“Script is king,” new professor Nickolaus Swedlund said to his Media Production II class but then reconsidered. “Or queen, just to be inclusive. Script is monarch, how’s that?” The class laughed. | Kellie Lawless

Professor by day, filmmaker 24/7

Nickolaus Swedlund dreams of making it big. The only thing standing in the way of his success is himself.

CeCe Gaines
Oct 15, 2017 · 7 min read

By Beret Leone, CeCe Gaines, and Kellie Lawless | Feature reporters

Valerie Swedlund stands in the back of a crowded room, clutching her hands, tears welling in her wide, brown eyes. Her son, 8-year-old Nickolaus Swedlund, waited to present his book of choice for his vision therapy class. She could see the beads of sweat building on his forehead from 20 feet away.

“You don’t realize how bad the stutter was…,” Valerie said, a pained look coming back, like it was yesterday. “I truly didn’t think he would even go to college.”

With film, Swedlund could communicate on a visual level. No stutter could stop the message he was trying to convey. He immediately fell in love after he made his first film for a youth group at church. Independent filmmaking was the goal. Teaching keeps him in the realm.

Nick Swedlund proved her wrong. Born in Hopkins, Swedlund moved to Los Angeles the minute he turned 18 to attend Biola University. After graduating in 2005, Swedlund dreamed of grad school. The top three U.S. films schools alternated back and forth between University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, New York University and the American Film Institute. Swedlund wanted in.

“If you want to go to lobster school, you go to New England,” Swedlund bellowed, raising his arms in a shrug, smirking.

A month before class started, Swedlund got the call announcing he was off the waiting list for AFI. He spent the remainder of August watching movies on Netflix — anything and everything — to prepare for his first day. Back then, he said, they had to wait for discs in the mail.

After graduating with his Master’s in Fine Arts, Swedlund bounced around jobs in the Los Angeles area. He did miscellaneous crew work as a production assistant for several TV shows, such as The Playbook, Survival of the Richest and America’s Next Top Model — according to Swedlund, Tyra Banks is a diva.

During his time at AFI, Swedlund was introduced to his wife, Jennifer. The two were set up by a mutual friend, whom neither were too fond of. The two were wed a year later.

“It was funny because neither of us had a whole lot of respect for the friend,” Jennifer said. “But when we met we were surprised to find that we both wanted the same things. When we moved to Minnesota — growing up in California — it was a fairy tale.”

Six years ago, Swedlund and Jennifer moved back home. It was time. Financially, it was the best choice. He accepted a teaching position at Crown College as a media communications professor. There, he was able to create and direct his first film, All The Time in the World. He shot it over the school year, while teaching and used students of the college as his actors. It was featured in the 2015 Twin Cities Film Festival. His most recent move was to Bethel University this school year. Although nothing is yet in the works, Swedlund hopes to create a documentary-esque film following four freshmen through their college years. Bethel communications department colleague Artie Terry admires Swedlund’s innovation.

Twin Cities Film Fest: “2015 TCFF Filmmaking Interviews: Nickolaus Swedlund, All The Time In The World

All he could hear in the back of his mind moving home was his media production professor from AFI saying filmmakers couldn’t have both a film career and a family.

“You should send him a Christmas card,” Jennifer said, smirking. “The one of the whole family at the Twin Cities Film Fest.”

Swedlund tends to his youngest son, Jacob. “The dimples, the blue eyes…you gotta love them,” Swedlund said as assisted his son in drinking water from the plastic cup. | CeCe Gaines

Swinging his book bag across his body, Swedlund performs a smooch-and-run on his kin — Jonathan, Jacob, Emily and Caitlin — like an assembly line. They were all at an age where dad was still cool. He saves a kiss for Jen as he races out the door. She hands a spoon to Caitlin, turning, revealing the bump on her stomach starting to show. Swedlund has been up since 5 a.m. It was his sanctuary, quiet time before the kids got up. He was off to Caribou Coffee to write some more.

“She (Jennifer) allows me to do it,” Swedlund said. “Well, I shouldn’t say that, but you know what I mean. She takes care of the kids so I can go out and write. She’s incredibly supportive.”

Film is the dream, but he had a family now. As Swedlund changes diapers he dreams of the marines who are the stars in his upcoming screenplay. Now, he simultaneously pursues a career in film and teaches it as well, while Jen homeschools their four children.

Jennifer mentions that his passion for film has become an obsession. He always wants to write or explore new ideas.

