Having just graduated from Salzburg’s University of Applied Sciences, this filmmaker reflects on his active, creative youth, time at an international ad agency and developing a brand as a director
Christoffer Borggren turned a lot of heads in the advertising and filmmaking worlds earlier this year with his student film ‘Fragile’. A PSA for Mind.se (originally founded as the Swedish Association for Mental Health).
As part of his studies at the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences, the young filmmaker, together with a crew of mainly other students, wrote, directed, and exec produced the arresting piece. The film approached the subject of mental health from a different direction to much of the messaging around the subject, which often depicts people struggling with their mental health as overtly sad. In reality, many with mental health issues are accomplished at hiding their pain.
Interest piqued by Fragile, as well as his other cinematic accomplishments, LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Christoffer to learn more about this emerging directing talent.
LBB> You're originally from Sweden. Where abouts? What was it like growing up there, and how did creativity impact your younger years?
Christoffer> I grew up in a small village in southern Sweden, close to the sea. It never offered me much in terms of a creative community or culture until I started skateboarding. It is so mundane and quiet with nothing to do, so all we did was skateboard and go the cinema. We were lucky because in this small village the local cinema is beautiful. It got awarded the ‘best cinema’ in Sweden at the time. To date it is still my favourite cinema. We spent a lot of time there. Often we would go to the cinema as a way to pass the time. We usually went without knowing what movie was being played. We went there because we had nowhere else to go; it was our window to the rest of the world.
LBB> How did you first get interested in filmmaking?
Christoffer> Skateboarding is the backbone of my childhood. I started filming my friends skating and doing my first edits at the age of 10. At my first ‘job’ as many other Swedish children do, I sold Christmas magazines to my neighbours and as a reward I could choose a product as a form of payment. I sold enough to choose between a lava lamp and a DV camera that shot 12fps. Since then I have been fascinated by how you can capture time and space with a camera. However, it took me quite some time to figure out that there are actually people making films, that it’s a whole industry, and that I could also become a filmmaker myself.
LBB> You moved to Salzburg to study at the University of Applied Sciences. What made you decide that was the right place for you?
Christoffer> Definitely the Schnitzel! No doubt about it... no, but seriously. I had been travelling for over 10 years, living in Canada, Australia, and a few other places. At the time, I was staying in Austria participating in the Freeride World Qualifiers in snowboarding. As I found the film school, it was obvious for me; I wanted to make filmmaking a career.
LBB> What has your time studying there been like? What will you remember most about adjusting to your new life there?
Christoffer> It was a really scary decision for me since the education is primarily taught in German and I didn't speak a word of it. Within two years I managed to learn the language almost fluently and good enough to be accepted to the university. I had a great time there. They were very supportive and I was always surrounded by sound designers, composers, 3D artists, production designers, etc. which really makes things a lot easier when trying to put together a crew. Luckily I’ve met some incredible, motivated, and talented filmmakers – some of which I will continue creating movies with.
LBB> I read that you're interested in directing more ads. When did you first develop an interest in commercial directing specifically, and why?
Christoffer> I have grown to love advertising in any form. I have always been amazed at how quickly an ad or commercial can evoke emotions and how they interact with people. The combination of problem-solving communication and moving images is really interesting. One of the lecturers at my university was Thomas Garber
. He is an established commercial director. I guess he sparked the idea in me of becoming one myself. I learned a lot about the industry in a very short time from him.
LBB> You worked as a copywriting intern at Jung von Matt/Spree in Berlin. What was that experience like and how has it shaped the way you view your creativity?
Christoffer> It was really interesting since it gave me a front-row view from an agency perspective. I was lucky to join the international team at Jung von Matt/Spree in Berlin, a great group of really creative people. Being part of the development of a campaign, starting with scribbles, reading directors’ interpretations, to final exports gave me a clear understanding of the process which I did not have before. Pitching my ideas on a daily basis to the CDs really made me step up the way I pitch and my understanding of what concepts work or not. But most importantly, how to make them work.
LBB> Your film for Mind.se was so slick and powerful! What was your biggest lesson from that project?
Christoffer> Thank you so much! I think I’ve learned that even through all the struggle that comes with doing something with practically zero budget, it is always worth it to push through when there is a story that needs to be told. I guess it also challenged me to learn how to make things work and look good with a minimal budget, which also pushes and develops me creatively.
LBB> What do you love most about that film now that it's behind you and out in the world?
Christoffer> I’m so happy for the exposure and the nice words we received from people but what I really love is when it starts a conversation about the topic. It won a Silver Cube at ADC New York and second prize at NYF Advertising. After that, multiple newspapers decided to write about the film and the connection to mental illness.
LBB> What other projects have you worked on that you are most proud of?
Christoffer> I recently wrote, directed, and co-produced a series pilot. A sci-fi drama called Sally Ride. I’m really excited with the results so far and we are currently in conversation with different platforms regarding a release.
LBB> You're still finding your style, but I feel like you already have a strong sensibility of your own. Quite poignant and dramatic. How do you feel about your personal brand as a director?
Christoffer> I’ve always gravitated towards emotive stories. I like the idea of being emotionally invested in people's stories. I'm very impulsive and emotional. Basically, I want to tell authentic narratives which resonate with cinematic craft. I try not to think about my visual language too much at the moment; I just do the work that comes to my mind and respond to what I am drawn to visually and emotionally.
LBB> Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Christoffer> Everywhere! It sounds cliché but that is really how it is. It could be anything from conversations to sitting alone on a bus. I try to see the world and search through my own as well as other people’s stories. If they have an emotional impact on me, then I’m inspired. I’m also really into analogue photography. It challenges me to find interesting angles and characters on a day-to-day basis. It is amazing how much you see when you start searching for something and looking at things differently.
LBB> What do you do outside of filmmaking to cool off and get inspired?
Christoffer> I grew up riding boards and still do – surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding. It clears my mind and I really love how it forces me to be creative with what is right in front of me.
LBB> You've just graduated. What's next?
Christoffer> Yes. I just finished a few weeks ago. I want to find a commercial production company that I can work with to build my reel and shoot as much as possible. I’m also looking to move to a bigger city again and keep working my way down on that pile of film ideas.