When Rubicon Films were working on the new HBO series Beforeigners, the production company wanted Tyr Neilsen of the Academy of Martial Arts to consult with them on several Viking fight scenes that would be filmed in Norway. No other film or TV production company has ever hired a Viking martial arts expert regarding a Viking fight scene for a film or TV show. That Tyr and the Academy of Viking Martial Arts are the first to do so is exciting and groundbreaking.
Beforeigners is HBO Nordic's first original series from Norway and a massive production for the Norwegian company Rubicon. The series is a science fiction drama about a new phenomenon that starts happening all over the world. People from the past, who have disappeared from three time periods; the stone age, the Viking age, and the late 1800s, start mysteriously appearing in the present time. These people are called ‘Beforeigners’.
Terje Strømstad, the producer at Rubicon, explained to Tyr that the script called for a dynamic Viking Age fight scene involving some central characters, and Terje wanted Tyr to work with the stunt team and actors to make it as authentic and exciting as possible.
Tyr put together a team of Viking reenactors he knew he could rely on as background fighters, and together with academy instructors Bjørn Braathen and Lars Gulbrandsen, joined the cast and crew in Snarøya, Oslo. Here, the production company was preparing to film several outdoor scenes, which included filming onboard ’Gaia’, a life size working Viking ship that was moored in a neaby harbor.
That morning everyone had been warned about the threat of a violent september storm, but it was imperitive to move ahead with the scheduled filming. Production crew and many extras in Viking raider makeup and clothing, struggled against the wind and rain as they worked on the early exterior scenes. According to Terje, the weather was adding to the reality of the scenes.
Tyr Neilsen teaching Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir how to weild a steel Viking sword
In the production training room, Tyr met with actresses Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir and Krista Kosonen, actor Stig Henrik Hoff and several professional stunt people. After a brief introduction and explanation about the weapons and equipment Tyr had brought from the academy, everyone started working together to create the Viking fight scenes.
Tyr and his instructors oversaw the creation of the scenes and corrected the fighting techniques so that they were more authentically ‘Viking’ and didn’t look like stage techniques, or techniques from a different period of history. This was made easier by the great work ethic of everyone involved.
A real Viking swordfight or axe-fight could be quick and sharp, hard and chaotic, or long and drawn out, depending on the situation and how tired a warrior was. Whatever the case, a realistic Viking fight with weapons could seem boring and even look very unrealstic in a film or TV show. Onscreen fighting has certain rules that it has to follow in order for the action to be exciting and look realistic.
Krista Kosonen training with real steel Viking sword and Viking shield and Academy of Viking Martial Arts instructor Lars Gulbrandsen teaching background fighter Roy Rolstad Viking fight techniques
The actors, stunt people and background fighters picked up what was ‘Viking’ quickly with amazing determination and energy. Within a couple of hours, everyone was working at a scary speed with steel weapons and wooden shields. The swords and axes were blunted, but they were still very dangerous.
When the choreography was done and everyone was in full makeup and costume, they were transported by a van to the Viking ship location. It didn’t look good. The closer Tyr and the actors got to the wharf, the more violent the storm became. The Viking ship was rocking heavily and people were struggling to stand upright. Rain pelted down, the food tent and everything not tied down blew away, and production was forced to stop.
Soaked to the skin and shouting to be heard over the storm, Terje told Tyr that he still wanted the Viking fight scene. He said that the project had a tough shooting schedule, but if it was at all possible, he would film the scene at a later date.
working on Beforeigners fight scene choreography - Roy Ralstad with Bjørn Braathen and Tyr with Per-Jonas Lie
Tyr getting professional cuts and scars for Beforeigners Viking fighting scene
A month later, Tyr got the call. A window had opened up in the shooting schedule. On a overclouded October morning, Tyr, academy instructor Bjørn Braathen, Viking reenactor Per-Jonas Lie and stunt fighter Roy Ralstad, arrived at a farm in Nes, a rural area north of Oslo. A local farm was being used as Beforeigners production headquarters for the day, and the fight scene would be shot in a field nearby.
After a short briefing with the stunt team, everyone got to work rehearsing the fight scene choreography. The make-up department, costume department, and everyone involved in producing the day’s scenes worked diligently to make sure nothing got in of the filming of these vital scenes.
Tyr and the rest of the team was dirtied up and had cuts and scars applied to their faces by the make-up team, and when everyone was in full costume, they were hastily transported to the film set a few fields away. Here, atop a hill enveloped in mist was a giant burning cross, was a large film crew and the actors who trained with the fighting team in September.
The actors looked fantastic in full costume and holding steel weapons. When they were finished with their last non-fighting scene, the director and stunt team leader set the scene for the big finale. After a few words from the director, every actor and Viking fighter was eager and ready to go for broke with the fight scene.
When director Jens Lien called “Action!” the sound of steel clashing with steel rang out and Vikings fought desperately for their lives around the burning cross. Every Beforeigners actor in the scene fought as dynamically as the stunt team and Viking fighters. It was exciting and powerful.
The scene was shot from several angles, from a distance and close-up. In every take, the actors, stunt team and Viking fighters put everything they had into their fights. By the finished take, everyone was completely exhausted. Dripping with sweat and fake blood they all looked towards the director. He was very happy.
Standing: left, Stig Henrik Hoff, 4th from left, Krista Kosonen, 3rd from right Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir. KNeeling: left, Producer Terje Strømstad, far right, Director Jens Lien
The director and stunt team leader congratulated everyone on a job well done, then everyone involved in the scene gathered for a group photograph at the top of the hill. Everyone was looking forward to seeing this on our TV screens when Beforeigners premiers in August.
Beforeigners (6 episodes) premieres August 21 exclusively on HBO Nordic and across HBO Europe’s territories.