Liisi Rohumae

As an internationally sought-after screenwriter, Estonia’s Liisi Rohumae says that the largest aspect to her role is listening. When writing, she listens to her instincts and the voices of the character she creates. When it comes time to turn her words into a production, she listens to the directors, producers, and actors. Everything she takes in helps to shape her story.

Her words are the basis of every production she is a part of, from the bigger elements like what the story is about and who the main characters are to the more visible aspects – what exactly happens and how and what do the characters say to each other when it’s all occurring. She creates worlds through words. 

“Screenwriting is both such a lonely and an incredibly collaborative process – this is one of the reasons I love it. It is unpredictable and ever changing, miles away from routine and I love being as far away from routine as possible,” said Rohumae.

Rohumae’s widespread work has impressed audiences all over the world. Her film Bad Hair Friday (Vasaku Jala Reede) held a top spot for three consecutive weeks in the Estonian box office, and was critically acclaimed, even nominated for a prestigious Raindance Film Festival award. Her work in television is equally impressive, creating the hit series Secrets (Saladused) and Behind Closed Doors (Suletud Uste Taga), the last of which was in TOP10 position in TV ratings in Estonia throughout its entire run, and for one month it was in TOP5 position; the episodes are still available on the largest AVOD video portal TV3 Play.

One of Rohumae’s more recent success stories is the 2019 hit film Chasing Unicorns (Ükssarvik), in which she acted as both a screenwriter and script consultant. Written and directed by Rain Rannu, the movie follows a young startup entrepreneur Õie and a serial failure Tõnu on their crazy ride from small town Estonia to Silicon Valley – and back.

Estonia is known worldwide as a start-up haven. Despite its small population, Estonia’s current generation of entrepreneurs have built internationally successful companies like Skype, Pipedrive and many more. Rohumae loved the idea of making a film about the start-up world, which she did not know much about before beginning work on the project, and she was eager to dive in.   

“This movie is incredibly timely and totally self-aware. It makes fun of the crazy nature of the start-up world and yet Rain as a director has infused it with nostalgic Estonian music, also making a connection to the past. This movie is for every dreamer courageous enough to go for it, fall flat and then go for it again. Rinse and repeat. I think that is a really inspiring message to impart,” she said.

Rannu knew everything about the start-up world as he runs a start-up himself and is an investor in many others. However, as he wrote, he realized the need for a woman’s perspective to get into the female lead’s mind and make a more believable protagonist. That was when Rohumae stepped in. Her involvement in the Chasing Unicorns screenplay was crucial in the development stage, completely re-writing the lead character Õie. Rohumae gave this character true substance, making the overall balance of the two lead characters in the story much more equal.

Rohumae began by providing feedback on the initial idea and script. The more she worked with Rannu, the more she impressed the director, who then asked her to write her own version of the screenplay. Rohumae took the idea and ran with it, creating a draft where she focused solely on Õie’s story and dialogue. Many of her ideas and jokes made it into the final cut.  

“It was an incredibly collaborative process. I worked very closely with Rain, discussing ideas and plot points and then I went off to write a new draft. I really respect how Rain is very open to feedback. He showed the screenplay to a lot of people, never being afraid of criticism, but just always trying to make the story better. It was wonderful to see, and I definitely learned from it. It does not really help to be too precious with your writing,” said Rohumae.

Chasing Unicorns was released in cinemas across Estonia in 2019, and was an Official Selection at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival Baltic Film Competition 2019. In March of 2020, it had its UK premiere at the famed Rich Mix Cinema in London. 

“It is always a joy when a project does well. The reaction from the audience at the world premiere was overwhelmingly positive. It was great to experience that in person. And then to be chosen for the Black Nights Film Festival – it’s just wonderful,” said Rohumae.

Chasing Unicorns is currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video in the United States and the United Kingdom, so if you have not yet had the chance to see this endearing film, make sure it’s the next on your watch list.

Photo by Triin Sikk

By Punit