The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Hatching.
How did this project start, and how did you come to the story?
Hanna Bergholm: It started when the screenwriter Ilja Rautsi contacted me, and he told me he had this one sentence idea in his head: A boy hatches an evil doppelgänger out of an egg. And that is all he had so far. And I just said, “cool!” I found it so fresh and exciting; I instantly wanted to be involved. But, I said that I really wanted to change the lead character into a girl. Because I really want more stories in the world about women and girls. So then we changed the lead character into a girl, and it seemed like then the whole story really came alive to us. I started to think about just this one sentence… In the Finnish language, “hatching” is similar to “brooding,” so in my mind, she tries to “brood,” or “hatch,” some of her feelings… some sides of her character. And in Hatching, there is this idea of motherhood, of mother/daughter relations, and there’s this theme of growing up. So basically, all of the themes that are in the film came from this one sentence that Ilja brought to me in the first place… from the egg! We wrote a treatment together, and worked very closely in developing the script together.
do you get unconditional love, or not?
Did you know the writer Ilja Rautsi before he reached out to you about Hatching?
HB: Yes: we had been in the same film school. I studied directing, and he studied screenwriting. But we were in different years in the film school, so we didn’t really know each other that well then. But then we really met in a directors and screenwriters speed-meeting event, and there we kind of pitched ideas to each other and found out that we have this very… similar imagination! And it seemed like some of our ideas were in the sort of horror world.
This is such a fresh take on the ‘coming of age’ story. How did you conceive of the story?
HB: I think the most important element of the story, for me, is the kind of twisted mother/daughter relationship, and especially in that relationship, it is about the fact that… our main character, the girl Tinja, is not accepted fully as she is. And she has to hide some sides of her character. The basic thing is about that: do you get unconditional love, or not? Are you fully accepted as you are? And in the end I think… well, we cannot escape our true feelings. We have to face them. Up to some point, we have to control our feelings, we can’t go around killing people. But we have to face our feelings, we have to acknowledge them. At some point, we just have to stand up and say, “this is me, with all my flaws and scars.”
The relationship between Tinja and Alli is fascinating. Alli isn’t acting out of malice; she’s manifesting Tinja’s negative thoughts. Alli is not a puppet on a string. Can you talk about the relationship between the two characters?
HB: That was something that was very early on for the screenwriter and myself: that we really wanted that this Alli character was not an evil character. She’s really acting out the girl Tinja’s sorrow and pain and anger… but she’s not evil. I think the creature also kind of feels bad, and just wants to be loved as it is. So that was something that we really… it was very important for us not to write it in this kind of… traditional “villain” mode, for the creature. And every time we kind of noticed we were starting to drift in that direction, starting to write this kind of typical “bad,” “evil,” tween character… we had gone the wrong way, and we had to come back to really tell the story about Tinja’s own emotions. And about this growing up theme… of course she’s kind of growing up in this film, and the story tells about that as well. But I really wanted the film not to simply say that just puberty itself is horrible! Because all of the horrors in this film don’t start just because she reaches puberty. She happens to be in that age, yes, but all her real terrors really come from her kind of feeling that the mother doesn’t quite accept her as she is.
Can you talk about the conception, and the execution, of the incredible creature?
HB: We started, very early on, design the look of the creature in Finland with two wonderful concept artists. So I was kind of showing them some reference images of very anorexically thin girl bodies, and some crows, and bird skin… and all those kinds of things, and explaining what I wanted, and they were drawing these concept images of it, and I really wanted the creature to be very deformed. I wanted something completely different from Tinja, this perfect gymnast girl. It had to be very disgusting. Then I knew that I didn’t want to make a digital character; I wanted it to have real physical presence. I wanted to do an animatronic puppet, kind of like E.T. Then I knew we needed the best possible person to make such a puppet… and I googled “who is the best animatronic designer in the world?” and Google told me that it’s Gustav Hoegen, who has been the lead animatronic designer in the latest Star Wars films, and Jurassic World, and Prometheus, and so on. I contacted him, and he got excited about our concept art! And the whole film. So he wanted to come onboard. He collected a wonderful team to create this puppet for us. And then we had five puppeteers, and we had rehearsals with them and the puppet, and they also contributed some ideas as to how this puppet could actually move… what little things it could do… so in the shooting, we had these five puppeteers around the puppet, moving the body with rods. And then there was Gustav moving all of the facial expressions and fingers with remote controls. And in post, we just erased the puppeteers! But basically, all you see on screen, is what we did practically on the set. There are just some little tweaks that we VFX for (maybe three shots), but otherwise, it’s all stuff we did on the set. It kind of emerges into an actual actor with special effect makeup. And then we had Conor O’Sullivan (who has two Oscar nominations; he’s done makeup for Saving Private Ryan, and The Dark Knight, and Game of Thrones, and so he and his team made this wonderful special effect makeup for us. And in the very end, the girl’s face kind of cracks open… and that was full CG effect! That was done in Belgium by a separate company.