Fredrik Bäckar’s got a reputation behind the camera built up over 20 years. His acclaimed work as a DOP includes working alongside directors like David Fincher and actors like Anthony Hopkins. He’s made waves on the commercial side of filmmaking too. Since he worked as the cinematographer on one of the most beautiful ads ever made, Philips Carousel, he describes his life as “fast lane deluxe”.
He’s only recently begun moving into directing though, but with his deep film experience, Fredrik has all the ingredients to become a great success in this role too. Now represented by Believe Media, he recently landed his first commercial directing job with Amazon, where he shows moments frozen in time to promote the Prime service.
LBB’s Alex Reeves chatted to Fredrik about his remarkable career so far.
LBB> What were you like as a kid?
Fredrik> Growing up in the small, northern town of Mora in Sweden, there wasn’t a whole lot to do with yourself other than reading comics or playing outside with whatever stuff you could find.
I guess I was a bit of a blend between extrovert and introvert. Hated school and would rather stick to hanging out with my older brother and his friends – who were mostly musicians and film nerds.
My foremost qualities in school were the arts from the start, that was always fun. Painting, writing odd long stories and music class. But film and music were the biggest things for me by far. No partying or sports.
LBB> When did your interest in filmmaking emerge?
Fredrik> My interest in film has been strong from as long as I can remember. This is mainly down to my brother and his friends. During those early days, I was constantly watching old Spaghetti westerns, Ninja flicks with Sho Kosugi and the most prominent genres of course, horror! Every week new Italian slashers and Giallos paired with early ‘70s American horror; Halloween, Friday the 13th, The Burning etc. Of course, I was way too young at the time to watch these films, but little did my brother care about those rules…
The initial thing that got me properly journeying down this path, had to be when my dad won our old top-fed VHS player around 1984 at the local Bingo hall.
With it came a copy of The Never Ending Story. I was hooked then and there. What else could I do with my life other than make films?
LBB> How did you make your way towards becoming a DOP?
Fredrik> The journey continues through a multitude of Super-8 home-made shorts with me and my brother starring. Cut in camera and lit with the classic 2k Fresnel that always came with those cameras. Bizarre comedies and, yeah, gory horror...
I was part of the start-up of a local television station which also opened up more possibilities for shooting films. One of which won a short film festival way back in who knows what year? That did get me thinking about film school and I eventually made my way to LA in 1994 where a friend was attending college. Took all the film classes available in Laguna Beach where I lived, learned surfing (a skill long since lost sadly) and saw every film released in the cinema for the next two years.
Long story short, another year at London International Film school in ‘99 introduced me to friends, one of which was the director with whom I made my first feature, Dust.
LBB> What were your big breakthrough moments as a DOP?
Fredrik> There have been a few moments where my career has been propelled forward a bit faster than normal.
First, there was a music video for a big Swedish artist called Laleh which gained immense success and got me into commercials in Sweden big time.
Then there was the call from Adam Berg to shoot Philips Carousel whilst I was in NY working on another commercial. Turns out Linus Sandgren was unavailable, so there it was... Thanks Linus, I guess!
Carousel won every award there was to win really, including the big one in Cannes Lions. The rest is history. After that, life was fast lane deluxe for both me and Adam. No need to stress how successful Adam is since that two day shoot in Prague.
Third milestone was of course the text message from David Fincher’s producer letting me know I was wanted to prep The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and shoot the first period in Sweden before Jeff Cronenweth could make it to set and continue as planned. No secret, that surely helped my career even further.
LBB> Philips Carousel is a pretty iconic ad. What were your main priorities when working on that as a DOP? It's got such a recognisable look!
Fredrik> I felt awestruck when Adam contacted me about doing it, and I thought to myself; why does he want to work with me? I’m just a kid!
I knew right away, I’d have to take myself to a new level with Adam, knowing all the cinematic mastery he’d brought to the screen already. I wanted to create all that for him. True damn classic Hollywood style visuals! I had a mix of Close Encounters and Se7en on my mind as I recall. A 35mm Arri-435 party with all the tricks available.
Also we needed to make the one take feeling believable even though it is comprised of seven setups. So, the choices of camera mobility always bearing post work in mind was a huge thing to take care of. I also learned so much from Adam in this process. I feel like he is a bit of a Swedish Fincher really. Meticulous and informed AF! No stone left unturned and yeah, you will walk out of a shoot like that 1000% percent wiser.
Adam and I made another commercial close after that which was sadly not released for other reasons than the quality of the outcome. It was an amazing roller coaster ride of an action flick with equal parts ninja/parkour/James Bond. I so hope that can be shown at some point in the near future!
LBB> You've worked with directors like David Fincher himself! What are your enduring memories of working at that level?
Fredrik> Same surely is true for Mr Fincher. A genius powerhouse of a human with outrageous talent and know-how. I can say without any doubt, I wasn’t really a DOP before I had worked with him. What I am now comes largely from what he gave me during this process. I am forever grateful for this.
I think as a whole, this is what I can call an enduring memory of this time. What you gain from it and how it changes you on all levels. An equally amazing and tough feat!
LBB> When did you decide you wanted to try directing?
Fredrik> I had actually always wanted to direct from the start. However, in film school everyone wanted to do just that of course, so I actually chose to step back and do the DOP work. My feeling was life is long enough and I’d rather learn cinematography bottom up in school, so I can do that too and have complete control eventually.
I would never give the DOP work up, even when directing. It is too closely intertwined with the direction of a visually based form of communication. I always bring an operator I trust to handle the logistics and hold the camera when needed.
Fredrik Bond and his crew giving Fredrik a baptism into directing
LBB> How have you found the transition?
Fredrik> Transitioning into directing has actually felt very natural and I must say extremely fun. Having been a DOP now for 20 years, I have seen all there is to see really. Dos and don’ts. What works and what doesn’t. I also have a clear knowledge of where I don’t want to set foot at all.
Taking the script from raw material to finished product as close to the initial vision is a great process.
Working with actors is also a lovely thing. I have always been very close to them anyways, when operating my camera when being a DOP.
When shooting Kidnapping Mr Heineken - I had some lovely moments with Anthony Hopkins around the camera. You get very close and develop a great quiet connection around the camera. And so, to add the extra dialogue about the performance itself is an amazing moment!
LBB> Has your background brought any challenges to your directing?
Fredrik> I guess the only challenge I might face is how to keep my hands off the operating. For me it is such an extremely fine art and I cringe even when the framing or blocking is off in the slightest. Can’t have it wrong, that never flies with me.
LBB> What are your biggest ambitions right now?
Fredrik> Right now, after the effects of the pandemic this year, I am just intending to get properly back on track making. I don’t really mind if it is as a DOP or director. I love being a DOP and on the team working with a director.
But, if I were to look further and bigger I’d love to do a feature as a director. I have always been a fan of horror, because I believe it is probably the hardest thing you can ever do. The Exorcist, for me, is easily one of the best films ever made. A hardcore drama about the hardships of parenting a coming of age girl as a single mom in the ‘70s. Disguised in similitudes of demonic possession. I am in constant awe of the mastery of this film on all levels. It’s like Kramer vs Kramer with a pinch of the supernatural. This is my dream.