Occupied, one of the most anticipated Norwegian TV dramas of 2015 is premiering on Sunday on TV2 Norway and in November on ARTE. Sales agent Zodiak Rights just announced ahead of MIPCOM, that Sky Arts has secured UK rights and a DVD deal with Dazzler Media. We spoke to the show’s co-creator and director of the two first episodes.

The 10x45 series was produced by Zodiak scripted production arms Yellow Bird and GTV with support, among others, from Nordisk Film & TV Fond.

At what point did you come on board Occupied? Did you collaborate with Jo Nesbø?
Erik Skjoldbjærg: I got involved in 2013 when the project was rebooted, after it changed broadcaster from NRK to TV2. I did not work with Jo Nesbø but directly with co-creator/writer Karianne Lund and a writing team. We started off with Jo’s main idea and a set of characters.

What are the main themes of the series?
the major question that is asked is: 'what would you do if your democratic rights were at risk?'
In reality the answer is not black and white and most people would find various ways of dealing with the situation. Especially in the current days, people don’t want to put everything at risk.

Is there a double layer narrative, with geopolitics as dominant theme and resistance as secondary theme?
Occupied questions how people would react to radical change. To make that entertaining, we decided to dramatise it through characterisation and narrowed it down to five main characters that are supposed to represent different parts of society: The Prime Minister, the life guard, the entrepreneurial restaurant owner, the journalist and chief inspector of secret police.

I love the basic idea of the show that gives the opportunity to tackle core values. Right now, our society in Norway is pretty stable, but by creating a fictitious future, you can play with geopolitics, and see how it would impact individuals and mirror our current world.

What were your inspirations?
ES: The idea for Occupied is totally original plus I rarely look for inspiration in other visual works. That said, I was inspired by two things: the song ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ by Kris Kristofferson - made famous by Janis Joplin - and more specifically the line ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose’. I also read the book ‘The plot against America’ by Philip Roth, a revision of WW2 in which pilot Charles Lindbergh runs for US president and defeats Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940. As a consequence antisemitism becomes acceptable in America. The novel gave me a strong sensation of how European Jews might have felt in the 1930s.

In the writing room, one of the challenges must have been to decide whether to choose a real country as the invader of Norway, or a fictitious country….
Yes it was a decision we had to make. But at that time, in 2013, such a claim seemed less realistic. So we felt the need to use references from the real world. We wanted to engage the audience with a fictitious set up from a clearly recognisable world. I believe such fiction can enhance critical thinking on our current society.

But Russia’s annexation of Crimea brought the near future very close to reality…
ES: These events happened while we were shooting. When we wrote the initial script, we looked at different political situations, for instance Iraq in 2003. Ukraine was only one of many current conflicts we had in mind.

I’ve been asked several times about our decision to choose Russia as aggressor and I know that there have been reactions from Russian media. For me it’s essential to stress that we had this idea before the conflict between Russia/Ukraine exploded and it is not made to mirror a specific situation.

Occupied is also critical of Europe that holds the strings to Russia’s occupation to protect their oil interests. That will most probably seduce many euro-sceptics both in Norway and abroad…
ES: When we looked at our premise and tried to make it real, we looked at who would suffer the most if Norway was to stop exporting oil. The EU region imports most of our petroleum so it was the obvious choice.

Arte France came on board very early on as co-producers. What was their creative input?
ES: They commented on the script and the editing. It was a positive input as it gave us a prospective from outside Norway and of course, our ambition is for the series to reach out internationally.

The series had a high budget of NOK 90 million. What were the main items of expenditure?
Salaries was a big chunk of money, but also production and set design as we wanted to create a universe that would represent a future, yet reference to the past World War.  We used buildings and design constructed before 1945 or after 2003. We needed to create a fictional Oslo that people could still recognise.

I believe this was your first TV drama as co-writer/creator/director. How was that experience compared to working on feature films?
It was the first time I was involved in an entire show as co-creator with Karianne Lund. It gave me new opportunities to develop characters over more than seven hours screen time.  It was very stimulating creatively.

Is there going to be a Season 2 of Occupied?
It depends on how Season 1 plays commercially, and on the financing. But we believe that there is room to develop it further within its universe.

Your next feature film is Pyromaniac based on the book ‘Before I Burn’ by Gaute Heivoll. What’s the status?
ES: The filming is locked. It is in the editing room and it will be released by Nordisk Film sometime next year.