I think being driven to tell stories is one of the most important things in the world.
That may sound like hyperbole, but here’s how I see it:
When someone is traumatized by an event, that person will experience that feeling over and over again. It comes back, like an echo.
Some people, when they’re hurt, they deal with it by directing the same misery on others. In turn, they will carry the hurt on to other people, and it kind of spreads like ripples.
You don’t see this kind of behaviour when someone has a positive experience. It’s not as natural to pay it forward.
Then there’s the third way of dealing with it: You tell a story about it to other people so they will understand your pain but without being traumatized themselves.
This can be a very positive thing. It helps spread empathy.
So yeah it might sound like hyperbole, but I think if more people told stories instead of take out their own misery on others, we’d have a more pleasant society.
Going back now, to where I was in 2005 when LET THE RIGHT ONE IN was passed along at the production office I worked in Stockholm.
By this time I had written three feature film screenplays already. I’d just finished up a superhero script and this idea for a kitchen sink realist horror film about sleep paralysis that took place in Östersund where I grew up was nagging at me to be written.
I had ideas for a story. I wanted it to be about a family man who is haunted by a woman who he had been linked to, and the guilt would be the thing that actually caused the haunting.
I called the story MARIANNE, because the Swedish word for the Mare (the monster in this horror story) is Maran.
Also I kind of liked the idea of a woman’s name as a title. There are some great film titles like that.
MARNIE, REBECCA, CARRIE, CHRISTINE.
Well, I like it.
Then one day in August or September, I got a call from mom.
At this time, we didn’t have a very good relationship. I mean, we talked, but there were a lot of unresolved issues.
Just basic stupid meaningless stuff that make family not talk.
Anyway, she was living up in Östersund with a man called Kjell who moved in when I moved away from home four or five years earlier. I still went up and visited them, but I’d only slept one night in the house where I grew up since moving away, because he didn’t want me to when I went up to visit them and she didn’t want to upset him.
I didn’t come up often, because it was 650km from Stockholm and even longer from Gothenburg, and I had to arrange staying at a friend’s house whenever I went up.
So when she called me and said she’d finally gotten a diagnosis for having coughed for two years, I honestly didn’t know she had been coughing at all.
Nobody had told me, and I hadn’t noticed.
Östersund is such a small place, with only 50,000 people, and getting good medical attention there is just difficult. There are also no neighbouring towns, the closest one is a two hour drive away, and it’s not that much bigger.
We get a lot of credit in Sweden for our health care system, and it’s very cheap to see a doctor and get an examination.
But the doctor my mom had seen at the only hospital in town had taken two years to discover she had lung cancer because the correct tests had been too expensive and he’d just given her an option that was cheaper for the hospital.
Mom who always hated cigarette smoke. She couldn’t stand people smoking around her, and to my knowledge she never smoked herself. She lived healthy. She got enough exercise and I can’t remember seeing her intoxicated when growing up. We never even had wine at home.
The problem with being diagnosed with an extremely rare type of cancer is that there’s no way to know how to treat it. There are not enough cases to study. It’s trial and error, because different people respond differently to the treatments.
I have to really give props to Kjell for carrying her through three years of chemo. Three years she was on that stuff in different forms.
He drove her 600km to Uppsala, north of Stockholm, to get treated. He’s the one that literally pushed the doctors up against the wall until they helped mom.
When she called me in January 2008 and told me it’s time I come up, I was coming out of a really bad case of pneumonia. I’d just returned from an extended trip to Austin and Los Angeles, and had missed a lot of work at the cinema I’d started working at when I couldn’t get any more TV jobs.
It wasn’t a job that payed very well. I probably had 11,000 SEK (1,650 USD) after tax left every month and living expenses were high even though I was subletting a room in someone’s basement.
I mention this because it’ll be important soon. Basically, I was living off my ever diminishing assets. The investments I had inherited from dad when he died.
Between the time my mom called me in 2005 and told me about the diagnosis and the time she called me in 2008 and said it was time for me to come up and see her one last time, our relationship had become stronger. We hadn’t really worked through much of the issues, instead the issues had just gone away by themselves.
