gave up.
Alex Ferrari 45:08
Exactly here here in the states we have I don't know if I'm assuming you know who the navy seals are. And it's one of the most tough trainings in the world to be a, you know, a navy seal. And there's that bell, in during their training if you if you quit, you have to hit the bell on the way out and nobody wanted to hit the bell on right.
Jon Gustafsson 45:30
Now what, but but mind you with the the documentary, I couldn't tell the whole story in the documentary? I will, there were, there were things that happened that I couldn't put into the film, because at the time, they would have ruined people's careers. Because there were times when we basically reached some sort of point of madness. And I remember this one night party until five or six in the morning in this country hotel, Friday night, everybody getting drunk and everybody on whatever mushrooms or whatever they could find. And these two Canadian guys come to me and they're very high or somewhere out there and and I said to them, like stupidly Hey guys, you can still make it to regularly in two hours and get there before closing time if you hurry. And I shouldn't have said that. Because they stole a Landrover and started driving at high speeds. The police found them in a field the Landrover had exploded over this farmer's field. And in the vehicle, I mean, land rover is a tough vehicle, but it wasn't spread all over the place. Both guys lived, they survived. They were bruised and battered, but they probably survived because they were so drunk and loose and stuff right now. Yeah. I couldn't put this into the documentary because these were friends of mine, and they would have exposed you know, something that we didn't want to expose. There was a there was not, I don't think the same night, but a similar night, a British stunt man decided to walk these. It's like three miles from the hotel where we were living and partying to the place where he was living. And he started walking on this Black Country Road with no lighting. You know, wearing black clothes walking along a black sand. Another guy from a different department, equally drunk, decided to steal one of the grip trucks to drive home because he didn't want to walk. And he hit the stunt man. And that was like a career ending injury. And these things I couldn't put in there. Of course
Alex Ferrari 48:15
not. No, of course you'd run into people's careers. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Wow. I mean, talking about a curse Jesus.
Jon Gustafsson 48:25
Well, there was there's like, there's a hint, there's a hint at the end of it. Like when Jerry says, we've been through so much on this film, we've had like, you know, tons of injuries and car crashes and stuff. But I didn't want to explain or, you know, include that. Because these were all my friends, friends of mine.
Alex Ferrari 48:47
Well, everybody listening can watch Wrath of Gods on indie film, hustle TV, which I'm so glad I make it part of our streaming service because I'm proud to avid it is going to be I know a best. Very, very popular, very, very popular on the on the platform. So I do appreciate you putting it on our on our little platform. I appreciate it, man. Now I want to ask you before we go,
Jon Gustafsson 49:13
so it was it did really well on DVD back then. Because Jerry kind of exploded became a huge star. And so it's so a lot on DVD. Great, but those times are over.
Alex Ferrari 49:31
Yes, the DVD days are definitely over but it's still valuable.
Jon Gustafsson 49:36
I'm actually very proud of the of the documentary and there's a there's a little group of documentaries like you said hearts of darkness. burden of dreams. Have you seen that?
Alex Ferrari 49:46
Yeah, of course the Warner Verner
Jon Gustafsson 49:49
Hertzog Yeah. And and I met the met the les Blanc who did that documentary he went with hertz up to the Amazon forest medical Toronto once and I ended up, you know, having a drink with him. And we were talking war stories. And I asked him, did you ever feel like quitting and going home and giving up on this? And he said, Yeah, you know, when the natives were coming over the hill and they were shooting at us with arrows. I think it was day one.
