Producer Louise Vesth: "I Am The Management Behind Lars' Brand". An Interview With The NYMPHOMANIAC Producer

Nymphomaniac was easily one of the most anticipated films of 2014, a new creation by Danish master provocateur Lars Von Trier whose path to the big screen was paved with sometimes cryptic and sometimes funny promotional campaign teasing the impatient hordes of fans as much as impartial observers. The film itself boosted the interest of general public with lascivious content scattered through 50 years in the life of a nymphomaniac.

A multilayered psychological study, the analysis of pathology or the best damn intellectual comedy, the choice(s) is up to viewers. Needles to say, the abundance of porn controversy proved to be at least misinterpreted as von Trier delivered sensation for the mind rather than for a body. The sexual odyssey exuberates with compelling observations and smart gags but at the same time stays far away from elitist indulgence and still reaching the philosophical heights. The opening scene (the dreamy shots of slowly falling snowflakes in a ramshackle alley peppered by a Rammstein song) aptly defines the whole film: lyrical but with a spin at almost everything but done with a witty grace.

Twitch sat down with the producer of the Nymphomaniac, Louise Vesth, to discuss the film, the porn, the different version of the film and such obscure thing as von Trier´s PR cult. 

Twitch: Nymphomaniac was surely a huge project. Can you describe origins of the project? 

After Melancholia he wanted to do something with a little bit of edge and he already talked about his next movie at the press conference in Cannes, where he had the idea for Nymphomaniac project and he also wanted make a very long film, so he knew that from the start. Lars knew he wanted to pursue a life of Nymphomaniac and he also knew that the lifetime would be like 50 years. 

How Nymphomaniac fits into last trilogy cycle along Antichrist and Melancholia as Lars did also some of his previous films in trilogies (Breaking Waves, Idiots, Dancer in the Dark or Dogville, Manderlay and unrealized Washington or his first trilogy The Element of Crime, Epidemic and Europe)? 

We have never talked about Nymphomaniac that way; we have never put it in the context with these films. I don't think that Lars sees that that way at all. I understand why the question is there or why other people talk about it, but it is just the result of where Lars wants to go with his films. So it depends on where he is in his own life and mood when he creates stories and therefore so the films are forged by some of his feelings. But I mean the fact that there are the same actors does not mean that they are connected, it´s more like when Lars finds people he likes to work with, he has no problem in casting them for other characters, although its completely different film. 

What were the advantages and disadvantages managing such a big project and also of such specific nature due to porn element?

Well, the porn element is not something I would be afraid of. To me, it has always been some kind of joke but also a profile to pursue. Lars and I also talked about making film which would be 5% sex and 95% philosophy and all that focus on porn has been generated by press. But also we made designed the campaign to make people think there is actually more sex. But I never saw the film we did a porn, nobody on the board never did, but I mean it´s about a nymphomaniac and obviously a nymphomaniac has a lot of sex, so it was sex and different positions, but it was just a natural kind of story... Of course we had a lot of issues connected to the staff who had to played it and we had a lot of issues about people outside looking on the project that we had to deal with and we put a lot of interest in how we technically shoot the sex scenes but on a more moral kind of level and conceptual level, it was never a big thing. And about a huge project part, yes, wow, that has been tough. It kind of grew bigger and bigger from the start, the project raised the pages, the time we used in every aspect of the project went out, but we just tried to stick to what we have agreed on the beginning, we shot much more material that we thought we would, so we had this long version of 5 and half hour, but from the start, Lars´s aim was to make 4-hour version which was also agreed with distributors. So from the start we knew we have had to make two levels of explicit sex in the film, so in the end we came out with 2 different versions of the film what also generated an extra work. I mean, it was planned from the start, but it grew more complex while we were working on it. I mean when you are the producer, you need to see the possibilities of things developing and I think we kind of embraced it and we went so far with this and worked so hard, so why not check the bits of every work we did to just create a very huge and complex project. 

Why was the serial format chosen? 

You mean why it was divided into two volumes?

Yes.

