In order to make it as a showrunner, you should be able to bear loneliness for longer periods of time, said “Skam’s” Julie Andem at Göteborg’s TV Drama Vision.
“To this day, I don’t really know what a showrunner is. Or does. But the most important thing is to have the strongest vision of the show and make sure everyone is working towards it. Make sure your collaborators have fun with it, that they get something out of it, personally,” she added.
“You have to believe in your story. It was so clear to me what ‘Skam’ was supposed to be and how it needed to be done. I knew when to say ‘no,’ right away, which makes this job easier.”
Andem opened up about her experiences, from humble beginnings in advertising – “When clients disagreed with my idea, I thought they were idiots. You can’t work like that,” she joked – to the importance of research. For “Skam,” she conducted in-depth interviews with teenagers, ultimately changing the game.
“So many writers are mad at me now, because after ‘Skam’ they were forced to do their research as well. People assumed that’s why the show was a hit. It’s not necessarily true, but we were creating something for teens, trying to figure out who they were.”
She also looked back on the show’s mission statement, stating it “aims to help 16-year-old girls and strengthen their self-esteem through dismantling taboos, making them aware of interpersonal mechanisms and showing them the benefits of confronting their fears.”
“Wow. Impressive,” she laughed. Admitting, however, that having a roadmap made things much easier.
“Especially around Season 3, when everyone started calling. Including Hollywood. It reminded me why, and for whom, we were making this. I like to know what really matters, even though it sounds quite pretentious.”
A global hit, “Skam” has been remade in multiple countries, including France, Spain and Italy, with Andem hopping on board to direct “Skam Austin” alongside Phillip J. Bartell.
“When [Norwegian broadcaster] NRK told me about the remakes, I didn’t think it would work. After all, it came straight from my heart. I was very self-obsessed,” she said.
“Going to another country to remake your own show also didn’t seem like the best idea, but it allowed me to open up to working in another market. On the first season of the [Norwegian] show, there were 10 people creating it. There were 70, 80 of us on ‘Austin’.”
There were perks that came with a bigger budget.
“We could do everything we have envisioned. I would say: ‘Let’s shoot this scene on a plane.’ ‘Sure!’ At one point, I think I was testing them. In Norway, I would struggle to get five extras, so we would change their outfits in between takes to make them look different.”
Asked if European showrunners could learn something from their American counterparts, she didn’t hesitate:
“Get more money!”
Also noticing that “in the U.S., you get paid to make decisions.”
“It took me a long time to understand why everyone was just pointing fingers when something bad happened on set. Over there, if you lose your job, you end up on the street way faster than in Scandinavia. If you lose your job in Norway, you get paid anyway. There is this constant fear of making the wrong choice.”
“Creative people work best with freedom and joy, so the key was to make everyone feel safe. It was probably the biggest challenge of my career: making sure I believed in how to make ‘Austin’ and then convincing others.”
While Europe doesn’t lack in professionalism (“[Americans] work harder and longer, but I am not sure they are as effective as us,” she stated), she appreciated another approach to championing talent.
“They could teach NRK something about structure and hierarchy. At NRK, talent isn’t always appreciated – they are there to get the job done. In the U.S., you are a star. It motivates many people.”