‘When the Dust Settles’: Dorte W. Høgh, Ida Maria Ryden Drill Down on the New DR Series

‘When the Dust Settles’ competes for the 2020 4th Nordisk Film & TV Prize, awarded Jan. 29 at Sweden’s Göteborg Festival.

Dorte W. Høgh, Ida Maria Ryden

There’s no warning, apart from knowledge that this is about a terrorist attack.

You don’t see the two masked terrorists, just their guns.

The sound of a hot from the automatic rifle, just peeping into frame, takes viewers unawares, coming as it does before the credit crawl is done, and is packed with a sonic ferociousness. The diner shot at close range, you sense, has no chance of survival at all.

Welcome to the new world of public broadcasting and a pioneering practitioner, Denmarks Radio (DR), the Danish state TV network behind “The Killing” and “Borgen,” series which bright a cable TV sophistication to free-to-air, and now “When the Dust Settles,” a major new play which enjoys financing support from all the other august Nordic pubcasters: SVT, NRK, RUV and YLE.

Netflix and Amazon studies suggest that audiences start turning off from as series during its first 90 seconds, Lemon Films Fernando Rovzar said at a MipCancun panel.

The first shot in “When the Dust Settles” is fired after 75 seconds, followed by six seconds of agonized sound over credits as others follow, so powerful that audiences can’t doubt these kill immediately and a sound of panic as clients knock over tables, scream in horror. DR credits three technicians with sound design as this becomes one of the new frontiers for new TV.

And yet, the terrorist attack could have been a tsunami or volcano. It’s also a large social irony, a time when the characters pull together, help one another in a world where the eight characters, as the series flashes back, show a common lack of compassion and empathy for their loved ones, whether Attorney General Elisabeth Hoffmann for her lifetime partner, or Jamal’s uncle for his nephew; or macho plumber Morten for son Albert who’s such a disappointment to him.

Chicly turned out, and shocking, and sharded by brief flash-forwards, the fraught build-up to the attack in “When the Dust Settles” presages an inevitable re-reckoning as characters realize. sometime too late, what was really important in their lives.

Sneak-peeked at France’s Série Series, which opened with Ep. 1 – a sign of the importance of the series – then the subject of a Case Study at Content London, “When the Dust Settles” weighs in as typical DR series,- crafted upscale, designed for broader audiences.

Variety talked to creators and screenwriters Dorte W. Høgh, Ida Maria Rydén before the series Ep. 1 plays at Göteborg.

All the main characters’ lives connect in the attack, “Short Cuts”-style, but they are already coming together before then. As one story  – Elisabeth’s decision not to make a media alert about a suspicious white van, for example – affects others in your series, that makes an ethical observation about collective responsibility  – that individual behavior has a broader consequence. Could you comment?

Rydén: As our series deals with the concept of cohesion, it has been important for us to show how we all connect with each other, and how our everyday decisions may affect other people. We all know the theory about the butterfly effect. That a small insect can create a storm on the other end of the world. And maybe we should start seeing ourselves as butterflies  – with the responsibility that comes when realizing that we all have the power to make a difference to the people around us.

”When the Dust Settles” is about a terror attack from nine days before to nine days after, That was the pitch I believe. But head director Milad Alami has said, however, and very rightly for anybody who seen the series , that the series is not about terrorism. What then is it about for you?

Dorte: The series was not about terror to begin with at all. When we had the idea for the series, Ida and I talked about the effect that our everyday actions have on other people. And that is what our series is about. When we then developed the storyline further we realized that the ultimate effect you can have on other peoples life, is walking in and shooting someone you don’t even know.

The shooting structure was unusual in that Milad shot Ep. 1, 2 and 5 before other directors filmed 2 and 3. What were the advantages and challenges of this?

Høgh: As Milad and his DoP Sebastian Winterø decided to shoot the series in a very close-up and subjective style. It became clear that it would strengthen the visual look and the feeling for the characters if the attack was shot in the exact same style as the first two episodes.

And then we were lucky that Milad wanted to return to direct Episodes 9 and 10. That gave us the gift that the show has a certain tone from the beginning to the end. A way of filming that also gave the other two directors Jeanette Nordahl and Iram Haq something to lean on – while taking their episodes in their own directions.

Høgh: From the very beginning, it was important for us to understand and decide the DNA and the look of the terror attack, as the whole series evolves around it. Since we had to use flash-forwards already in episode one, it was necessary to shoot the attack early on. The advantages were that the entire cast really felt what their characters were about to face at an very early stage.

Show don’t tell, James Joyce once said. You said at France’s Série Series in July that in editing you were able to cut out dialog when you felt that the audience could sense characters’ feelings….

Høgh: Actually we feel that our series is quite talky. Mainly because we have eight characters, and we need to know what state one is in, before we move on to the next. But luckily good acting makes dialog unnecessary, so we have been able to leave out quite a lot of dialogue. Also we have focused on giving our characters private moments so that we feel with them instead of only hearing them talk.

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Jason Alami

Netflix, it’s said, advises show-runners that they now have 1.7 minutes to capture viewers’ attention. A snippet of the terrorist attack comes after 1.6 minutes, setting up a basic, insatiable need to know which of the characters survives. That seems a very conscious decision. 

Rydén: It was indeed a conscious decision – but it had nothing to do with Netflix’s recommendation. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to tell a Titanic story, and we wanted to show the “iceberg” very early on – so the audience would know that this is not only a story about everyday life – but a tale of destiny. It is like the old Hitchcock tool. You put a bomb under the bench where two people are having a conversation – that makes people listen very carefully to the dialogue.  Our characters don’t know where they are heading – but we do. That creates an exciting curiosity.

The pace of the series reminds me, distances apart, of “Downton Abbey”: Scenes are quite short, shorter than custom; you occasionally cut to a collage of shots of all eight characters. Do you think the pace of series has quickened over the last few years?

Høgh: Well, “Downton Abbey” seems a bit slower than our series? In terms of editing we were inspired by the series “Sense8.” It has a very fast pace, and is a different genre so we think we have landed somewhere in between those two. Telling 8 ”short stories” involves a lot of characters, so we made the “character-collages” in almost every episode in order to remember them all and to fully understand that the stories are somehow connected and that they are happening at the same time.

The direction of the film focuses on characters, isolating them, often in close-up, against a plain-ish background. As the writers, do you have any say in this? What was the relationship with the directors? Did you talk a lot together before shooting?

Rydén: We did talk a lot before the shoot, mainly about the journeys of the characters and how the story develops, and we often point out details we like for the directors to remember, when everything is busy on the set.  But when it comes to location and how to use it – it is up to the directors and the creative team on set to find the best solutions to accomplish their visions and ambitions for the show.

What are you working on now?

Rydén : I have an idea for a comedy with all female characters.

Høgh: I’m not very good at relaxing, so I’m working on a book, a musical and a new series.