Interview with Estonian Actor, Director & Producer Einar Kuusk

Einar Kuusk_indieactivity

I was born in Soviet Estonia, in Kuressaare on the island Saaremaa. After my father escaped to Sweden from the Soviet Military, my mother soon followed with the help of a known Estonian religious, rebel group and after passing through the bowels of the Red Cross in Italy, soon began life anew in Stockholm, Sweden where my sister was born.

Since I was a small boy, I was always a very creative child with a vivid imagination and the tendency to perform and my teachers often said that one day I will become a writer or an actor. One day, when I was just nine years old, I got my hands on my uncle’s videocassette camera and started making home movies with my sister and nephews. And then, the moment I played the recordings back to myself, I got the bug. After that, whatever recording devices I got my hands on, the thirst for acting and figuring out how it all worked only grew in me…

At the age of sixteen, I got my first DV camera and started making videos. At this point, I had to learn how to edit videos if I was to improve my craft. At first, I didn’t have any friends who would be interested in helping me make videos so I shot, performed and edited the videos all by myself. Now came the question of “How can I share my work with more people?” and that’s when a little website on the internet first appeared, that promised to offer amateur videomakers just that. That website was called YouTube. As I joined the bandwagon of people all over the world sharing their videos online, I started getting a small following over time and meeting unlikely people such as Hollywood comedian Tom Green who inspired me to never give up and keep working on my craft.

After about eight years of making videos online and struggling as a freelance cinematographer and video editor, I felt that it was time to make my first short film. This was to be a post-apocalyptic sci-fi story inspired by the vast, abandoned Soviet-era locations found all over Estonia and fueled by my need to make movies. After two years of writing, producing, re-writing, shooting, re-shooting, editing and post-producing it, “The Most Beautiful Day” is finished and serves as my debut short film.

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indieactivity: How would you describe your work as a director?
Einar: I’m a perfectionist and I’m very dedicated to my craft. Making a movie is the meaning of my life, I couldn’t live without it. It’s the best feeling in the world. I like to create memorable characters and stories that stay in people’s hearts for a long time, I like to bring out people’s emotions, fantasies, fears and dreams because I myself am a very emotional person and my favorite movies are the ones that bring out the deepest emotions in me. I always have a specific vision of the stories I’m about to create but I’m also very open to change if it’s at least as good as how I originally envisioned it. I think it’s important for filmmakers to understand that their film isn’t always going to turn out exactly as in their vision, the movie fantasy world and our real world are two separate things, two completely different universes. You have to be willing to create and accept change as you go, everything is always moving, nothing is completely set in stone.

indieactivity: How did you get into directing?
Einar: I explained that in the autobiography above. I made home movies at my country side with my relatives when I was like ten years old and fell in love with it when I played the videos back and watched the ridiculous parodies we did of movies we loved watching.

indieactiivty: How do you choose a project to direct?
Einar: I haven’t really directed other people’s projects yet, I just finished my own short film and now I’m about to help direct one of my friend’s short sci-fi film that he wrote and is producing. I only want to direct someone else’s screenplay that I like. If it makes me laugh, excited, cry, whatever – I will direct it. I also have big dreams to direct some of my favorite stories in the world by famous artists in the future but I’m not going to go into that right now…

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indieactiivty: Describe wrong impressions actors, writers,and directors have about directing
Einar: Since I’m still an amateur director, I’ll talk about some wrong impressions amateurs or newcomers have about making movies. Many upcomers, ambitious filmmakers think making a movie is a piece of cake. I’ve seen a lot of people who I worked with on-set who get overwhelmed by the amount of pressure, responsibility and hard work that comes down on their shoulders once they’re on that set and the camera starts rolling. Even before that, in pre-production. Not everybody have it in them to be a successful producer for instance. They don’t have the motivation to wake up early and start mercilessly banging phone calls, meet people, look for locations, make new connections etc. and do it all day, every day and lose sleep over it. You don’t get to have a day off when you’re a filmmaker, there’s no such thing. Your vacation is when the movie is finished, maybe!

