Interview with Producer Aage Aaberge (PLODDY THE POLICE CAR MAKES A SPLASH)

“The best known car in the world”


With PLODDY THE POLICE CAR MAKES A SPLASH Neofilm has a successful animated feature running in Norwegian theatres. But with ‘Pelle’ (Ploddy) as a well-known Norwegian hero in the title role, we asked producer Aage Aaberge what elements could be used to promote the film outside its home country?

Aage Aaberge: “The main character! The Volkswagen Beetle is probably the best known car in the world. Entire generations of grown-ups have a very positive bond with the Beetle, linked to key words such as: simple, good, cheap, decent. For many families in the fifties and sixties the Beetle symbolizes their first notion of ‘modern lifestyle’ and ‘my own car’. That’s a good start!
The other internationally valid strong point is the concept of the ‘perfect policeman’. Ploddy is the agent we all dream of: kind, friendly towards everyone, taking care of the weak and trying everything to solve a problem.”

What about the environmental element?
Aaberge: “That is also very important. PELLE is a perfect chance to introduce children to new sources of energy and the future of the car industry. Our environmental concern lies also within the main issue: people stealing water from the public resources to sell it in bottles. We find it so obvious that water comes running out of the tap all the time, but apparently it isn’t.”

Norway has a strong domestic market: close to 25 % of the market share. Do you have to take ‘international potential’ in account when considering a project?
Aaberge: “We always do. It is important for us not to aim too much for common Hollywood standards. In that way we can make local films that still have an international emanation. It is interesting for an international audience to pick up a glimpse of the nature and landscape that are so exclusively Norwegian. Also PELLE has that very local ‘feel’. The settings are based upon a particular Northern Norwegian town where Pelle was originally born. When you make a boat trip from Bergen up North, which tourists often do, Bodø is one of the small harbor towns on the way. That’s where our designers found inspiration. Many local details made their way into the film: houses and streets, shop-windows, etc. People can clearly recognize their own town. No wonder PELLE was a huge success in the Bodø cinema!”

From what stage was Neofilm – as a producer – involved in this project?
Aaberge: “The first Pelle-adaptation was originally my idea. As you know it’s very tough to introduce a ‘hero’ from scratch. That’s why 10 years ago I was searching for a character already known among children and I found Pelle particularly interesting. We closed a deal with the guy who created this figure and I asked a script-writer for a first draft. So I was very much involved from the very first start.”

That first one was a live action film, while this one is animated. Is a producer’s job similar for both genres of films?
Aaberge: “It’s a totally different job. For a live action film I have to set up a crew and find locations and actors and during the 30 days of shooting I visit the set almost every single day. Animation works quite different. When we have the script ready, the animation company makes an ‘animatic’: a draft version of the film sketched in simple drawings and rudimentary camera movements. We put music on it and make one actor read all the lines. In that animatic we can easily define which scenes are working or not. Then I have to rely completely on the director, the designers and animators. Over the next 1,5 years the studio invites me once a month to show the results, but all the way through I’m little involved in the creative process.”

Can Neofilm decide independently about projects going in production?
Aaberge: “As former head of the Norwegian film producers’ association and Board member of the Norwegian Film Institute, I’ve been quite engaged on the political level. We probably have the best support system in the world, but within the acceptance that the Institute more or less decides which films can be made. You need to trust them for making the right choices, that’s the consequence of relying on state money. Of course all of us sometimes were frustrated about projects we strongly believed in but didn’t get the money to make it happen.”

When working for Nordisk Film, in titles such as SOS and THE TEN LIVES OF TITANIC THE CAT you combined a traditional detective story with less traditional elements (family situation, environmental issues…). Is that a constant in all your work?
Aaberge: “A good story is elementary. If you have that, you can play around with everything else. That’s what we often do. Whenever a director shows me a draft story about a young boy, my first question is: ‘Why not make it a girl?’ You can get a lot more out of your script when you try to turn it inside-out.”

Your next project is named KON-TIKI.
Aaberge: “That is the story of Thor Heyerdahl, who sailed on a raft from Peru to Polynesia in 1947. In 1997 I was involved in the production of a ‘Kon-Tiki 50th Anniversary’ film and I’ve been dreaming about a feature film ever since: a family orientated action and adventure movie. The shooting starts in June and the film should be ready in spring 2012.”

Would that be your ultimate dream project?
Aaberge: “Definitely! It’s a fantastic, adventurous and true story with a happy ending. The book was translated in 70 languages and sold more than 50 million copies. If there is one Norwegian story able to travel the whole world, this could definitely be the one.”

Gert Hermans