Katla: writing process by Lilja Sigurðardóttir

The catastrophic eruption of subglacial volcano Katla turns a nearby community’s world upside down as mysteries begin to emerge from the ice.

(c) Netflix

I could say that Katla, streamed on Netflix, is currently making waves worldwide, yet this expression might not be quite correct… It’s more about darkness and dust, unsettling wind and ash clouds. The series certainly creates a significant impression on fans of Iceland and all aspects to do with this fascinating land, on readers of crime fiction books by Lilja Sigurðardóttir, one of the series’ writers, and all those who enjoy elements of science fiction mixed with the apparently ordinary life… I have watched all eight episodes in two sittings and then could not get the characters and the intriguing story out of my head. So I am absolutely delighted to share Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s thoughts on writing Katla:

‘Writing a screenplay differs quite a lot from writing a novel, mostly in the sense that novel writing is solitary while a screenplay for TV is most often a joint venture of a team of writers. This was the case with Katla. The original idea came from a team of RVK Studios http://rvkstudios.is/about/ guys, Baltasar Kormákur, Ólafur Egilsson and Sigurjón Kjartansson. They even had a pilot episode written many years ago. When the idea was revived in 2019 we set on it, a team of three writers along with producer, director and creator Baltasar Kormákur. The writers were Sigurjón Kjartansson, Iceland’s most experienced TV writer, Davíð Már Stefánsson, a newly graduated screenwriter from Columbia and myself. I am a crime writer and mostly write novels but I have also written stage plays and screenplays before.

So we had an idea to build on, a good idea indeed, and we had a premise for the series which was the question: ‘Do we dare face ourselves?‘ We began our work by setting up a Writers Room, which is not exactly a room, as we mostly holed down in Sigurjón´s office at the RVK Studio headquarters, but a method of working. We decided on the characters and took the time to discuss each one thoroughly until we felt we knew her or him. And then we set out with the storyline and discussed the story for approximately three episodes at the time. After about four or five days of the Writers Room we went our separate ways to write for a few weeks. And then we met again, reading each other’s work, getting notes and feedback from the team etc. and then we re-wrote and then started another Writer´s Room.

We also did things to inspire ourselves while writing Katla. We watched films and TV series we felt might be helpful and of course we rewatched Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsky, a film many viewers have noted was a big inspiration for Katla, both in the story and atmosphere. The writer´s team also traveled to South Iceland, to the small village of Vik sitting right underneath the volcano Katla and the glacier covering it. That´s where the series takes place.

The geography of the place is inspiring to say the least. The black beaches, the barren landscape around with magnificent cliffs and the constant danger from the volcano. As Katla has erupted approximately every 100 years throughout Iceland’s history she is overdue for an eruption. And that is Icelanders‘ biggest nightmare. Do you remember the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010 that halted air traffic around the world for days? Well Katla is much, much bigger than that.

Besides the geography of South Iceland we were greatly inspired by the old Icelandic myths of the Hidden People, who are our kind of elves. They do not resemble what other Europeans envision as elves as our hidden people are full size and can easily be confused with regular people. And also there are many strange folk tales from the area, many of them connected to the rumblings of the volcanoes. During the writing we were probably drawn more and more towards that as we set out to write a Sci-Fi series but ended up with a wonderful hybrid of a show that does not quite fit into the genres of psychological drama, Sci-Fi or Nordic Noir.

We are very proud of Katla and hope many, many people enjoy the show.’

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