My sister, who had an even more complicated relationship with mom, and who couldn’t even be in the same room as Kjell, hadn’t worked much out at all. She did well financially, with a steady well paying job. Between her and her boyfriend, they had an income four times what mine was.
The problems started when me, my sister and Kjell went to visit mom at the hospital in January, they started fighting, leaving me in the middle. My sister threw a fit, shouting at Kjell to go to hell in front of mom, and ran off.
She went back home to Gothenburg to work, leaving me for three weeks playing peace keeper between her and Kjell on the phone, and picking up what was left of my family while at the same time losing what little income I had. It also nearly cost me my job.
I spent those three weeks, living in a basement because Kjell wouldn’t let me stay at the house. He and my sister also wouldn’t talk directly to eachother, and I couldn’t get either of them to bury the hatchett long enough for mom to pass away in peace.
I had to bargain with Kjell even to see her at the hospital, and I couldn’t march in there because I didn’t want to cause a scene in front of mom at that point the way my sister already had.
It was a truly fucked up situation.
I got a lot of help and support from my mom’s sister Gunilla, who also came up and stayed with me. She’s always been a rock, and without her I don’t know what I would have done.
Mom passed away in peace, surrounded by her closest friends, me, Kjell and Gunilla. My sister was with us on the phone. Kjell said something inappropriate. Mom was on that strong morphine stuff they give people when they fade away, when she passed.
I told her I loved her, and I know she could hear me because she smiled right then, in the corner of her mouth.
She was 65, and much too young.
The aftermath of all this was a lot of bitterness and resentment.
Kjell had told me earlier at one time when I visited him and mom that because he’s living in the house and was renovating it, he had legal rights too.
Me and my sister wanted to sort things out with the paperwork, the funeral and the house, which belonged to us, but Kjell gave us an ultimatum. Either he’d fix everything, or he’d leave.
So we told him to hit the road, and he did.
But by this time, my economy was so bad I had no choice but to return to Stockholm and work. Gunilla and my sister went up to the house and sorted through all the stuff, including everything I might have wanted to keep, and took all the decisions about it.
I had wanted nothing more but to be there and finally say goodbye to the house I grew up in, but that just wasn’t possible.
All my old stuff were either thrown away or maybe my sister kept it, I don’t know. If she did, she never told me.
I miss my old stuff, and I miss not having been allowed to say goodbye to the house.
Mom told me before she passed that she wanted a very small funeral. No friends, only the closest relatives. I agreed, and told her I would set up a separate wake for everyone else, which I did.
A lot of people came for that, from all over Scandinavia. My mom was a very loved person.
Kjell did everything to try and control the funeral. We kept it to my mom’s wishes because she had told me that in private and i respected that, but in the end, Kjell didn’t even show up for her funeral.
He did call me though and said he was sending someone to video tape it, but I told him to fuck off and that nobody was video taping nothing.
So in the end, he missed it.
Kjell and mom were convinced my grandfather haunted their house after he passed away in 2003. He never liked mom. Dad died in 1980 from a plane crash, and mom raised me and my sister by herself. My grandfather, who had already lost his two year old daugher in 1952, coudn’t handle losing his son as well. He was already pretty crazy, but that made it even worse. He never got along with mom, and hated that she had met Kjell 20 years after dad had died.
So mom and Kjell once told me Kjell sometimes woke up paralysed feeling like someone was watching them in their bedroom, but if mom touched him, the paralysis stopped. They said maybe it was my grandfather.
Obviously this whole story influenced MARIANNE greatly.
Pretty much a year after mom passed away, maybe even exactly on the day, I spoke to the Mid Nordic Film Commission on the phone.
I had just moved back to Gothenburg, and had started working at a cinema there instead. Unfortunately I couldn’t get enough hours and my nest egg was diminishing even more rapidly. I used the money I inherited from mom, and what I got when the house was sold, to pay for food and rent because I couldn’t get enough work to pay the bills.
It was just a situation where I could either make my film right then, and spend the money on that, or spend it slowly on staying alive.
So I said fuck it.
I dropped everything in my life then. I quit my job, and started writing. - Filip Tegstedt Click the banner below to see MARIANNE right now in the UK!