Impulses can lead to an eventful night. In the Oscar-nominated short film, Night Ride, we go from seeking shelter from the cold on a tram to driving it around the town. While the premise is simple, the narrative piece steers into a new direction as more and more passengers board the stolen tram.
Nattrikken, translated in English to Night Ride, follows Ebba (Sigrid Kandal Husjord) as she accidentally hijacks a tram late at night. As the night progresses, Ebba is faced with a moral dilemma when a group of rowdy young men harasses a trans woman named Ariel (Ole Hoemsnes Sandum). The film ultimately explores the themes of taking a stand and living up to one’s responsibility towards other human beings.
This kind of duality is what drew Norwegian writer and director Eirki Tveiten to create this film that considers what people would likely do in these types of situations. While we all hope that the characters will find the courage to speak up when they see someone being harmed, Tveiten hopes that the short inspires other filmmakers to be fair and honest when creating their next project. Whether that means shining a light on a subject that deeply affects you or taking the chance and working with new collaborators, filmmakers have to be fair to themselves and those that come into contact with the project.
Eirik Tveiten sat down with No Film School over Zoom to talk about the process behind making his Oscar-winning short film, the benefits of the short format, and what filmmakers should think about when they sit down to make an award-winning short film.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
No Film School: Congratulations on your short film Nattrikken being nominated for an Oscar. That’s massive on any level. But the film has been having a fairly good festival run as well.
Eirik Tveiten: For this one, we went to Tribeca and a few other festivals. That’s been quite a good ride for our festivals.
NFS: That’s amazing. Can you tell me what the inspiration behind this short film was?
Tveiten: Well, it was double because the main inspiration or the theme was about the social issues that I wanted to highlight. I don’t want it to be too [much], so we’ve got an expression for this in Norwegian tendency or so, I don’t know if it translates, but I like to mix up things and to mix it up with this subplot with a person on a tram and her like taking off with it. Kind of a coincidence that she then had to pick up passengers. That was actually from a friend of mine that experienced that. He was kind of a naughty boy, had a wild night, and got into this situation. Then, I thought that that was a good start. Once we are on the tram, it’s like a microcosmos of society, and that’s a good place to let this happen, the harassment, and you can’t really go get away from it. You’re just stuck with it. It’s very much contained in that universe. That was a good thing.
NFS: I read in another interview that you did that wrote this short to speak to bystander apathy. Was that goal always present from the first moment you wanted to write the script, or was it something that naturally just developed?
Tveiten: I feel like the whole concept of being a bystander is quite funny because, well, it’s absurd in a way. I feel that life is pretty absurd in general, and being thrown into life situations as being on a tram that is just heading down, you know, you lose control of your life, and also being a bystander of something that I feel is a very serious situation, but it’s also a little bit comic because you just didn’t need that on top of everything else. Then, it gets serious, and you see that there’s a person that’s victim to this, and then the whole bystander syndrome, which is like, “Okay, so if I don’t do anything, the other person doesn’t do anything.” That becomes contagious. Nobody does anything and you’re just apathetic to the whole situation, which in this film it’s very condensed.
It is the kind of a thing that is going on, not only today but in history, very much in Europe during World War II with the harassment of the Jewish people in most European countries. People didn’t do much to prevent this, or the few people that did there were not enough. It just got out of hand and too many people said, “I’m going to mind my own business.” That’s a thing of modern society. You’re kind of estranged from situations like that.
You can easily go past or keep on doing what you’re doing and not engage. That’s a dangerous road because if you normalize doing that. It’s going to be difficult living in humanity because if people don’t actually stand up in righteousness or things like that, it’s not a good thing.
I feel like on a personal level, it’s serious, but it’s kind of absurd, also. You’re thrown into society and there are so many things going on, and there are so many bad things going on and you’re kind of overwhelmed about the whole situation. So, it’s kind of a little bit surrealistic to be a human being once in a while.
NFS: Your self-preservation kicks in, and you can see that through the main character, Ebba, because she becomes a target of the character’s hate that they’re originally putting onto someone else.
Tveiten: For Ebba, she’s very, very vulnerable in a situation like that. Most people understand that she doesn’t want to interfere, but then I guess most of us applaud that she does in the end because she’s very courageous. It’s like David against Goliath thing going on there. But what I feel is something, I have to be honest that I found myself being part of, is drawing the curtain. It’s human to do those things. It’s not right, but it’s also understandable that people want to draw the curtain once in a while. It’s not right. In the end, I hope not too many people do that.
NFS: You highlight the motivation so beautifully that even if it’s not the right thing to do, we understand why these characters are choosing what they do. I think you did it beautifully in such a short amount of time. What advantages do you find in working in the short format?
Tveiten: In my situation, I can get things made. I do shorts that range from no budget to this, which has a pretty high budget. I really want to do features or TV series I have a lot of ideas for that, but in the meantime, I’m so impatient. There are so many things, obstacles, and then you say, “Okay, but I’ll do a short one and I’ll get that done this year.” That’s motivational, to be able to get it in print.
What I admire about the short format is that a lot of people use it to experiment and that creates quite fresh, you know, perspectives for film. In a short, you can choose a ranger from Avant Garde, which is like totally non-narrative and dreamy, or something that is just a feeling or just a moment taken out of life.
