Stories on Creativity: Kirsikka Saari
Screenwriter Kirsikka Saari’s search after the right career path is movie-making material. After a number of safe bets, she finally heeded her calling. This led to losing inhibitions, tapping into humor – and an Oscar nomination.
“WHEN I WAS YOUNG, I was so embarrassed about my roots in the suburbs of East Helsinki that I dodged the question whenever someone asked me where I lived. Only later, I came to see what an advantage it is to come from a place that offers an abundance of stories. Now the suburbs are a recurring theme in my writing. The shopping mall and its surroundings near to where I lived are my mental landscape, characterized by a love-hate relationship.
Some devote themselves wholeheartedly to writing from a young age. Not me. Writing felt easy and flowed naturally, but I didn’t have a particular identity as a writer or voice aspirations of becoming an artist when I was at school. For some reason, I used to think you needed special permission to do something artistic.
But I do remember a particular moment at upper secondary school that encouraged me to pick up a pen. Life was tumultuous, I’d messed up, and I thought I’d attend evening school. I bumped into a teacher in the schoolyard, who shouted “Don’t grab that top grade in Finnish from us!”, indicating I was good at writing essays. Those words stuck with me.”
"My past has taught me that even giving your all won’t be enough if you’re doing the wrong thing."
“FOR YEARS, I’D TRY HARD to make rational decisions, only to end up in the strangest of places. I was raised in a single-parent family and grew up during the recession. I kept thinking the rug could be swept from under my feet at any moment, so I needed to watch my back. In this light, it’s quite remarkable that I’ve ended up in a situation that’s the total opposite and in a career ridden with uncertainty.
After upper secondary school, I went on to study history, but soon came to the conclusion it didn’t offer enough security. I decided to study law instead, but after getting into law school realized it wasn’t for me. I then had a spell at the doctoral school at Aleksanteri Institute, the Finnish Centre for Russian and Eastern European Studies. People kept congratulating me, but I was confused. It dawned on me that it was obviously a big thing – for someone else. That was a defining moment.
Looking back, I see the fears I’ve had to battle to discover my inherent way of living and writing. I’ve always had to pluck up a lot of courage to make my voice heard. I used to read the university newspaper Ylioppilaslehti as a student, which got me to think that I, too, could write. I wrote my first article for the paper together with a friend, as I felt I needed someone to spur me. That’s how I became a journalist.
I’d entertained the thought of screenwriting for quite a while, and decided to give it a go despite it seeming like a childish ambition. Everything fell into place right from the first course in screenwriting that I attended. Suddenly all that I’d done in the past felt useful. As a journalist, I’d come to see that a piece of writing wasn’t sacred in itself, but it was material that could be refined endlessly.
The principles of screenwriting are simple, but the practical work is pretty hard. You learn by doing. In 2009, I was accepted to the Master’s Program in Film and Television Screenwriting at Aalto University. By then, I’d made a couple of short films and Paratiisi mini series in 2010.
A screenwriter needs to be able to draw from within. A script is always a marriage of something personal and something external. I’m more of a bystander by nature, which is of use when writing. I often write about people who are trying to be somebody else – a conflict that stirs elements of drama and comedy.
As a screenwriter, I sometimes have to live with an unfinished script for years and be ready to take a great deal of critique onboard, but this doesn’t worry me anymore. I lost my sense of shame when writing articles as a journalist, and a similar loss of inhibitions applies to screenwriting.”
"The Oscar nomination proved there’s every
reason to aim high."
“SHORTCOMINGS MAY BE HARD to handle, but the same goes for success. When my film Do I Have to Take Care of Everything was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Short Film category in 2014, it was wonderful to share the joy with director Selma Vilhunen and producer Elli Toivoniemi. The nomination is a joint achievement for our company Tuffi Films. I would have found it hard to deal with all the buzz by myself, with emotions ranging from elation to stress.
The Finnish film industry took part in our excitement; anything can happen, anything can be done! It’s important to aim high. We should stop grumbling about things being out of our reach just because we are from Finland. Anything is possible.
At the Oscar celebrations, we brushed shoulders with celebrities and gurus, and people in the industry commented on our film. It was thrilling, because we had obviously created something that sparked a reaction. Disney’s Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter came over to chat with us, which felt quite surreal. We also talked with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. They don’t know me, but I sure know them. I have after all grown up with them through movies.
The Oscar nomination forced us to think about our future aims and types of films we should make. I’m not exactly a comedian, but I finally realize there’s a humorous side to everything. It’s been fun to tap into my own sense of humor and channel it into screenwriting.
Naturally, the U.S. is appealing, but I have a family and feel too old to start working my way up from making coffee for a screenwriting team. But I’d love to sell a piece or take part in a joint production across the Atlantic one day.
I have my sights set abroad, realizing there are many different routes to get there. My past has taught me that even giving your all won’t be enough if you’re doing the wrong thing. Following my calling was a huge turning point in my life, and I continue to remind myself of the feeling that came after making that decision.”•
1 “Short film Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? (2012), which received an Oscar nomination.”
2 “My first long film Korso (2014), co-writer Jenni Toivoniemi.”
3 “Mini series Paratiisi, which was selected for Prix Europa.”
4 “Short film Girls’ Night (2008), which was awarded at Tampere Film Festival. My first script that went into production. That’s always special.”
5 “Tuffi Films, the production company we founded in 2010 with my friends Jenni Toivoniemi, Selma Vilhunen and Elli Toivoniemi.”
Oscar-nominated Do I Have to Take Care of Everything
has been shown at 80 film festivals. Photo by Tuffi Films.
Profile photos by Maija Astikainen