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How to Make a Swedish Vampire Movie

The DVD of 2008 Festival winner Let the Right One In is out this week. In honor of the best vampire film of 2008, we're re-running our exclusive interview with director Tomas Alfredson. (Get schooled before the US remake!)
Master Shot: Tomas Alfredson

What was the Tribeca Film Festival like for you?
TA: Professionally, winning the [Best Narrative Feature] award at Tribeca was the greatest moment of my professional life. It was such a totally unexpected surprise. It was a great honor to attend, and fantastic to have the prize from Mr. De Niro, one of the biggest artists of cinema ever. And I love to come to New York—it’s so easy to feel at home here.
[Watch the video of Alfredson accepting the award.]

What do you think about Let the Right One In being remade by Hollywood [by Cloverfield director Matt Reeves]?
TA: [Not being] involved at all, it gives me some sort of feelings of jealousy. I have been dancing with this material for three years, and now someone else is doing it. Maybe they will find other things in that book that could be interesting. It would be very sad if they made a blueprint of this film.

Are you interested in doing a Hollywood project?
TA: I have had a lot of calls from studios and agents, but that’s a very big thing to do to change workspace, to change life around, to change your language. It has to be the right project with the right timing and so on. I am going to bite any project that’s interesting. It could be horror or comedy or something that’s really boring! As long as it’s good and it interests me.

You work in theatre, television, and film. Which do you prefer?
TA: I am mostly famous for doing comedy—black comedy—and dramatic television. For me, it’s all about telling stories. It’s not funny making comedy and it’s not scary making horror. It’s about taking it seriously and telling stories and showing your heart. The process is different, but the core is the same. You just use different traits, toolboxes, and tricks of the trade to tell your story.

What are you working on now?
TA: I am directing a comedy at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. It’s opening next August. We are seven people writing together. Three weeks ago I opened with My Fair Lady in Stockholm—yes, in Swedish! [To our delight, at this point Alfredson broke into a spontaneous rendition of “The rain in Spain / falls mainly in the plain”... in Swedish.]

In theatre, there is no way to edit or alter the performance afterwards. What you see is what you get. You feel much stronger as a director when you do a film—or at least more in control.


Stay tuned for more insights into filmmakers' careers with's Master Shot.


Let the Right One In won the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival Founders' Award for Best Narrative Feature. Based on a very popular Swedish novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (who also wrote the screenplay), this haunting and sensual film is an exploration of adolescent bullies, dysfunctional families, very smart cats, and—as we've rarely seen them before—vampires.

Audiences who missed the sold-out festival screenings have another chance to see the much-debated film this Halloween season. As Swedish director Tomas Alfredson prepared for the theatrical run, TF sat down with him to discuss vampirism, Swedes vs. Americans, and what truly scares him.

With Twilight about to make the move from page to screen and True Blood doing the same on HBO, why do you think vampires are so in vogue right now?
Tomas Alfredson: I started working with this three years ago when no one was talking about vampires, [but there is a] synchronicity. Maybe vampirism is something suppressed that has to come up every 20 years or so.

What do you think of vampire worshippers?
TA: As long as they are not biting people, I like people who do what they want. The obsession with blood is interesting. Most people are walking brains, who are not communicating with the animal inside them, which must be a strong ingredient in vampirism. I tried on the Internet—before we started shooting—to get in contact with vampiristic people, and nobody answered.

If I met a vampire, I would pick up my garlic hotdog because I wouldn’t want to be a vampire myself. Eli and Oskar

Let the Right One In is a vampire movie, but it’s also a beautiful story of two 12-year-olds falling in love. How difficult was it finding the right child actors?
TA: Eli and Oskar are the same character—the light and the dark side of the same person. It was really complicated because not only are they two sides of the same coin, but they had to also be a perfect match as a couple. These are two extremely strange and intelligent children—very quiet, with a lot of integrity. It took almost a year to find them.

What was the atmosphere like on set?
TA: The shoot was really tough because of the temperature, mostly, and working in the dark with children. It’s set in a Stockholm suburb, which Swedes will recognize, but most of the exteriors were shot in the very north of Sweden. It was minus 30º Celsius, which is like having somebody shouting in your ear, and I destroyed two fingers.

One of the scariest things about the movie is what kids will do to other kids when adults aren’t looking. What scares you?
LTROI SnowTA: It’s interesting to explore what scares us, I think. I don’t get so much scared these days anymore. I mean, I am scared of my children being murdered or something, but I am not scared when I go down in the basement or when I can’t sleep. Fear appears before the scary things happen. These are feelings that come from childhood, mostly, and my inspiration was the unsentimentally-told story of the bullied boy. People tell me they aren’t so afraid of the horror parts [of the film] as of what people do to each other.

What was particularly Swedish about this film?
TA: The amount of silence and the talking through silence, and the things that you hear in a silent community. In making the film, I had this very clear vision of visual framing, and it’s the same with sound. If you highlight specific sounds, surrounded by silence, you put them into closeup. I really wanted to tell this as close as possible to the boy Oskar—to hear his own breathing, his own tongue moving in his mouth. We even had a microphone put very, very close to his eyes, to hear his eyelids open.

Eli’s eyes were also remarkable.
TA: I spent a lot of time looking at Renaissance painters, what they do with the eyes in portraits. There is a lot of CGI [computer-generated imagery] in this film, but you can do so much with those effects in a subtle way. For instance, we changed the size of Eli’s eyes by 10%—making them just smaller or larger. People cannot really pinpoint what you have done, but it’s very spooky to have the eyes shift sizes.
How has the reaction of American audiences differentiated from that of audiences abroad?
TA: In Sweden, the audiences tell me afterward that the film was “fantastic,” but they do not make a sound or react during the movie. In screenings with American audiences, you hear laughter, sighs, crying—it’s satisfying to hear them participate.

What do you think happens to Eli and Oskar at the end of the film?
TA: The more you leave to the audience to find out for themselves, the better. There are a lot of things in the film that are up to you to decide.

Make up your own mind about Let the Right One In, available on DVD this week.

In New York, the film is still playing at the Angelika Film Center.


Wondering why the film was "snubbed" in the Best Foreign Film Oscar nominations this year?


Keep your chin up! It's eligible for next year's Oscars.


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