According to SwedeFest, a swede is a low-budget summarized recreation of a popular film or TV show. It’s similar to a parody, but parodies are a bit more open with plot lines and will often spoof more than one film or TV show. It’s a concept with growing popularity in the indie film world. There are even two (non-sweded) films about swedes that I know of: Be Kind, Rewind, starring Jack Black and Mos Def, and Son of Rambow, a small but heartwarming film about two kids recreating the first Rambo movie.
We had a fantastic swede on the MixBit site a few weeks back from one of our favorite MixBit users named Chad Pickens, who works at a school. He worked with the kids to make a swede of Napoleon Dynamite.
The great thing about making a swede is that it saves you from coming up with a story, leaving your creative juices free to make it your own, and to have fun with a storyline that’s already a proven success. By their very nature, they are lighthearted and silly, so it leaves off a lot of the pressure of making a “perfect” short film. Swedes are supposed to look handmade and somewhat sloppy – it adds to the effect and humor. Chad said about the making of Swede-Poleon Dynamite, “I felt it was great to keep not so perfect takes in to make it just that much more entertaining. It’s supposed to be cheap and cheesy.”
Picking a film to swede may be the hardest part of the whole process. It has to be popular enough that people will recognize it without the original actors, sets, and cinematography. The plot has to be simple enough to be condensed into a shorter time span, and still be recognizable – while allowing time to add your own touches.
Of course, it can’t have a ton of special effects, unless there is a way to recreate them (in Son of Rambow, I believe they used fireworks to simulate explosions, which you should definitely not try at home). Many props and costumes can be recreated with stuff around the house, but CGI monsters are probably out of the question unless you have a friend who wants to dress up like Gollum and limp around your backyard. Which, now that I think about it, is not so far-fetched. That said, any special effects you add make the swede that much more complicated, time consuming, and potentially expensive, so take that into consideration before selecting your movie.
The next step is to select the scenes you want to recreate. Picking the well-known, often-quoted scenes is the best bet, because the parody and humor will pack the biggest punch. People like to be in on inside jokes. It’s easier to keep the audience if they know what you’re trying to do. Some scenes are so iconic that people will get the joke even if they never saw the movie (think: Rocky running up the steps, “Here’s Johnny,” the shower scene from Psycho, “You talkin’ to me?” from Taxi Driver, ET on a bike, etc).
The goal is to keep as many viewers in on the joke as possible. It’s awesome to slip in obscure references and jokes, but the majority of the swede should be easily recognizable. That’s what makes it interesting. It causes us to think about these classic moments in pop culture in a different way than we have our entire lives.
The great thing about a swede is that you have complete creative control. The more you make the story your own, the more interesting it will be to others. You can go way, way over the top, and as long as the audience gets the joke, they will stay with you. You can also change the scenes – add a layer of subtext to a classic scene, or completely change the ending of the film. Have fun with it. As long as you keep the audience in the loop, you really can do whatever you want.
A note on copyright: Read up on Fair Use before creating your film, and make sure that what you’re doing is legal.