Alex Ferrari 50:23
IV you just have to laugh because it's so insane. But I think that this movie, this documentary definitely is up in that in that in that Echelon. Now tell me Can you tell me a little bit about your new film shadow town
Jon Gustafsson 50:38
Charlottetown is a low budget Icelandic film done in English. Again, Canada, Iceland, co production, it takes place in in Reykjavik. I stupidly decided to film during the darkest time of the year, the you know, December, November, December, where we have three or four hours of half daylight doesn't even get bright. You know, like it just the light meter would go lift up a little bit, and then fall back down. But I ended up with a British wealth actor called john Rees Davis who was in Lord of the Rings. In in one of the sort of most important roles a small small role but Indiana Jones as well. Yeah. He he was he was an all the intelligence movie. And, and which was, which was the only place I'd seen him I've never seen Lord of the Rings. But, but first time I met him, we had lunch when he came to Iceland, and he's walking towards me and I'm like, six feet something and, and he walks to what it had been, had a big beard at the time when we were shooting and he walks towards me and says, My God, you look like a Viking. So I told him, Well, actually, you know, I played a Viking once for 40 days, and I had my own sword. And the worst thing, the hardest thing I've ever had to do was to return my sword to the props or due to the weapons department. Because the sword became a part of me, so make me my most connecting with my Viking heritage. And he just looked straight at me and said, well, Viggo slept with his sword.
Alex Ferrari 52:40
And there you go, and there you go. Now what are you and what are you up to next? What are the projects you got?
Jon Gustafsson 52:51
The the one that I'm trying to finance now is called drama club. When I graduated from, from directing, in California, I came back and I thought I was gonna look, you know, start getting work as a theater director. And the only job I got was to direct an amateur theatre group in a small town, isolated town, and I went there and from from day one, it was a disaster because the three best actors in the whole group had to leave because they were farmers. And the land bearing season started the night before. So I ended up with three car mechanics who couldn't act and that sort of thing. So it's, it's a story of a young young director who gets that job to direct an amateur theater. Okay, so I'm hoping to do that. This summer. I've started the financing process for that. And if that if I don't get the financing this year, I have one of those micro budgets. prior to going that I you know, one of the reasons I started listening to your podcast is, is that approach the, the the the tiny crew? Yep. I mean, I was actually a volunteer at Sundance, when Robert Rodriguez showed up with El Mariachi.
Alex Ferrari 54:19
Oh, wow, that must have been amazing.
Jon Gustafsson 54:21
So I knew him and his his girlfriend and his two lead actors for five days, always had lunch together for five days in a row. And then on day six, he didn't show up. And I was sitting there with his two actors, and they said would work what is Robert? What happened? And he had been just whisked away into stardom, you know, he was signing deals somewhere and so on. So I've always loved that, that approach so so I have this small project ready that I want to do with you know, one camera one sounds to actors And it's it's a story about two people, two young people stuck in Iceland. And for three days and three nights, and both their lives have changed at the end of it. And it's a story about why we're never happy with what's right in front of us. Why? Why we always think there's something better the grass is greener on the other
Alex Ferrari 55:24
side of the fence. Mm hmm. It is. It is a an illness that we filmmakers specifically have, but other most people have as well to glasses.
Jon Gustafsson 55:35
It's a human condition. And, but I need, I need two young actors to smuggle them into Iceland during COVID times, and then we can just isolate ourselves and shoot this film. That's the way to do it. I'd look I did my last two features. We're done like that. And I can't tell you how much how freeing it is. It's so fun. And it's a really wonderful creative process. So if you need any assistance, you let me know, I'll be more than happy to to help you. I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I watched I've seen at least one of them. Yeah. And it's fun. And I find this so fascinating to do it this way. I mean, this is how to documentaries, and I want to do it exactly. Like you do it. Except except I want to meet the actors before I start trading.
Alex Ferrari 56:25
You know what I'm going to say? You should meet actors before you start shooting and don't don't just meet them on day one of the shoot, generally not the best way of going about it. But
Jon Gustafsson 56:35
I have to I've directed a lot of theater. I love spending two months with actors just on the line.
Alex Ferrari 56:44
Absolutely. But unfortunately, I just had four days to shoot an entire movie at Sundance. So you know, and that's a whole other story. But respect, respect to you, man, I appreciate that respect to you, too. My friend shots me after seeing that documentary much respect. Now I'm going to ask I'm going to ask you a last few questions asked all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today? Don't run away, run away.