Everyone needs to breathe once in a while and refresh but even on a vacation a filmmaker is already thinking about their next project. Many amateur filmmakers get overwhelmed by this because they don’t really want to dedicate their whole essence to making movies, they don’t really expect to do this for the rest of their lives, it’s just a phase for them. But you will know when you see a real filmmaker, someone who will make movies until the day they die because it’s not a job or a hobby for them. It’s the very meaning of their life, it’s in their blood. So when you see a movie directed or written by someone or someone starring in a movie, know that it’s their subconscious and the reflection of their soul put into art. It’s very personal, they are opening up for you. Charlie Chaplin once said: “If you want to understand me, watch my movies.”

indieactivity: Do you take courses to increase your craft?
Einar: No, I never have. Everything I know I have learned from making videos and making films, working with people who share their knowledge, trial and error, research, hands-on experience.

Einar Kuusk_indieactivity

Einar: What books do you read?
Einar: I don’t read many books. I have trouble reading books unfortunately, I can’t really concentrate. But I have read all the Harry Potter books, those were amazing and I’ve read some other books here and there, like Hamlet and other books I had to read in school. Right now I’m actually slowly reading David Lynch’s book “Catching The Big Fish” but this is the first book I’ve read in ages and I just find it so easy to read, it’s a very simple but comprehensive little book. I hope I can concentrate on reading more in the future, I’m just having some trouble with anxiety because of unfulfilled dreams.

indieactivity: Why will you choose an actor, writer or producer. What do you look for?
Einar: I look for previous experience of course and if I read someone’s screenplay, I have to genuinely love it to want to direct it. When it comes to actors, I don’t really believe in bad actors anymore, I think it’s not whether or not someone is a good actor but if that person fits the role that they’re being casted for. You can be an amazing actor but still not fit that role you were hoping to get. It hasn’t got anything to do with your talent, not always.

indieactivity: When you are given a job, what things do you put in place to deliver a good job?
Einar: I haven’t had many offers since I just finished my own debut short film. I’m currently about to direct my friend’s debut short film that he’s producing and wrote and I chose to do it because I liked his script, he’s a good writer. I have to find the best actors for the roles, that’s the first thing I look for. Good actors are one of the most important things in a movie. Then I need a talented, open-minded DP who understands my vision. It’s very important to communicate with your actors and your crew, a director is never close-minded or shy and a director is a natural leader. It’s also very good if a director is an actor themselves because many times only actors understand other actors and know how to communicate their vision. If an actor feels confused or forgotten on a set, it’s because of the director. There are so many things you have to put in place as a director when you’re making a movie, I don’t really understand the question to be honest, it’s kind of vague haha!

Einar Kuusk_indieactivity

indieactivity: Briefly explain your latest work?
I made a post-apocalyptic sci-fi/fantasy short film called “The Most Beautiful Day”. In it, a young man named Sherman survives the apocalypse in a soviet-style alternate reality and when trying to find his place outside an isolated city, gets stuck in an underground bunker. The film was all shot in Estonia and we raised the budget via crowdfunding projects and individual sponsors. This was my first short film, before this I only made videos.

indieactivity: Explain a creative choice you took on set on a recent production?
Einar: There’s this thing called “Kill your darlings” which is when a director gets the last shot, they wrap the production and then the director kills every single person on set. That was a very tough choice I had to make but I did it. Ok jokes aside, I don’t recall a very tough creative choice I had to make on set but I did have to “Kill my darlings” in post-production. Killing your darlings in a film means that you have to cut out a scene or a shot that you love very much but it ruins the film for some reason, be it a pacing thing, the story doesn’t flow well with it or a number of other reasons.

There were some really awesome shots that I had to cut out or we added to the end credits sequence. One of the most difficult and favorite shots of pretty much the whole crew got mysteriously deleted from one of our hard drives and we didn’t have copies because of the low budget so the choice was made for me there, maybe by like a mystical force or something. Am I getting too off-track here? The point is, directors make creative choices every minute on-set and off, that’s all they do.