Also, you can do what we did, which was do a narrative, although narratives in shorts are kind of challenging. In a short, it shouldn’t be too… what do you call it? If it’s very concrete and if it’s too much like the ordinary drama you would see in a TV series or something, it becomes a little bit banal in a short film.
So, shorts should be more open and ambiguous and open. I’m not saying they should be, but they can benefit from that being a bit more fluid or alternative in a way, which I like. But the way it turned out with Night Ride, it became very much a narrative story, kind of straightforward. What I did enjoy was that I enjoyed the freedom to let these unexpected events unfold because it’s challenging with a short film. You have to be quite compact between the book ends. You have to contain the material.
To be honest, in the beginning, when I started off writing shorts, I figured this is a kind of a difficult way to go because very easily it’s just a situation or it’s just a banal thing and it doesn’t stand out more than just a scene from a film. Then, you know, you wonder why. But for Night Ride, I enjoyed having unexpected and also the two subplots, or the subplot and the main plot, they were playing with each other and then knitting it together in the end.
NFS: Now I’m really curious about your writing process. Do you plan out the beats you want to hit? Or do you just write and surprise yourself along the way? And have an idea of where you want to go?
Tveiten: Now for shorts, it’s more not so much planned out. I think if you plan out the narrative, then you can fall into the things getting a bit plot driven in a way, and not so exciting for the short format. You have a huge range of different expressions in a short film, all from just something that has no plot at all, not character-driven, it doesn’t even have to have characters, just some can be just some thoughts or visuals or something like that. I try to not think too much about the storyline because I’m a little bit freer in the short format. Although I’m now writing things that I intend to or hope can make a feature or a TV series.
I can’t understand, for me, I have to plot things out. I have to have an overview on one page, a synopsis where you can see where the story is going. Otherwise, I’m kind of lost. I’ve tried, if you try, this is interesting because if you try writing, you just sit down and you start on a script and you write as it goes along, it’s pretty difficult to change. When you’re working on a step outline, you can always change it quite easily. But once you’ve written those scenes, it’s concrete. You don’t want to go back and do too much to it.
I wrote three scripts like that and they were impossible to [finish] because very few, I believe that very few people are so talented that they can write a feature from start to finish, and it’s then in a draft and you are more or less done. But going back and then trying to unsolve the puzzle, and that’s not easy. And I’d rather work one year on the story and the synopsis or a step outline before I go to write out the whole script.
NFS: It’s like a really risky game of Jenga. If you try to change one thing, it all falls apart.
Tveiten: There’s something in us when we’ve written a scene that’s we kind of hesitate or it’s difficult, for at least me, to go back and change it. I would say, because I’ve read and seen and watched a lot of YouTube videos on this topic, that there can be good things that you can do while you are on a step outline to ask yourself, “Okay, so what is the main scene?” And then go into the feeling, the atmosphere, because the step outline is very dry, just the different steps.
But a film isn’t that. A film has so many other things. I’m so happy because I’m seeing three films just today. I haven’t seen them, but they are obviously not very plot-driven or what you’d say that not very narrative. They’re doing really well, and I’m so happy about that, because a part of me also, I just want to mention that films that don’t have all these twists and plot terms, but just want to show life, they have an advantage because they can be more poetic and closer to some sort of feeling of life.
I value that. That it’s more in the European tradition, to be honest.
Also, I would say The Banshees of Inisherin, which is an Oscar candidate, it’s a little bit more plot-driven and dramatic. It’s highly dramatic, I would say. But also it has very original scenes where they’re just talking. The dialogue is pretty original there and it’s well-written. The interesting situation’s original. So there are a lot of things to say about this, what kind of films people want to make and what people want to see.
The good thing about the short film is you can try out these things. If you come with a script and you say like, “Well, this is an adaptation.” no, there’s not so much going on here. The producer will just freak out and say, “No, well then we are not going to make that film, that’s clear.” So yeah, it’s interesting. I like people that take chances. Also, we got to see a variety of different films out there.
NFS: Do you have any advice for any filmmakers who are looking to make either their first short film or an Oscar-worthy short film?
Tveiten: We never dreamt that this would be nominated for Oscar. That’s impossible to know what, there’s no recipe for that. Although, if you see the nominees now, they’re pretty much dealing with social issues, which is at the moment, something that is in time. But that can change, next year that it’s something else. So who knows? Otherwise, I would say for writers or directors, or even cinematographers in general, it is to find something that is in you that is burning in you, and trust that because that’s all you can do actually. You can’t copy. You can learn how to express what is in you, and how you view life or how you view things.
I started [my filmmaking career] pretty late because I was working in theater for so many years. It was difficult to come through, and I just had to persist actually, that I had something to deliver. Then, to believe in what you have and do it your way, try it out. Especially if you’re going to do it on a short film. Try it out. It’s extremely important to follow your vision. Even if it goes wrong, just go wholeheartedly in for your vision because very often you compromise with that and then you start doubting yourself. A lot of people will say that they wouldn’t do it this way or they don’t like that, especially if you’re very personal.
It’s kind of unfamiliar, and you might feel scared. But what I would say is: Do it your way.
Get people around you that kind of can see where you’re going or what you want to do, and be as kind as possible to everyone. Also, look for people who can then benefit from joining your project. That’s a good thing. Because it has to be fair. It has to be fair. They will also get something out of this, and then go together and do it anyway. Don’t wait for the money, don’t wait for too much acceptance, because then you’re just going to get stuck for ten years and nothing’s going to happen.