‘Dream Scenario’ filmmaker: Nicolas Cage was ‘most suited’ to play ‘memefied’ part

Written by Anna Buss, produced by Joshua Farnham

Filmmaker Kristoffer Borgli holds a Nicolas Cage stuffed prop-doll at the special screening of “Dream Scenario” at the Bruin Theater in Westwood, CA on November 6, 2023. Photo by Katrina Jordan/Sipa USA/REUTERS

When Kristoffer Borgli was growing up in Oslo, there wasn’t Netflix, but watching shows like Seinfeld and The Simpsons “really made an impact” and complemented the Norwegian writer-director’s school-learned English skills.

By his late teens, Borgli became “obsessed with movies” and he started working in a video store in town, which, he says, led him to think that he “wanted to be part of [filmmaking] in some way.”

While he rejects any comparison with Quentin Tarantino – who also worked as a video store clerk – Borgli, like the famed cult-making filmmaker, started writing scripts at an early age from his parents’ basement and studying the industry.  

“[My scripts] did suck. They're really embarrassing,” Borgli says. “It took me many, many years of making short films and sort of teaching myself how to become a director and a writer, and now we're here.”

Borgli’s first English-language movie is his latest dark, fantastical comedy Dream Scenario, starring Nicolas Cage as an ordinary, nerdy Biology professor (Paul Matthews) who gains sudden viral fame after unwittingly showing up in people's dreams, and nightmares, everywhere. Cast also includes Julianne Nicholson, Michael Cera, Tim Meadows, Dylan Gelula and Dylan Baker.   

Embed video “Dream Scenario” official trailer. Courtesy of A24 via YouTube

Adam Sandler was initially invited to take on the lead, but it didn’t work out. Then, Borgli casted Cage.

“In retrospect, he is the most suited person to play this part, not only for his acting talent, but also because he has experienced a lot of the things that the character has experienced in the movie,” Borgli says. “[Cage] has been ‘memeified’ and turned into this mythical [cultural] icon fully outside of his own control, and that's something that happens with the character. [So] I think he found sort of a personal angle to play this due to his personal experience.”

Cage has appeared in over 100 titles in his four-decade career, including roles in movies such as The Flash, Renfield, Pig, Adaptation, Leaving Las Vegas – which won him the Oscar for best actor – Vampire’s Kiss, Moonstruck, Raising Arizona, and many others. As one of the most prolific and recognizable artists, he has also become “memeified” (his word) when a compilation video of his most outlandish performances appeared online.

“I think it feels intuitive to want massive amounts of attention, and if our self worth comes through the eyes of others, then why not have everyone look at us?” Borgli asks. “But I think it quickly becomes a nightmare.”

This is not the first time Borgli has made a film exploring the human craving for notoriety and the negative impacts of capitalism.

In his debut film Sick of Myself, a young woman compulsively ingests a recalled drug to reclaim her rightfully deserved attention within Oslo's cultural elite. The results are dire.

Embed video “Sick of Myself” trailer. Courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes Indie via YouTube 

But in Norway, there’s a cultural phenomenon known as the “Law of Jante” or “Janteloven” - a sort of code of social conduct that values collective well-being over individual and personal success. So for Borgli, creating stories that clash with this concept is “foreign and exotic” to him.

“The character [in Sick of Myself] was influenced in a way where those traits seemed normal out here, and they would [be] more unusual in Norway, and that made for a more interesting place to put such a character,” he says.

Most recently, however, Norway has passed a law requiring advertisers and social media influencers to disclose when an image has been manipulated, in an attempt to address body image issues.  

The themes Borgli explores in his films of consumerism, advertising, notoriety and self-worth are a reflection of his evolving career – going from shooting skateboard clips to music videos, to commercials, to short movies, to now feature films – with the most dichotomic creations being from his years directing ads.

“The culture in advertisement was something that, I think, being the son of a social anthropologist, was absorbed and kept ruminating in my head, and I couldn't let go of it,” he explains. “It started sort of coming out in movies where it felt natural, and that time in my life has influenced parts of Dream Scenario.”

For him, there was also something horrifying about making commercials.

“I think it's just the delusion of what we are doing in that space, we're lying to ourselves that we're making art,” he says. “It's taking art for the purposes of commerce.”

Borgli says he took those jobs when he was still unknown, so directing ad campaigns became a means to an end.

“I made enough of a living to sit and write my scripts, [but] in between I had to come up for air and do commercials once in a while just to be able to afford rent,” he says. “One of the ways to get something funded was either music videos, or ads. They become a little bit of a necessary evil for me as a means to work in a real film production.”

Eventually, Borgli applied for a writing grant by the Norwegian Film Institute, which allowed him time to write the script for Sick of Myself. And he secretly moved to Los Angeles to focus on his film career - a “side huddle” against NFI’s rules. 

“I kept having to come up with excuses that I was somewhere abroad. I was in a different place each time, and I had to do it over Zoom. And each time I had to come up with a new excuse,” he explains. “I was always traveling because I couldn't reveal that I've moved out of the country.”

After Borgli acquired funding for Sick of Myself, he immediately started working on Dream Scenario, but he needed the right connections to gain traction in Hollywood.

He met with Danish producer Lars Knudsen (Midsommer, Hereditary, The Witch) and once he had a draft for Dream Scenario, he sent it to him. Knudsen and his Square Peg partner, Ari Aster, came aboard to produce the film alongside Cage, Jacob Jaffke and Tyler Campellone.

“[Meeting Knudsen] was the least amount of networking with the biggest amount of impact in my life,” he quips.

Dream Scenario was also backed by A24, the artist-friendly studio that reminded Borgli of his experience with the European funding system.  

“The US doesn't have that system. It only has the business model,” he says. “I was really lucky to work with A24 because they believe in their filmmakers, and they never asked me to change the art to optimize it for a market. In that sense, it felt very similar [to] making a movie in Europe and in the US, because they protected the creative in that way, and I could keep my artistic integrity.”

Dream Scenario has received several positive reviews and Cage is predicted to become a contender for another Academy Award. The film is in theaters now.

“To me, this movie could work as a reminder to stop and smell the roses, focus on the things that's in front of you, and maybe stop worrying too much about external validation,” Borgli says. “If I want to be a writer, I should enjoy writing. I shouldn't enjoy the idea of my writing being seen or well received or becoming a bestseller. It should be in the process of writing. That's sort of the mindful philosophy that I am trying to apply to my own life.”




Kim Masters


Joshua Farnham