Jon Gustafsson 57:13
But, you know, I've I've realized it helps to, to study acting. And it really helps to to be your own actor, or marry an actor, you know, because getting getting to getting a relationship. You know, we couldn't name it. We could have like a list of actors who have done it this way acted in their own films, and they be because they have the charisma to do it. But if you're going to be a director, the best thing is read as much as you can and study acting become an actor join a theater group or start doing scene work with with other actors understand what an actor goes through understand what it takes to make a scene work. This is this is because anybody can learn, you know the equipment and stuff. And this is this is what makes it makes you a much more interesting director and filmmaker.
Alex Ferrari 58:15
Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life
Jon Gustafsson 58:21
I'm basically you know, not being too hard on myself. It's it's actually it's actually what would you know, john Reese Davis said when I was saying goodbye to him because I was kind of I was kind of devastated because I didn't get enough data to shoot and and and I was missing this I was missing that I was so much more that I wanted to do. And and and he he said listen, nobody's going to be as critical of your film as yourself. So give yourself a break.
Alex Ferrari 58:58
Good advice, and three of your favorite films of all time.
Jon Gustafsson 59:02
This is a horrible question. It's horrible. I'd love it. I love it because because Can I can I say like all Coen Brothers films and Okay, so
Alex Ferrari 59:12
that's one I'll call them brother films. That's one okay. Number two.
Jon Gustafsson 59:16
Oh, I'm only have two left. I have such a long list just
Alex Ferrari 59:22
to be fair, to be fair, I gave you like 30 movies in the first one. So that's I mean,
Jon Gustafsson 59:31
I'm going to say I'm going to say sweet smell of success. Because it's an amazing film and if you if you if you watch Mac on Netflix, they they studied sweets, Middlesex is when they were before they shot Mac, they they it's it's incredible film. And the last one is is called three colors blue by Krzysztof kieslowski
Alex Ferrari 1:00:03
mono kieslowski of course I love red. My I love red. I love all of them. But I think red was my favorite. I loved absolutely loved red. I am.
Jon Gustafsson 1:00:15
I want to see blue with a friend of mine. And this has never happened before. When the movie ended, we just sat there in silence. And we just couldn't speak. We looked at each other and we just we were we were speechless. That experience of watching that film in in a cinema. When it came out. It was like it felt like something had changed. Your world had changed a little bit. This is the magic of movies. If you will, every now and then a movie comes along and you feel like it has opened a new channel in you in your you emotionally. And you when you leave the theater you're slightly different.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:04
If anyone listening has not seen the trilogy red, red white and blue by keyswitch. Krzysztof kieslowski you have to watch them they are masterpieces they really are and double life of Veronique. I love double life. Nick is the one where he did right before that trilogy was amazing. And now where can people find you and find out more about what you're doing?
Jon Gustafsson 1:01:32
I do a lot of aerial photography, helicopter photography. You can find that on Iceland gone wild.com. My, my film company RTO films, ar ti o films.com. And if you look up my name on Google, you'll find my website yawn gustafson.com.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:59
I john, I appreciate you being on the show you. You telling us your amazing adventures battling the gods in Iceland. And I cannot recommend the movie enough Wrath of Gods for everybody listening. If you're a filmmaker, you have to watch it. You have to watch it. So thanks, my friend.
Jon Gustafsson 1:02:19
Alex, thank you. Thank you for the podcast and everything you do. It really serves a purpose. It is it is especially in COVID times that is giving all of us filmmakers that are sort of stuck around the world, a community it feels like you are a center point for that indie community that I cannot go and meet in Berlin or can so you it's very valuable, what you're doing and incredible interviews. So thank you,
Alex Ferrari 1:02:49
I and that means a lot to me. So thank you so much. I appreciate that very, very much, my friend be well and stay safe. Thank you
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