What do an elf, a monster hunter, an assassin, and the U.S. Secretary of State have in common? Charlotte Brändström has directed series about them all.
She has more than 50 television and feature directorial credits to her name across English, French, and Swedish screens—“The Witcher,” “Madam Secretary,” and “The Man in the High Castle” among them. Currently, she’s in the U.K. shooting Season 2 of Prime Video’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.”
But she didn’t set out to direct fictional stories; at first, her heart was set on documentary filmmaking. Brändström attended UCLA with a focus on anthropology; she developed a taste for stories of the made-up variety while studying directing at the American Film Institute. She continues to be passionate about multiple areas of filmmaking. “I find it interesting that I would want to watch myself and not stick to one genre, which is why I jump from one thing to the other,” she says. “It’s important not to get locked into something.”
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Brändström’s openness comes from a mix of training, realistic expectations, and attention to detail. She praises AFI’s model of letting students learn from working professionals. For example, the director remembers Meryl Streep saying that the key to playing a queen was less about how you act and more about how people act around you. Brändström returns to that insight every time she’s on set. “In a way, you need to pay, as a director, more attention to the surroundings than to the actual person playing the king or the queen,” she says.
The director collaborates with her cast and crew to shape those circumstances. “We all approach a scene differently. I read a scene, and I wait to see what I feel about it; how I see it comes by itself,” she says. “But I love letting actors lead the scene, also, blocking-wise, to find what comes with them, what they come up with.”
Ben Rothstein/Prime Video
Brändström emphasizes the importance of having a distinct point of view as a director. “Something I often think before I do a scene is, What is not too conventional? I want to make it real,” she says. “I want to make it emotional, and at the same time, I don’t want to shoot it in a regular manner. I want it to look different.” She brings a distinct visual sensibility to all her projects, whether it’s brand-new work or an established show or franchise.
“I’m a storyteller,” she explains. “If you want to have a long career, you really first have to enjoy it. But you also…need to be curious about the world around you—to read, to watch movies, to be open to travel, to talk to people—because that gives you stories to tell.”
Brändström often invites aspiring filmmakers to her sets to shadow her; she also meets with them to share her insights into the industry. She’s especially aware of the support filmmakers need early in their careers, when breaking into the industry seems impossible. “You have to be like an entrepreneur,” she says. “You have to take care of yourself. You can’t count on everybody else bringing you everything on a silver platter.”
Her career spans more than three decades; she credits her staying power in the industry to her versatility and willingness to adapt to a variety of genres and projects in locations all over the world. (It doesn’t hurt that she’s fluent in English, French, and Swedish.)
“Things never happen the way you expect,” Brändström says. “Every film is a prototype. On every job, every project, unexpected things happen. You meet good people, you meet bad people. You just basically need to put up with it all and move forward and remain, when you can, as patient as possible.”
This story originally appeared in the Apr. 6 issue of Backstage Magazine.