“It’s not what you do, it’s who you do it with” explains “Chernobyl” director Johan Renck. The director earned his first ever Emmy nomination for helming the hit HBO limited series. He spoke to Gold Derby from his home country of Sweden about the fulfilling artistic process behind the moving television event. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
The script for “Chernobyl” was “undeniably good” gushes Renck. Writer and creator Craig Mazin was a major reason why Renck felt that the project was a great fit for him artistically. The director greatly admired the “poetic and impressionist moments” in the story. This visual element paired well with Renck’s personal aesthetic.
One such moment that grabbed viewers is the scene where citizens of Pripyat gather on a railroad bridge to watch the spectacle of lights emanating from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Unaware that the display is the result of deadly radiation they watch in awe as if gathered for a fireworks show. Innocent families and children play and laugh as fallout floats down around them like ashy snowflakes. Renck believes the stirring image “works because it’s simple… there’s something very human about it.” Evocative images that blend grace and melancholy dominate “Chernobyl.” “There’s beauty in tragedy” offers Renck, and capturing that dichotomy was a goal from the beginning of his process.
Renck’s penchant for stirring visuals can be traced back to his origins in the music industry. He started his career as a singer-songwriter and directed his own music video when a shoestring budget didn’t allow him to hire the desired director. During the shoot Renck admits that he “realized with great sadness in my heart that this is what I want to do.” He wouldn’t be sad for long though, as he began directing numerous videos for renowned artists like Madonna, Kylie Minogue, and Robyn. His work on David Bowie’s “Lazarus” video earned him a MTV VMA nomination for Best Direction in 2016.
“It felt very natural to me,” says the artist of his surprise leap into filmmaking. Using his time helming music videos as an experiential film school, Renck quickly segued into television. He directed episodes of the hit series “Bloodline,” “Breaking Bad,” and “The Walking Dead.” But with “Chernobyl” he is steering the ship for all five episodes of the limited series. His vision and imprint is in every frame.
Renck scored his first Emmy nomination for “Chernobyl.” That recognition extends to many Renck’s “Chernobyl” collaborators, including the three actors he directed to nominations: Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard and Emily Watson. It’s all a bit unbelievable for a man who kept telling his team: “This is going to be great, but no one is going to watch it.” With 19 Emmy nominations in total, more than any other limited series in this year’s Emmy race, it’s clear that Johan Renck underestimated how many people his haunting series would touch.
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