A hit from the get-go, nabbing best script and best music at its premiere during last year’s Canneseries world premiere, Norway’s petrol-fueled drama “State of Happiness” launched on broadcaster NRK in October to an impressive 629,000 linear viewers, equating to a 37.4% share, with another 70,000 watching it online.
“State of Happiness” is the story of a group of young Norwegians living in the small Norwegian fishing village of Stavanger, and how their lives change after oil was discovered just off the coast. The series’ eight episodes cover an eight year period from 1969 to 1972.
Season 2 is already well into development and will kick off in 1977 and covers the three years that follow. It proposes to examine the lengths people are willing to go to for wealth, and how that wealth can change them. It also promises a major off-shore accident.
This week the series was selected to participate in Göteborg’s Nordic Light: TV Drama section, with writer Mette M. Bølstad nominated for her work. The series was also a finalist for the Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize outstanding writing.
Bølstad’s previous credits include series “Sonja: The White Swan,” “The Half-Brother” and “Nobel,” which won the writer´s prize at Goteborg two years ago. She has written for Radio, BBC4 and The Bush Theatre and been script consultant for the Norwegian Film Institute.
The series is produced by Norway’s Maipo Film’s, whose first film “Elling” was nominated for an Oscar in 2001. Since then the company has established itself as one of Scandinavia’s preeminent production companies for film and TV.
Maipo producer Synnøve Hørsdal and Bølstad discussed the series with Variety during their time in Goteborg.
What does the festival success of the series, and the recognition of your contribution to it mean to you?
Bølstad: It means a lot. Cannes was a wonderful start – we were still editing at the time, and it gave us all a massive boost. Göteborg is great as well. Now we have screened it in Norway and Denmark, and will start to travel to other countries, so this is a good way to begin that journey. Also, I appreciate that the festival in Goteborg focuses on the writing. We deserve that.
Can you talk about developing the series together?
Bølstad: I work full time at Maipo, and all my projects go through Synnøve. It is efficient, fun and interesting. She knows what I can do, and I try to understand what she’s doing. That means that she doesn’t need to go into detail, we only discuss what we want something to be, not how it’s going to be done. We react surprisingly similarly to most things. So, I know that what I want is being dealt with, and vice versa.
Hørsdal: Mette and I work quite closely. From the start as this is a story that originated and was developed by me. Throughout the process we have several workshops where we spend one-to-three days going through the material. Throughout the process we talked, and I read her work regularly. Working with Mette is one of the most enjoyable things I do in my job, especially when we go somewhere and work for several days. Mette is very good at taking characters that are recognizable and just when you think you know exactly what they are going to do or react she twists it in a way you did not see coming.
How is the discovery of oil nearly half a century ago still affecting the Norwegian people in the communities where the series takes place?
Bølstad: Oil has changed the whole of Norway. I don´t think there is any need to be cynical about wealth, but it is important to know that it’s there for a reason, and to feel some gratitude for it. For some people this has turned into greed. I hope that “State of Happiness” will be a reminder to those people.
Hørsdal: Norway is still as dependent on oil as it ever has been. Locally in Stavanger, everything is more or less related to oil for income and identity.
What was it like recreating 1970s Norway for the series? As much as some things have stayed the same, it seems there are some major cultural changes since then.
Hørsdal: Practically it is very demanding to create 1970 Stavanger. It is a region that has developed a lot due to the oil. We want to be very specific in the story. It is Stavanger, and nowhere else. But, as the money came in from the sea, Stavanger and its surroundings experienced significant development. We managed to find some corners and streets that could be used and maintain a faithful reconstruction. In terms of story and characters it is probably impossible to fully understand what it was like in the ‘70s, but it is interesting to look at some of the dilemmas they had with the benefit of hindsight.
What role does NRK play for this production?
Bølstad: We have a strong public broadcaster in Norway. Norwegians watch the state channel, so we will always be on the agenda; in public debates, by the coffee machines at work, or in social settings. There is tremendous support for drama, and that gives a lot of freedom, but also great responsibility. Obviously what we make has to be entertaining and engaging, but it should also appeal to people’s heads. In a way, everything done for NRK should strengthen democracy. I chose to do so by telling stories about lesser-known people, trying to put the audience in somebody else’s shoes. It’s nearly impossible not to like someone when you really get to know them.