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Roenning & Sandberg: Ad-savvy duo sets sail with epic

10 Directors to Watch 2013: Joachim Roenning & Espen Sandberg

Using Hollywood math, Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg’s sumptuous “Kon-Tiki” — about Thor Heyerdahl’s harrowing expedition across the Pacific on a balsa-wood raft to prove Polynesia was settled by South Americans — would have been made for at least $50 million. That they brought it in for $15 million can be considered a major coup by anyone other than themselves.

“You have to keep in mind that this is the biggest budget ever for a Norwegian movie,” says Roenning. “This is huge in Scandinavia. We are not used to big budgets (because) there’s no market to justify it.”

The epic biopic, funded by 24 financiers, including the Norwegian Film Institute, and shot in five countries in both Norwegian and English, earned a Golden Globe nomination — a first for Norway — and has attracted the attention of Hollywood, where Roenning and Sandberg recently took meetings with producers and studio executives all over town.

The pair’s prior feature, “Max Manus,” was seen by a record 1.2 million people in Norway, more than one-fifth the country’s population.

Like the Scott brothers, Roenning and Sandberg hail from commercials. Their acclaimed 2000 Super Bowl spot for Budweiser, “Rex’s Bad Day,” about a movie dog trying to find his motivation, gave the filmmakers a taste of L.A., where they lived for almost two years, and where they’re likely to return from their native Oslo early this year — this time with their families.

Weinstein picked up the domestic rights to “Kon-Tiki,” and it’s just a matter of time before the filmmaking tandem will be announding their next big-screen venture, with Paramount, Universal and Warners Universal being the most aggressive suiters.

According to Sandberg, the directors seek stories with a strong emotional core, epic feeling and fantastical element. “We have that in ‘Kon-Tiki,’ and there are several projects that we are now closing in on.”

Homebase: Oslo, Norway
Inspired by: Seeing “E.T.” made Roenning want to become a director. Sandberg names “My Life as a Dog” by Sweden’s Lasse Hallstrom: “We were lucky to meet him in L.A. That was a great inspiration.”
Reps: Agents: Ramses IsHak, Michael Sheresky (UTA); Manager: David McIlvain (Brillstein Entertainment Partners); Lawyer: Warren Dern (Sloane Offer Weber & Dern)