Director of Dream Scenario, Kristoffer Borgli, talks about the social satire starring Nicholas Cage that is based on an ordinary man becoming famous after he appears in strangers’ dreams.
Could you share the origin of this idea and walk us through the process of developing it into a complete script for a feature film?
Kristoffer Borgli: In the initial stages of writing, I often find myself juggling around four or five different ideas for a movie. It’s a process of exploration until a certain amalgamation of elements starts making sense as a cohesive and broader narrative. At the outset, I had the character Paul Matthews, a middle-aged academic seeking recognition for work he hadn’t authored, a comedic concept that intrigued me visually. However, this character existed without a story initially. Simultaneously, I delved into Carl Jung’s collective unconscious theories, finding them fascinating. Alongside, I pondered over high-concept horror ideas inspired by films like Nightmare on Elm Street. The notion of infusing high-concept horror into a different genre, like social satire or character portrait, became a compelling direction, diverting focus from the typical genre elements associated with such ideas.
At what point in the production process did Nicolas Cage join the project?
Kristoffer Borgli: After establishing the movie with my producers, Lars Knudsen and Ari Aster, through Square Peg, and securing funding from A24, the casting discussions began. Once Nicolas Cage was considered, it became apparent to me that he was not only the right fit for the role in terms of acting talent but also because of his intriguing status as a mythical icon in the culture. The idea of incorporating the real-life narrative of Nicolas Cage into the film added a fascinating meta layer, exploring his impact and journey in the world. This aspect added an extra dimension to the movie that I found incredibly interesting.
Being the director, writer and editor of a film must be an intense process. Could you share how you navigate through such intensity and what aspects of it do you enjoy the most?
Kristoffer Borgli: The writing part and the editing part is not intense. It’s very lonely when I just sit in my office and I am completely alone. And then when you are shooting a movie, you are very social and you are with dozens of people every day collaborating, discussing and working under high intensity and high pressure.
I think it’s good for me to sort of balance these worlds because I like doing both. However, I wouldn’t purely want to write or purely want to be on set. I like the combination; that life for me is ideal. That’s how I want to live — a life of having long periods of time where I am in solitude, where I can gather my thoughts and be on my own, and then have periods where I am hypersocial and very intense periods of just great, exhilarating work and then go back and edit and be alone again and gather my thoughts. And so, it sort of feels like just a great way to live life.
Despite their peculiar and sometimes absurd nature, there’s a need to convince the audience that they are products of someone’s dream — imaginative scenarios and thoughts. Could you share a bit about the process of constructing these dream sequences?
Kristoffer Borgli: The challenge with dreams is that they tend to be uninteresting when recounted to others. The limited language fails to capture the true essence of a dream, and the inherent scepticism in waking life often renders dream narratives dull. To address this, I decided to transcend mere language and bring a camera directly into the dream, transforming it into an immersive experience rather than just a story.
In constructing these dream sequences, my goal was to make them feel as serious to the dreamer as they do to the audience. This required a careful balance — while dreams inherently carry a sense of weirdness and abstraction, I aimed to ground them in a way that would make sense to a waking person. The situations, intensity, drama, stakes and fear within these dreams needed to be relatable to someone who is awake. This served as a guiding principle to ensure that the dream scenes didn’t veer into excessive abstraction and remained accessible and impactful for both the dreamer and the audience.
Your previous feature, Sick of Myself, is a commentary on contemporary society where everybody needs validation, and now Dream Scenario is in a way commenting on how we conduct ourselves. Is this examination of contemporary society something you thought of at the beginning or did it come organically as you went about writing the story?
Kristoffer Borgli: My intention was to take this high-concept idea and detach it from the conventional genre, placing it within a different narrative framework that felt authentic to the realistic evolution of a story within our current culture. To achieve this, I observed the trajectories of significant phenomena and individuals who experience sudden fame, aiming to capture the nuances guided by real-life cultural occurrences.
In this exploration, I observed the familiar patterns — initial attention and adoration followed by the influx of capitalism, marketing and advertising eager to capitalise on these phenomena. Yet, more often than not, there’s a turning point where the narrative becomes a subject of debate, prompting discussions on whether it’s good or bad. People often seek to distance themselves from the conversation.
It intrigued me to delve into these dynamics through a character who isn’t well-equipped to navigate the complexities of current culture. Unaware of the potential pitfalls and challenges of engaging with the public consciousness and mass culture, this character becomes a comedic lens through which to examine the scenario. The premise, imagining someone like my own father suddenly becoming a global phenomenon, provided a humorous exploration of the difficulties one might face in navigating such overwhelming attention.
Did your experience in creating music videos and commercials play a role in achieving the visual and aesthetic richness that Dream Scenario has?
Kristoffer Borgli: I don’t think specifically music videos, and advertising has helped me more than say my own short films or anything that I’ve done as part of evolving as a director. It could be anything. Just opportunities for me to get something funded when I was completely unknown. So, in that sense it helped, but I wouldn’t attribute any of my creativity to working in marketing at all. It was just like a way to make it possible to make anything, uh, at a point when nobody wants to give you money to do anything.
As an artist, storyteller and filmmaker, what narratives do you envision sharing in the future? Your current films have a touch of surrealism and fantasy. Can we expect to see this consistently in your work?
Kristoffer Borgli: I find myself uncertain about my future endeavours, relying instead on my creative instincts and intuition. Embracing a bit of mystery in my work is something I thoroughly enjoy. I appreciate the idea that some assembly is required, that the audience is invited to interpret and engage in a dialogue with the movie for it to truly come alive. To me, mystery is an exciting realm for creativity within the cinematic landscape. I’m confident that you may discern a consistent tone or voice across my work, as I inevitably follow my instincts in every creative pursuit.