I mean that was also planned from the start. Lars found a lot of literature references for this project, so he wanted to build the story from the start as a novel, a piece of literature, that's why he created the script in chapters. The serial format was part of the story from the very beginning. 

The distribution policy was also adapted to the fact that the film is divided in two parts. Can you tell us a little more about the choices of the distribution policy?

Yes, of course. That was a challenge, but it was also needed, because it is very difficult for distributors to have a film that is 4 hours long. From the start we knew we had to deliver the film in two volumes in the way the film was also written. But we have been in very close contact with distributors, much closer that we usually are, discussing how we could distribute it. But in Scandinavia, the both parts were distributed at the same time, so you bought one ticket and you went to see the first volume, then break and after that the second volume, but most of the territories are distributing them apart, with several weeks between the first volume and the second volume, but also; who has actually nowadays the time to spend 5 hours in a cinema. That´s why I decided to release it in Denmark after the Christmas day during the vacation to have people going to cinema while they have time. So you know, there was a lot of work with distribution policy. 

The communication around Nymphomaniac was incredibly well executed. What were the approaches adapted for preparations of the promo campaign? 

Yeah, of course, it kind of turn out being really well made out, but actually I cannot take the honor to think that it would be that great from the start. It was something that I partly really wanted to be great but when we released Melancholia, I was very unsatisfied with the way we did the campaign, because I think that Lars is such a big brand and he makes such amazing films that are distributed all over the world so we kind of used to have the strategy to just wait, don´t communicate any information about the film whatsoever until the Cannes and then to have a big bang in Cannes where everything would be communicated, we would do all the press there, we would show one poster and that´s it. So when we started this project, we have originally planned to have it ready for the Cannes of the last year, but it turned out very quickly that it would not be possible, because the project was much larger and we needed more time that we originally thought so this situation opened up possibilities of running a lot of campaigns and we kind of have already started the campaign because we were shooting in the autumn 2012, so we had already sent out the first press releases about the film being made. Then I though, alright, we have a lot of time because the film would be finished in the autumn 2013, so this makes one year to make the campaign, then we would not have Cannes and other festivals, so we need to get it out on the market and therefore I kind of produced the strategy about the campaign that I want to have. The first one was the traditional stuff like stills from the film, a trailer, you know the usual stuff and the second link was like many posters for the campaign having something that was not in the film, but was in some way connected to the theme. And I know that I wanted to use the sex theme as something that could work universal, so that was second link. And for the third link I added up, I thought OK, we have theses chapters, Lars created it kind of whole story for the script which was eight chapters, two volumes and each chapter has the title suggesting some funny thoughts about the particular chapter in connection to a film about nymphomaniac. So I just took what he had already made and I am going to make a countdown with these chapters, one chapter each month until the premiere. This was just a stupid idea but it turned out to be a good choice and I wanted to give away more than we used to, so I wanted to have this one page with a still from the chapter accompanied with short and interesting description of the chapter and then a small clip which was kind of start of the story and could keep people coming back. And that was very understandable system we had, eight chapters, each month one, this was clear. But I also wanted to involve the whole world in this campaign, so we made the agreement with specific distributors that they should find the biggest media for this film in their territory and they could break the new chapters exclusively before we would have sent out to everybody. This was our third pillar of strategy, so these three pillars made a very massive campaign, and every second week I had a new element which I can put out on the market and that created all the fuzz. 

Zentropa had a reputation on producing feminist erotic/porn films, the fact that was not usually link to Nymphomaniac project. Are these kinds of films still on Zentropa´s slate and did/could type of production somehow influence Nymphomaniac?

Well, I am not sure what you mean, because I really did not know we had this kind of reputation. A several years ago, I think it is almost 10 years ago or something, there was a department in the company doing one film, but it has not existed for a very long time. It was just some idea that there was a lot of money in doing porn back then, but I think that they really produced one or maybe two films. And then, of course, nobody else wanted to do porn movies, so we would have to hire a porn producer, so that kind of disappeared. 

So there is no link between this shortlived porn production and Nymphomaniac...? 

