Olaf de Fleur says he has been through 'a good film school of dos and don'ts' in the past few busy years making a string of very different feature films. 'I've been working on quantity, just doing a lot of films for the past four or five years,' the Icelandic director says. 'You need four or five films to get the language of film correct.'

Those films include documentaries Africa United and Shining Star, Berlin 2008 Teddy winner The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela, about a Filipino transsexual, and his latest film, The Higher Force. That project, a dark comedy-drama about small-time gangsters in Iceland, premiered at AFI Fest in Los Angeles before screening in Rotterdam and Berlin's European Film Market via Visit Films.

Now de Fleur, also known as Olaf de Fleur Johannesson, says he is ready to move on to new challenges. 'All of those films were things I've written or found somehow. Now I feel like I should go out and work with other people's script. I'd like to be a hired gun in America or Europe or Asia; that would be nice for a change.'

The Higher Force sets its mafia types in virtually crime-free Reykjavik and has a cast including former Sopranos star Michael Imperioli (who also lent his support as an executive producer). Producer Stefan Schaefer had previously worked with Sopranos casting director Sheila Jaffe. She sent the script to Imperioli, who liked it and thought it would be interesting to shoot in Iceland.

'I wouldn't call (The Higher Force) a typical Icelandic film,' says de Fleur. 'The film is kind of weird. It doesn't only fit in one genre. And I didn't want to have any landscape in there.

'My interest in this story was how we create fake reality when we don't find the real one,' he continues. 'In this film, the lowlife debt collector meets the lowly school teacher who pretends to be a crime lord. Everybody wants to play a game and create a fake reality. I thought it was funny.'

De Fleur kept his cast and crew happy and focused with shorter working days, after which they would retire to Reykjavik's famous hot tubs. 'The trick with the short days is that people love to work 9 to 5 and everyone is more focused. And I could just go home and edit and think about extra scenes,' he says of the eight-week shoot. 'Editing the story along the way was very helpful.'

He has also cut the project as a five-part half-hour series for Scandinavian TV.

The $1m budget of The Higher Force was backed by the Icelandic Film Centre, which also supported de Fleur's documentary-fiction hybrid Queen Raquela as well as his next documentary about farmers in rural Iceland.

The Higher Force producer (and actor) Schaefer met de Fleur at the Berlin Talent Campus in 2003. They adapted the script together based on Thor Thorsteinsson's book. They plan to continue working together through Schaefer's New York-based Cicala Filmworks and de Fleur's Poppoli Pictures. 'We're always cooking something,' de Fleur says. 'Stefan has three or four scripts, I have two or three scripts.'

The ideas include a quirky dark comedy TV pilot, Circle Drawers, as well as a horror film, a New York-set romance, an international spy thriller and an Iceland-set romantic comedy.