“I’ve always been an advocate of whatever you can do to support your family and pursue your film career is what you should do,” Jennifer said

Jennifer doesn’t read all of Swedlund’s screenplays. She has diaper changes, lesson-planning and feeding four kids under age 6, while simultaneously growing another one. She read the first few, the ones Swedlund swears are absolute garbage. But these days she doesn’t read them unless Swedlund needs help with emotional clarity. He goes to his film friends for advice on form or structure.

All 10 titles of finished screenplays are taped above Swedlund’s office desk in the Hagstrom Center, reminding him to keep going — for his children and his student loans. Folders upon folders sit in a google drive titled “SCREENPLAYS;” ideas for TV sitcoms, movies and loads of research and inspiration for the two.

Junk was the closest Swedlund ever was to being successful filmmaker in his eyes.

Junk takes place at a scrap yard in Grand Rapids, following the story and relationship of a young girl and her uncle. Swedlund entered the script of Junk into a screenplay competition and made it to the semi finals. The top 150, which is the top 2 percent of the 7,000 entered. The film hasn’t been made yet, but since the success of Junk, two different managers and producers asked to read the script. Swedlund created a dream movie trailer, combining scenes from award-winning movies to create the feel for the film he envisioned; some coming from his folders of inspiration.

Although Swedlund often jumps from writing story to story, he’s been dying to finish his current project based on the novel “The Root” by Eric Hammel. Swedlund says producers are more likely to pick something up when it’s based off of a book. The book tells the story about marines who were in Beirut for a peacekeeping mission, when bombs blew up and killed 241 marines in an instant.

Swedlund is learning about wars he didn’t even know existed through his research. Inside his Google drive folder under TWO-FORTY-ONE are files and filesof history records, lists of deceased marines, Regan essays and even links to Facebook groups — all people who were in the war and can recount stories. He wrote up a contract and paid Hammel exactly $1 for the rights to the book. The contract gives Hammel 10 percent if the film makes it big.

Swedlund smacks his palms over his face, exasperated. “I have marines and the CIA screaming at me to finish a scene,” he tells his class, referring to Two Forty One, a script he’s writing. | Kellie Lawless

Resting his palms over his eyelids, with his fingertips brushing his brown and slightly salt-and-peppered curly hair, Nickolaus Swedlund let out an exasperated groan in Bethel’s media lab. It was a seemingly private moment, however Swedlund wasn’t alone. Fourteen advanced media production students sat in front of him. He began rubbing his eyes, paused a moment, groaned again, and smacked the stand up table he was resting on.

“I have marines screaming at me to finish a scene,” Swedlund blurted out, staring at his hands and sitting on atable. A few timid and almost fearful chuckles came from the crowd. Swedlund’s attention turned from his hands to his students, and back to his fingers as he drummed a tune that was only apparent to him. Squinting his eyes, seemingly searching for a thought. His lips curved into a curious grimace. Suddenly, Swedlund stood up, walked to the whiteboard and began scribbling. Class was in session.

“It’s fascinating that in teaching I get to do this and make stuff,” Swedlund said. “I get to stay in the world that I love and provide for my family, which is pretty cool.”

Regardless of success, Swedlund feels attached to each screenplay.

Swedlund reflects on his completed films hanging above his desk. “”I never put a film up here until it’s completed,” he said. “I don’t think it deserves to sit alongside the rest of them if it isn’t.” | CeCe Gaines

“I’ve watched all of these movies in my head. I’m comfortable that these might never see the light of day…,” he said trailing off. “But I love them.”

Valerie Swedlund gazes at her son as a smile crosses her face and mentioned that she was praying hard the day he left that he wouldn’t become swept up in the California life.

“In junior high he told me wanted to be a director,” Valerie said. “I didn’t believe it. Being a film director was comparable to being an astronaut.”

Despite this, she admits that she’s proud of him. Not only for the triumphs he’s had in the film world, but also the dedication he shows to his family. As Swedlund pulls out of the driveway to go see Bladerunner 2049 with his wife, he thinks about the marines in Beirut — he’ll get to it in the morning.


Hyperlocal news about Bethel (Minn.) University by journalism students. To contact editors, email royalreport.bethel@gmail.com or Tweet to @Royal_Report.

CeCe Gaines

Written by


Hyperlocal news about Bethel (Minn.) University by journalism students. To contact editors, email royalreport.bethel@gmail.com or Tweet to @Royal_Report.

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