No, of course not. 

Speaking of promo campaign, it has become an integral part of Lars von Trier´s films. Some publicists dubbed it even ,,von Trier´s PR cult." Is there some brand management behind his works, if so, how do you enhance this ,,PR cult?" 

Yeah, I am the management behind the brand, but I am just the producer, so it is not like there is some big PR department behind it. So it´s me and my office having these ideas and putting them out, so if you want to do something, it has to be the producer who drives it, because you can always employ somebody, I had also employed somebody to do the poster campaign and I had companies which would send out the press releases for Nymphomaniac, but the ideas and the concept that´s the producer´s business who creates it, because it is much closer to the essence of project as I am so involved in quite the all of it and you know, I can talk to Lars about it here and there and he had some good ideas, you know, he said you can do it like this it would be funnier and he would never said it to some PR department or some external company doing the marketing. So we had these conversations, we talked a lit bit about it and then we would do it. He went to Cannes and said something stupid at a press conference or whatever or said something interesting about himself, but now he does not talk, so I am the Lars speaker now and I am not very clever, I am just the producer, so I need to find my own way of dealing with these things and this was something I needed to do, because I did not have Lars speak about it himself and I did not have the Cannes festival, so I had to do something to attract, there is nothing smart behind it, it is just out of the need. 

So the vow of silence is still on? 

Yeah, sure, he won´t say anything ever again. 

At the beginning of the vol.1, there is a tiny disclaimer about that Lars von Trier did approve of the version (sort of commercial version of the film due the market reasons). Where there other version of the film in play for official release? Will the 5 ½ hour version (we can call it director´s cut) be available for public? If so, when? Are you already preparing DVD/Blu-Ray and what could we expect on it? 

Yes, we are going to present to longer (uncensored) version of the volume 1 in Berlin, so then we have to just find a platform for second volume and after the release of the longer version of volume 2. The both volumes will be distributed in cinemas again in countries where it will be possible. But a lot of countries won´t be able to distribute the longer versions. 

What is the expected date for DVD/BD release? 

I cannot tell you this, because that´s still under wraps, but it won´t be sooner then we go out with the longer version of volume 2. 

Will there be more material on DVD version? 

Well yeah, the film much longer of course, but do you think like extra materials? 

Yes

Sure, the scenes are more explicit. I mean event in the shorter version, they are already explicit, but in longer version, they are even more. And of course, there some scenes that were cut out. So there will be something more, but I mean it won´t be another film, it´s the same film, but longer. At the beginning of the both volumes, there is this little disclaimer stating that the director wasn't involved in the editing, although it has been cut with his permission. Does that mean there is another cut of the film, besides the 5 ½ hour long version? No, there is only the long version with everything that Lars shot and there is the short version which is abridged what basically means that a lot of scenes are shorter as for example the discussions between the nymphomaniac and Seligman which are originally much longer and detailed and few scenes are totally taken out. So it´s like 1 ½ hour missing in the shorter cut, but that´s not all about just sex. 

After landing such huge project, are there already any knew planned for Zentropa? What other projects is Zentropa currently developing? 

Well, Lars´s films are the hugest projects we actually do. So we have no new projects right now on the table, we are trying to cover Nymphomaniac after this long process, but eventually there will be something I hope. But otherwise, we also have others very big directors at Zentropa, we also produce, Susanne Bier, "A Second Chance" and we just went to the Oscars with "The Hunt." Then we also have a big film thriller series, which is based on a book now shooting the second called " The Absent One" . You know, Zentropa is the most international company in the Europe, we work with all the big directors on their projects, so we have big projects coming. Other directors have also projects in English language, but that has been mostly Lars´ thing.

Nymphomaniac: Part One is available on VOD from March 6 (before hitting the selected theaters on March 21) and Part Two will be premiering on VOD on April 3 (and on April 18 on big screens).
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  • FlixFling

    You can rent NYMPHOMANIAC: Volume 1 on FlixFling now! http://buff.ly/1kMmZuw

    Look out for Volume 2, coming to FlixFling on March 20!

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