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indieactiivty: How do you advise directors to find projects?
Einar: Collaborate. Collaborate. Collaborate. Find creators whose work you love and try to get in touch with them, offer them a part in your new project, whether it’s composing, acting, editing, writing, whatever. Make friends in the business. The internet is a great way to find likeminded artists.

indieactivity: How can filmmakers finance projects?
Einar: In many ways. You can apply for sponsorship from like the government, you can find investors etc. I gathered the whole budget for my debut short film “The Most Beautiful Day” from crowd funding projects and private sponsors on the internet. The crowdfunding projects failed a few times, we didn’t gather the money right away but I just kept trying and kept promoting everywhere I could and eventually some people with money who love the post apocalyptic genre found the project and sponsored it with most of the budget. Of course, we couldn’t have done it without everyone who pledged to the successful crowd funding project aswell, we got a big chunck of the needed budget from there.

indieactivity: What do you want from an actor in production?
Einar: Every director wants to see their actors disappear in their roles and make them believe that what’s really happening is real and not acting. Well, when we talk about a serious scene. Comedy is different, it’s strangely subtle and not all actors are comedians. Comedy is an artform on its own and of course if you have a comedian on set, what you want from them is to make you laugh.

indieactivity: How do you prefer to work with a producer during a production?
Einar: The producer needs to understand that they are the Big Brother and they are the glue that sticks everyone together. I don’t want a producer sticking his fingers in my cake and I need him to be the grown-up of the production. Someone who knows exactly what he’s doing, has everything under control and is someone everyone can trust. He is fast, a skillful problem fixer and a professional. If he’s a good friend and has closely worked with me in the other forms of the production, I have no problem with him making creative decisions as well.

indieactivity: What do you think a director can do to get into the film industry?
Einar: Well, first off, I don’t believe there are only directors or actors or screenwriters etc. There are filmmakers. If you want to make movies and want to get into the film industry, make a god-damn movie! Just do it. Write a video or a short film, learn about the craft online, start organizing a production for your script and shoot it! Then learn about post-production as you go and finish that baby. Voila, you’re now a filmmaker! How do I get into the film industry you say? You don’t. It’s nothing you can apply for, like a normal job. Creative people who make a living from their craft have gotten there through hard work, luck and getting noticed because they’re talented.

Just keep making movies and keep sharing them and looking for every opportunity to collaborate and practice your craft. Make a project, gather funding and make a movie. Send it to festivals. Make another movie, same process over and over again. Most importantly, listen to your heart. Your heart knows what you have to do next. And then just do it and work your ass off because no matter how hard it is, it’s so worth it in the end. Finishing a movie and watching it with your friends and family, be it in a cinema or on the internet, is the best feeling a director can have. It’s the reason directors do what they do.

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indieactivity: Who is your favorite director?
Einar: I think right now, my favorite director is James Gunn. For a number of reasons. But I love many directors, like Christopher Nolan, Joss Whedon, Zack Snyder, Quentin Tarantino, George Miller, Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, David Fincher…the list goes on and on.

indieactivity: Why this director?
Einar: Why James Gunn is my favorite director? Well it’s interesting because my favorite movie is not actually by James Gunn, it’s by George Miller and that movie is “Happy Feet”. But at the same time, I’m not really a fan of George Miller’s other work. But when it comes to directors, James Gunn is my favorite of them all because his movies hold a special place in my heart, they are one of the best stories I have ever seen. And I feel a very close resemblance to him, we are very much alike in some ways and the way he expresses himself through his art is close to how I do it or want to do it. And I just love him simply as a person, I love his way of thinking, his sincerity and his honesty. I often fantasize of sticking my tongue up his asshole while he buries his dribbling face into a soft, hairy pillow that is shaped like Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy…

indieactivity: What advice would you give to directors around the world?
Einar: Around the world? Like, everyone? All of them? Even those who made it? Umm…hmm. Stay strong. Stay creative. Don’t let the bad vibes get you down. Stay confident in your ideas, they are great. Find your people. Listen to your heart. Be sincere. Share the love. Never surrender.

indieactivity: Briefly write about your career?
Einar: I’ve been making videos for over 15 years and met some awesome people over the internet like Hollywood comedian Tom Green, music video director Aaron Platt and YouTube’s The Athenewins crew. I have acted in many student short films and a couple of Estonian commercials and I recently finished my debut short film, which is a post apocalyptic sci-fi short film titled “The Most Beautiful Day”. Thanks to doing what I love most, I met some of my bestest friends and many talented people I’ve had the honor of collaborating with and some to who I’m forever grateful for helping me finish my first short film.

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