“If you can be disgusted and scared and laugh at the same time,” says filmmaker Tommy Wirkola, “that’s the ultimate mix for me.”
Known in his native Norway, and among international horror fans, for his 2009 Nazi-zombie comedy “Dead Snow,” the 33-year-old writer-director has made the move to Hollywood with Paramount’s 3D action fantasy “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.”
While the concept may sound like it was hatched in a studio marketing meeting, Wirkola came up with the idea while attending film school in Australia. During a practice pitching session, his teacher told him never to utter the idea out loud again unless he was in the presence of a Hollywood producer. In 2009, he did just that with Adam McKay and Gary Sanchez. “Two days later, we sold the pitch to Paramount, and I’ve been moving steadily along since,” he says.
Making the leap from a $2.5 million Norwegian horror laffer to a $60 million 3D adventure starring Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton and a coven of flying witches, was “mind blowing, of course” says Wirkola, “just knowing how much money was at stake. But as I got into it, it had the same problems and challenges; you just multiply them in size.”
“Hansel and Gretel” producer Kevin Messick praises Wirkola’s ability to effortlessly juggle so many elements, from shooting 3D to employing animatronics. “His biggest asset is that he is such a strong writer, so he was always quick to find creative solutions to story and production issues on the page,” Messick says.
Making matters even more challenging, Wirkola adds, he fought to include physical effects and makeup. “A troll without CGI requires a lot of patience, but I think the result is so much better,” he says. “It feels more real.”
Working within the studio system, with its multiple levels of outside involvement, took some getting used to, but Wirkola also felt emboldened by Paramount. “Two days before shooting, (Par prexy) Adam Goodman actually said, ‘Just go crazy; that’s why you’re here,’ ” he says.
With a love for “Evil Dead” and Peter Jackson’s early horror gross-outs “Bad Taste” and “Dead Alive,” Wirkola says his dream is to alternate between working in Los Angeles and his Norwegian hometown of Alta (pop. 19,000), making films like those that inspired him. But he’d also like to branch out and do more dramatic work. In fact, he’s developing an action film about a Norwegian king.
“It’s great to go back to Norway, where there’s not as many distractions,” Wirkola says. “And I’m very fond of snow.”