Being creative isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The idea of following your dreams, putting yourself out there and telling the world how you see things sounds like a brilliant way to make a living – it’s the “making a living” part that’s tricky. Take Danish film director Karsten (Thomas Bo Larsen): he’s just made an arthouse film – titled Veni Vidi Vici (Latin for “I came, I saw, I conquered”) - that he desperately needs to be a smash hit. Not just for his personal pride either: his wife Jonna (Livia Millhagen) has quit her job to start her own business so the days of her financially supporting his dreams are over. It’s time for Karsten to prove himself to the world.
With so much at stake, it’s no wonder that after nervously introducing his film at the premiere he retreats to the cinema bathroom to hide out. Turns out bad news travels fast, and he soon overhears patrons discussing the awful film they’ve just walked out on. Worse, when Karsten confronts them – giving them the opportunity they’ve been asking for to tell the director how bad his film is to his face – they wimp out and mumble polite platitudes. But the damage is done, and the film’s rapid failure comes as no real surprise to anyone. Things look grim, and that’s before Karsten has to take up a job at his father-in-law’s abattoir.
But this isn’t a series about an ex-director working at a slaughterhouse, so there’s a twist: Karsten’s old film school buddy Vincent “Vinnie” Fontana (Rafael Edholm) arrives on the scene. A subtle dresser this guy is not, and if you think his open-shirt look wouldn’t be out of place on a porn movie set then what’s coming next won’t be a surprise. Now’s probably a good time to mention that while this is technically a drama, it can also be pretty funny; Vincent’s shabby outfit is definitely good for a laugh.
At first Karsten feels himself to be too good for Vincent’s offer of work directing porn. He’s an artist, a man with passion and vision. Not some hack selling out his mechanical skills to the highest bidder. But, working at a slaughterhouse has a way of focusing your mind on finding ways to stop working at a slaughterhouse, and so he caves and takes up Vincent’s offer. But now that he’s back in the director’s chair, will he be able to restrain himself from trying to put something of himself into his new project?
Most of us can’t really put ourselves in the shoes of a Danish porn director, even before Karsten realises he has to hide his new career from his family and starts to live a double life that just might get him killed. Making matters worse, having to work under a fake name (he ends up going with “Topper Harvey”, which… well, it could have been worse) means that Karsten can’t take the credit for his work. Which might seem obvious, but for Karsten it’s a savage blow: who amongst us doesn’t take pride in a job well done even if the job itself isn’t the greatest?
There’s more to this series than just a reflection on the ways our careers go in directions we never planned for – much more: Karsten’s family dramas take a few surprising twists, it seems working for porn producers is more risky than you might think, and life on a porn set is more about feeding babies than sexy sex times. There’s also Georgina (Michael Wincott), a transgender former director who’s also fallen on hard times and now finds himself reduced to working as a camera person. If you remember Wincott from his Hollywood roles in 90s films like The Crow and Strange Days (or even his cameo as worn out robot Old Bill in the recent Westworld), then you’ll have some idea of how much fun it is to see him chew the scenery to pieces here.
But at the heart of this series is the story of a man having to reinvent himself after his planned career didn’t work out. It’s a tough path to take even without having to hide his new life from everyone, and Karsten isn’t going to find things easy even once he’s able to pay his own way. Still, it’s not all bad news for him: he just might discover that the only thing he needed to make his arty approach to film into a crowd-pleasing smash hit success was a whole lot of extremely explicit sex.
Stream Veni Vidi Vici at SBS On Demand from 11 January.