When work brings you new homes around the world

Thoughts of working abroad and lessons so far learned by our Co-Founder Iiris, working as an 1st Assistant Director, currently in Stockholm Sweden until mid-March 2021.

There was a time when I only fantasised of working outside Finland – or even just outside of Helsinki. I thought I’d never have the opportunity to be on a crew of any international productions and especially anything that’d be filming somewhere else than in Finland. 

Firstly this myth was broken when I joined Iron Sky team to work on the post production of extended cut of the film. Obviously I realised I’d jumped into a massive three counrty co-production, coordinating crews from Germany, Australia, Finland and even Slovenia. I was puzzled, over the moon. At 20 years old I found myself already accomplishing my dreams. 

Lesson #1 learned: dream cost-effectively, dream even of small things, like working on any international film, on any role. You may realise suddenly and very quickly you’ve already accomplished it. 

My first film markets as part of Iron Sky team, Berlinale & EFM 2013 and Cannes Film Festival & Marcé Du Film 2013.

After my work at Iron Sky I visited animation world quickly by being Director’s Assistant on Angry Birds Toon series. We had crew from dozens and dozens of countries on board – literally I’d hear a new accent every day when walking to the studio. I met top level animators, storyboard artists and directors of the world. Even though I wasn’t really doing exactly what I wanted I got lots and lots of practice on understanding leadership and different working cultures – not to mention animation workflow itself. 

Lesson #2: international productions aren’t that simple or easy. Actually they require two times more communication, to make sure everyone is on the same page though they’re not using their first language.

Farewell card and Rovio team card with office breakfast in 2014. Still miss these amazing, crazy and inspiring animators!

I would have maybe never understood my potential unless there’d been Production Value workshop that was recommended to me. It was truly jump to the deep end, I felt like I’d die of the scare I had, that I’d never be as good as all the rest in the workshop. Still to this day I have no idea how I got in as I didn’t have that much experience. But somehow someone saw something in me and this is the pure reason why no one should ever stop trying to chase their dreams. 

“It has become very clear to me it was a step to the right direction and has given me more confidence and skills than I (or anyone else) realised. Suddenly I do understand making films outside Finland will be possible for me and there is no limit when I just keep on going. I never really thought about this so far but now it feels making my first international co-production in the AD department could be just around the corner.”

This is what I wrote to my final report in the beginning of 2015 when completing my training. I’m deeply thankful for getting that sparkle in.

Soon after I’d finished my work at Rovio began an era I truly started my 1st AD work on professional films. On the first years I was the most frustrated of only landing in domestic productions, not getting to widen my ideas of ADing, sometimes being even arrogant on thinking these wouldn’t educate or challenge me enough. I made enough mistakes to get real and understand every single production teaches me. I am never ready. I always have things to learn. 

Fast forwarding to lesson #3: even domestic teaches you to be more ready for international stuff. Work.

I think the first time I ran a professional, large scale set outside Finland was in 2016 for some commercials in Estonia. I didn’t have much time to prepare and I knew no one in the crew. I was more or less horrified – and lucky, as it went well. I found solutions I could offer and met some people who later became my good friends (also tell a Finn who doesn’t love jumping into an Estonian set and meeting old schoolers who know how to speak Finnish with them, with the lovely, warm Estonian accent). But my real stepping stone was filming feature film Heavy Trip in Norway in 2017. 

Dear lord I had craved for a production like that. I was thrilled. I loved every second. And somehow besides the chaos it all just went very well in the end (at least for me as a 1st AD). We were exactly on time and figured out massive plan B’s and C’s when needed. Yes it was rough. It wasn’t a surprise these things mostly are. But I noticed my energy being many levels up compared to former productions. Somehow the multi-nationality crews and locations further away keep my heart beating stronger and lungs breathing clearer.

Last night feels before my first shooting day in Norway as 1st AD

Since that everything just moved rather quickly and now I’ve run sets in Sweden, Estonia, United States and Djibouti. After Heavy Trip I only did one domestic feature – all others have included filming abroad and at least two countries co-producing. More or less all other productions have somehow had an international aspect on them. I’ve also loved filming international projects in Finland. 

I think one of the key factors of me getting to do these projects I’ve so massively wanted to participate is that I really put a lot of energy, time and money into understanding filmmaking outside Finland. No one will come and get me from my home, right. So I’ve stepped out, humbly joined events and conversations, made a fool of myself, learned so much of networking and taken my English to a new level while working and working and working on it. (Still not perfect, unfortunately.)

Giving a lecture of 1st Assistant Directing in Greenwich University January 2017. Would not have had the chance unless amazing former Intern Luisa would not have suggested me as a guest lecturer to her teachers.

Lesson #4: Networking matters. It might be someone surprising who gives you the next opportunity to show your skills and talent. 

My first shoot in the States as 1st AD – Iron Sky the Coming Race pick ups with Digital Sputnik in LA May 2018.  

Lesson #5: Jump in to every crazy, stupid, badly paid production, if you feel like it’ll give you something more than others. 

Working Together workshop gang in the end of 2018. Never stepped this strongly out of my comfort zone. Not only changed me as a filmmaker – but also as a human. 

Lesson #6: European organisations offer fantastic professional trainings for filmmakers and many countries (like Finland) offer scholarships or funding for them to participate. Invest some time to look for these and apply!

On-set friends in Estonia and Djibouti in 2019. 

I must say – after four features in a row outside my home country – that working abroad can be quite exhausting. I’m missing home and I appreciate Helsinki lot more than I used to. I’ve always felt it as my home but now I really know it’s got a special place in my heart. I’m actually really looking forward getting back home and working in Finland for a change. I’m really enjoying speaking in English though – which my mom must find very amusing as I absolutely hated studying any languages in school – and am wishing I can keep evolving my language skills even when getting back to Finland. 

Ah – I’ve tried to learn other languages too. When leaving to Djibouti last fall 2019 I’d been studying French for 2 months. Let’s just say I only got to say hello, how are you, thank you and good night. And in Sweden it’s been a bunch of all three languages I can somehow speak – everyone else speaking Swedish together (I can follow up around 60-70% of discussions) and English to me and me trying to balance with my elementary Swedish that translates to Finnish in my brain but still mainly talking English. It’s been lots of work for my brain.

Lesson #7: Working on other languages and within other cultures might be exhausting no matter how much you enjoy it. Try to rest more than usual. Tell your family and friends you might be more tired than normally and ask for additional support if needed.

I don’t think I’ll ever satisfy into not having the world open anymore. Covid-19 is truly testing my limits on all levels – work and personal ones. I don’t need to travel at all times or only work on big sets. I was very happy just at home with my dogs and spouse for two months last spring during lockdown. But there’s so much to see – so why not go when having a chance. 

I recommend you all: take that chance. Make a little effort to get the first one, and the next ones will follow. 

With love from an eternal dreamer,