Oskar Söderlund is a writer with a storied career in film and television, with credits such as The Fat and the Angry (Ettor nollor), The Grey Zone (Gråzon) and The Dark Heart (Mörkt Hjärta).His latest project has been as head writer of Snabba Cash, the 2022 reimagining of Jens Lapidius’ Stockholm-centric stories about entrepreneurs from different social strata trying to get rich quick, inevitably doing things the hard way.We spoke to Oskar at his office in Gothenburg about the themes in his work, his inspirations, as well as his love for wool.
Oskar, I understand you’ve just finished writing your next project for Netflix. What can you tell us about it?
I was just on crunch time this week, spending days and evenings in the office but now it’s done.
I can’t say that much about the project because it is based on a true crime story, and there is still an on-going communication with the people involved, but I can tell you that it’s a story about hope.
How do you decide on a project to work on?
When I choose a project, I need to be able to find something in it that is interesting to explore. I said no to Snabba Cash three times because I couldn’t find that angle.
But saying no worked in my favour because in the end they said you can do whatever you want with it!
The Snabba Cash books and films were focused around Balkan organised crime. Your reimagining takes it to the suburban gangs of Stockholm. What can you tell us about this shift?
Jens Lapidius’ Snabba Cash was reflective of its time. Back then, crime was organised. It was ex-military people from the former Yugoslavia who knew how to use guns and weapons. The violence was targeted.
Now, much of the crime is disorganised, and the gang members have weapons, but no training. They are spraying everywhere, which has a much greater impact on the wider society.
One thing about the Snabba Cash series is how shockingly real it feels. What can you tell me about how you research the topic?
I have a script advisor who still has a foot in that world that grounds everything in reality. As we are casting amateurs to play the roles, they also help with the dialogue during pre-readings.
I have to stress though, that everything in the TV show is pure fiction… maybe with the exception of some of the money laundering activities.
Funnily enough, it was easier to understand the life on the streets than it was to understand the Stockholm startup scene.
I had one meeting at a startup hub in Stockholm talking to two founders. A guy from Mexico overheard the conversation. Turns out he had been exposed to the drug culture in his native country and was in Stockholm working in the startup world. His knowledge helped develop the two sides of the story—the tech scene and the drug world.
We credited him as a script advisor.
Exploring two sides seem to be a recurring theme for you.
In my work there are always parallels and contrasts. The gang members, they are entrepreneurs in one way, trying to find a way to the next deal before time runs out. And the tech entrepreneurs, they are also hustling, trying to find a way to their next deal before their time runs out.
In season two, we noticed shades of the Wire, exploring some of structural issues around what drives kids to join gangs. In particular there was the story thread around the funding for schools.
The themes in Snabba Cash are tricky to cover. How does one approach the subject without marginalising the people involved?
David Simon (creator of the Wire) is one of my heroes. For me, when it comes to television, there was before the Wire, and after the Wire.
What the Wire did very well was depict all of its protagonists and antagonists in a non-judgemental way.
In Sweden we basically have two conversations. One is that migrants are the problem. The other is that people that vote for Sweden Democrats are idiots. I think that to move towards progress, we need to have deeper conversations than that.
That was where we wanted to go with Snabba Cash. To present this world in way that didn’t pass judgement. To try to understand the characters actions through their situations.
To move towards progress, we need to have deeper conversations
What has been the reaction?
At first I was worried about how Snabba Cash would be received. But I hear from my accountant, a 60 year old white Swedish guy, that it was eye-opening to see this side of life. I also have middle aged neighbours calling out to me in Stockholm slang, which is funny.
You mention that the Netflix way is much more intense and fast-paced than the traditional Swedish method of producing film and TV. To me that sounds like a parallel to the fashion industry with its tight release cycles.
I do get a bit conflicted working in this industry. It’s not dissimilar to fashion, in that there is a constant push for something new, and when you have this constant push there are always those left behind.
There is a constant push for something new, and when you have this constant push there are always those left behind.
A lot of your previous work is set in Gothenburg, and I understand a lot of your research about the Swedish underworld is centred there. Did you ever think about setting Snabba Cash in Gothenburg?
Snabba Cash is a very Stockholm story. In places like Stureplan you have all worlds—old money, new money, illegal money, coming together to show it all off. It couldn't have happened in Gothenburg, it couldn’t have happened anywhere else in Sweden.
There seems to be a focus on crime in your work. Is it a thing? Or do you want to move onto other subjects?
Working on crime stories is draining. When I write, I walk step-by-step with the characters. In the case of Snabba Cash, it got to a point where I realised that there wasn’t any hope in the path that they were going down.And in many cases, the real world escalated faster than the fiction.With this project that I just wrapped up, it is a crime story, but through it I was exploring the theme of trauma, and where I ended up was a place of hope. In the future I’d like to explore something detached from the every day. I’d like to explore fantasy.
—AS TOLD TO ANTHONY LUI / A NEW SWEDEN, OCTOBER 2022