The Sciencey Un-Science of “Sweding”

Over the last two weeks, a friend and I “sweded” The Hobbit trailer.

What is a “swede” you ask? It has little to do with Sweden. It has everything to do with the Internet and a Michel Gondry film called Be Kind Rewind. During the film, a couple video rental store employees accidentally erase all the VHS tapes in their store. In order to save their jobs, they decide to remake every film from memory, quickly, using handmade and found props. To cover their ruse, they insist that these new tapes came from Sweden, hence the term.

From this, a minor Internet meme was born. If you search YouTube for the title of any popular big-budget film with the term “swede”, you will likely be treated to five-minute remakes that involve a lot of lovingly crafted cardboard. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, check out this swede of The Neverending Story.

The appeal of a swede is the challenge of remaking something that cost millions of dollars with a total budget that could be found between the cushions of your sofa. Much humor comes from poking the glossy special effects balloon with a pin, but I think there is a deeper satisfaction in discovering ways that a microbudgeted film can work. For instance, check out the hologram effect in this Star Wars swede (seen at 0:20).  The effect is created with cloth and a cleverly placed light, and that’s it. Ingenius!

While making a swede seems like it would be deliberately antithetical to science and technology, I believe there is something about the creative spirit of a swede that is often missed in both design and science. There is value to brainstorming like mad and saying, “How can we make this fast? How can we make this cheap? How can we make this from things we already have on hand? How can we simplify this as much as possible?” It’s that sort of thinking that generates amazing innovations like this  and like this.

That’s how MacGuyver thinks. And we all know MacGuyver is a badass.


All hail MacGuyver.

Anyway, don’t get me wrong. There is nothing about our swede that will save lives in Africa or cure cancer. However, I think making even the dumbest swede exercises those creative muscles in a great way. Is it possible that we could have better spent our time and energy making something completely original? Perhaps. However, the entire film, from concept to final edit, took roughly 24 hours to complete, and cost $30 (including $15 for the piñata).

Plus, we had loads of fun.

I also got to carry a sword through downtown Minneapolis while wearing a bathrobe.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the video we made. (If you haven’t yet seen the real Hobbit trailer, watch it first.)


Melissa Kaercher is a multimedia artist, podcaster, skeptic, science nerd, and meatspace network node. She is also Queen of the Lizard People.

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  1. Thank you! Much credit goes to Jerry, my co-director and one of my favorite collaborators ever. We’re already planning on doing the 48 Hour Film Challenge this year.

  2. That was so awesome I just spontaneously grew a new occipital lobe to be able to process it.

  3. The song made me laugh ’til I had tears in my eyes. Thanks for that.

    I wonder though just how much sweding goes on in science, I suspect it’s more than we would think. They work on fixed budgets and if the funding has run out before the next cycle I can imagine that there’s a lot of making do with items on hand that goes on.

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