Screenplays from Estonia

It’s 4 AM.

I am not writing.

I am waiting.

It’s that feeling of nervous energy contrasted with heavy eyelids on dry, malfunctioning eyes.

Taste of diet coke in my mouth.

Tenseness in the stomach. A cool breeze blows from the open window, but every part of my body is still sticky with sweat from this terrible, terrible humid summer climate.

It is impossible for me to sleep until the arrival of The Email. Or until I pass out.

That email will decide the fate of a business venture into which I’ve already sunk a bit of time and money.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am an entrepreneur.

This is my life and this is how I like it. Although deep down I’d prefer to be a filmmaker.

And I often think that if I keep doing what I’m doing, I will at some point have enough financial security to sit down and write and make films.

Back in 2008, at the age of 22, I wrote my very first feature length screenplay. The roughly three months it took was probably the most fun I had had in my life up to that point and yes, I had gotten laid before.

It was an immensely fulfilling experience. I got to build an entire world from scratch. I got to build an entire web of human relationships. I got to populate it with every kind of flawed personality I had met in my life and more.

probably the most fun I had had in my life up to that point
and yes, I had gotten laid before.

What amazed me the most, however, was the fact that unlike with anything else before that, for the entirety of the three months, I actually wanted to get up in the morning.

I actually wanted to start writing.

I wanted to write and to think about the story and to play with the characters.

I mean, when was the last time you had a joyous three month period when you did the same thing every day, alone, and actually looked forward to doing it again in the morning when you finally got to sleep?

The sad thing is, unfortunately, that life sucks and you don’t always get what you want.

I’m also quite convinced that life here in Estonia, for anyone wanting to make films, probably sucks more than it does in many other places.

There’s no film or TV industry to speak of here.

When I said that there’s no film or TV industry to speak of, then I wasn’t entirely truthful. There is. It’s government-funded, as it is in many other European countries, so making films that people actually want to see is not high on its list of priorities. And you pretty much have to be an established filmmaker with the right connections to get any funding.

Not really an option for someone like me.

life here in Estonia, for anyone wanting to make films,
probably sucks more than it does in many other places.

With my high school grades I could have gone on to study anything, including film, but at the time computer science seemed more useful for making actual money.

Had I gone on to study film instead, I would probably be broke right now, smoking a pack a day, and drinking heavily, mostly to fit the time-honored tortured artist stereotype.

My life is way better than that at the moment.

I don’t come from an affluent family, so it’s unlikely that I would have even graduated. The need for financial independence was one of the reasons why I dropped out of computer science studies.

Money, money, money.

The screenwriting I was doing in 2008 was a ton of fun, but, unsurprisingly, it wasn’t paying the bills, and neither was my “career” as a freelance journalist at the time.

I did send my screenplay out to some studios, but nothing became of that. Which is to be expected, really. (Ah, the magic of the internet — you are now competing even against screenplays from Estonia!)

So I looked to my other passion and in 2008 co-founded Estonia’s very first iPhone software development company with a guy whom I had gone to college with, and had dropped out with. Built that up as its CEO, hired people, found clients, and then, at the end of 2009, got screwed out of my shares in the company by the guy and his friends.

Hey, this is Estonia. Shit like that happens.

My very first grey hairs still remind me of those days.

Ah, the magic of the internet — you are now
competing even against screenplays from Estonia!

There I was, Christmas of 2009, completely broke and living in a 19th century log house with my girlfriend whom I had met on the only day I took off from work during the entire year.

It gets below freezing in this place during the dead of winter.

I really wanted to get back to screenwriting at that point in my life, but I had more urgent things to worry about. Like food and warmth. I even started translating my 2008 screenplay (which had been written in English) into Estonian with the insane hope of being able to shoot it myself. Didn’t get very far before the last of my money ran out.

Unable to write, because I was broke, and unable to get a job, the only option left to me was to start a business of my own. So far this has been working out pretty well for me.

Things are going so well that I’m considering taking a week or two off each month to start writing again.

Finally there is enough money coming in for me to sit down and write.

I could keep running my business at a nice and profitable level and use the plenty of free time I would have to write.

Or I could continue to grow my business. Make it bigger. Make it better. Diversify it further so that if any one part of it fails, it won’t mess up the rest. Maybe even grow it to a point where I could use it to fund my films. Maybe even retire and then make films.

At what point will enough money have been made? It’s so easy to just want more… At what point do I sit down and write?

Being an entrepreneur, if you love building things of value out of chaos, is actually surprisingly addictive. Both on the high level (“Let’s build this new business and see if it works!”) and on the low level. (“Let’s tweak this layout a bit and measure if we get more clients!”)

Right now the choice I’ve made is to give into this addiction, to keep building a business.

There will be plenty of time to write and make films later in my life. After all, I’m just 24 at the moment with several decades of productive life ahead of me.

With films always on my mind, then who knows, I might accidentally come up with a 21st century business model for this stuff. Hearing from people like The Unknown Screenwriter how hard it really is to get a film funded nowadays, it seems we surely need a revolution in this business.

A few more years to go. Maybe more. Then I will sit down.

Until then, the constant nagging pain of not writing will stay with me.

(Update: The email was a ‘yes, but…’ I will continue working on the project. As soon as I get other things in good enough order that I don’t have to stay up till 5 AM almost every day to finish everything that needs to be done.)

-Elver Loho

Elver Loho is a tech entrepreneur in the tiny European country of Estonia. He dreams of one day having made enough money to retire and make films unlike anything seen before. The most important lesson he has learned so far is to not be afraid to fail. Failure breeds knowledge unlike any book.
photo credit: jurvetson

1 thought on “Screenplays from Estonia”

  1. This is quite surreal! It’s always a surprise to see Estonia mentioned anywhere let alone a guest post on an Australian blog.

    I’ve been part of Estonian film ‘industry’ for over ten years and I don’t agree with some of the points made here. “Making films that people actually want to see is not high on its list of priorities” – is a presumption. The problem with the quality of films is that there is very little competition. Almost anyone can get produced despite how weak their script is which is why there are so many bad films around. The problem lies with the filmmakers who don’t have to make an effort to produce anything of quality because there’s a guaranteed fund that has to go somewhere and is divided between projects that are all weak. Brilliant films have never been left without funding. There just aren’t any. The record number of projects submitted for feature film funding is 16 (sixteen!) which doesn’t even begin to compare with, say, the thousands in the UK. Not much to compete with, is there?
    As someone who assess screenplays for the funding body, I can say that no, you don’t have to be an established filmmaker or have connections. It’s the quality of the project that speaks. And if you need a producer for your scripts, finding one is not hard at all – everyone is looking for a good script!

    But in order to get something produced you need to get something written! There are a lot of experts and critics around, always have been, but still, no good scripts. So, good luck, Elver! We’ll be looking forward to your input!


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