Director Emilie Norenberg Empowers Women through Her Personal Music Videos
By Abigail Best
Last week, DRØME presented the US premiere of Billie Van’s new music video for “Bitter”, directed by her fellow Norwegian, filmmaker Emilie Norenberg. Norenberg is building quite a prolific portfolio of music videos, having worked with artists such as Teen Suicide and Spencer Radcliffe. However, Norenberg’s collaboration with Billie Van marks her first time working with an artist from her home country.
“Bitter” is the follow up to “I’m Totally Fine With It”, both part of a series of videos Norenberg has been working on for Billie Van (with a third part in the works). The subject of the series has been quite personal for Norenberg. The narrative of a woman leaving her long-term partner was one that Norenberg lived through in real time as she worked on the videos: “I found it quite funny how I had just broken up with my long term boyfriend, and then got contacted to do a video for a break-up song. It felt almost tragicomical,” she explained, “Breaking up with someone you’ve been with for a long time is a really lengthy and exhausting process. There’s a lot of back and forth.” That prolonged feeling of indecision about a relationship was the subject of “I’m Totally Fine With It”, in which a group of people in the lead character's mind—portrayed as a community hall support group—represent her conflicting emotions.
This series of music videos also represents a departure from Norenberg’s previous low-key, hand-held, intuitive directing style: “This was the first big production that I did,” she said. “It just kind of went next level with production design and everything.” Working with a new cinematographer with a focus on dolly shots and precise blocking, Norenberg chose to shoot these videos with a very theatrical, retro aesthetic—one that was inspired by Billie Van’s unique look: “Billie is wise, talented, funny, and super chill. I love and respect her so much and I would never ask her to wear a bikini and dance in front of some neon lights—which I find so cliché, anyway! The budgets for these videos is normally low, and you’re not going to get rich doing them, so why not try and push the boundaries or at least challenge yourself?” she laughed.
Norenberg has a penchant for bringing personal matters into her work; Her video for Teen Suicide’s “Bright Blue Pickup Truck” is also based on her own experiences. Norenberg laid out a concept based on the emotion she got from listening to the song. The result? A personal, girly, quirky rumination on growing up and childhood innocence: “It’s just about me, how all I wanted to do was be older when I was 11 or 12,” she explained. “I looked a lot older when I was young, so I would be off with a beer and get a lot of unwanted attention. I remember going to some place with my dad and being mistaken for his younger wife, which was obviously a very disturbing experience.” Norenberg was concerned about how young girls are often taught sexual attention equals success, and how it makes being that age such a confusing time. It complements the lyrics and melody of the melancholic “Bright Blue Pickup Truck”, proving that Norenberg’s cinematic instincts are spot-on.
When it comes to her influences, Norenberg draws from a wide variety of personal sources. People she meets, dreams and nightmares, conversations overheard, still photography, and hiking through nature have all played a role in shaping what she does. Making music videos has become the culmination of her interests, with dancing in particular playing a pivotal role in her process: “Whenever I get a song from a band, I need to move to it,” she laughed. “It’s a really weird process, but I have to move and feel it in my body to visualize [the song]. It’s weird but it really works, it’s so cool.” More recently, skateboarding has also become a source of inspiration for her work: “It’s a culture that is just so full of really positive, creative people,” she explained. “It’s such a great way of expressing yourself, and I feel like it has a space for everyone, which is really inspiring. You meet so many strange and funny and cool characters in that kind of environment.”
Being a filmmaker has not always been the easiest career for Norenberg. She currently works as a casting director to pay the bills, and often she will be beaten out for directing jobs by men who do not have as much experience as she does: “I get really angry,” she laughed, “But you can’t get angry and stop working, you have to keep working and just be there until they can’t avoid you.” Ideally, Norenberg would love to work with crews that are 50/50 male and female, but due to the lack of women in film, she will often try to recruit as many women for her crew as possible. The one role she hasn’t been able to find a woman to fill is that of cinematographer: “It’s a shame. I think often women are a lot more hesitant to promote themselves than men are. Quite a few male cinematographers have contacted me about collaborating, which is awesome, but no women have,” she said. “It’s not because they’re not out there, you just have to actively look for them. The relationship between the cinematographer and the director is so important—mutual understanding and respect are key words, as well as a similar sense of humour—so that’s my next mission, to find the next female cinematographer that I'm going to work with. Girls, hit me up! If not I’ll find you.”
Right now, Norenberg is working on the script for her first narrative short film, something she hopes to shoot in the next few months. She’s not ready to reveal the details of this project, but is open about other things she is interested in making in the future: “Everyone loves a great coming of age movie,” she told me. “I love those movies myself and I’d love to make one about a group of girls, or just dynamic, interesting characters that you don’t really see that often. Locations are really important to me as well, like small locations where you can find really strange characters, where the location is kind of a character in itself.” While there are exciting things on the horizon, in the meantime her music videos offer a compelling platform for her unique vision, something she says she will always come back to between future personal and commercial projects.