Name: Sisse Graum Olsen
Breakthrough pic: Lone Scherfig’s “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself”
What I learned the hard way: “Everything. I never had any film education. But most importantly, I have learned that you should never take no for an answer.”
Danish producer Sisse Graum Olsens describes herself as “a sensible girl, who wanted a proper education.” So earned a B.A. in economics, then, realizing filmmaking was probably more adventurous than accounting, she got an assistant job at Moland Film producing commercials. She even made coffee and cleaned floors.
Susanne Bier, who had directed an advertising campaign there, advised Olsen to contact Zentropa topper Peter Aalbaek Jensen if she wanted to make real movies. “When I arrived at Zentropa, I instantly knew that it was the place for me,” Olsen says.
“I knew from the beginning that she’d go far,” says Aalbaek Jensen. “She is an expert at making the directors feel good, without jeopardizing schedule and budget.”
For Olsen, it’s been a steady learning curve that’s starting to pay off. “I realized there is a lot of desk work involved in producing, and of course there is a difference between making a cheap Danish movie and ‘Dear Wendy,’ an expensive film that has four countries involved,” she says of her latest project, an $8.3 million production of a Lars von Trier script, helmed by “The Celebration’s” Thomas Vinterberg. “But I enjoy doing both — in either case, it is the producer’s job to bring the ideas of the writer and the director to the screen, hopefully contributing some creative solutions when needed.”
Among Olsen’s credits is Scottish helmer David McKenzie’s 2002 pic “Last of the Great Wilderness,” which she co-produced; Bier’s “Open Hearts” (associate producer) and Lone Scherfig’s English-lingo “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself.” She’s finishing Bier’s “Brothers,” to be released in Denmark on Sept. 3, while also handling “Dear Wendy,” a joint Zentropa-Nimbus Film venture.
Zentropa’s chief attributes Olsen’s success to her feisty persuasiveness. “She has a temper like fireworks,” Aalbaek Jensen says. “I am always afraid to invoke her rage — after all she is a 2-meter-tall, hard-hitting blonde with charisma. Last week I had to give up changing a company strategy, because she was just about to suggest she didn’t like it. And who am I to contradict our golden egg?”