"Screenwriting is an art that requires a lot of handicraft"

Leana Jalukse  is an Estonian screenwriter and script consultant. Leana has been active in the film industry since 1997, taking on a wide range of positions from assistant director and production coordinator to story editor and distribution manager. She holds a BA in Broadcast Media and an MA in Film Arts, majoring in screenwriting and script editing. Her screen credits as script consultant and story editor include films such as Estonia’s Oscar entry and domestic box office hit DECEMBER HEAT (2008), based on the true story about an attempted coup organised by the Russians during Estonia’s first attempt at independence in 1924. Leana was also a script and story editor on Kadri Kõusaar’s THE ARBITER (2013), a suspense drama about a modern man who decides to take matters in his own hands, which premiered in the official selection of Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. MOTHER, her debut as a writer on a full-length feature film, premiered internationally in competition at Tribeca Film Festival, USA, won Best Feature in Kitzbühel, Austria, Best Estonian Feature at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, Estonia, and was selected Estonia's national entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at Academy Awards.

Leana continues to work as a freelancer writing and editing scripts, as well as a copywriter in both AV and IT industries. In addition, she manages the Co-Production Market of Baltic Event, the largest international film market in North-Eastern Europe, since 2010. Leana is currently working on a number of scripts with producer Aet Laigu, including the modern “whodunit” story THE HAGUE and a comedy on migration GLADONIA. Recently, she was here to attend the screening of the film Mother at the Kolkata International Film Festival.

As a screenplay writer, who or what influences your writing the most?

My own experiences and principles. Whatever I write about, I try to raise a question or make a point that would make the audience think.

What is the specific process you follow when you sit up in your office and begin to write. Do you write a synopsis and then a treatment and so on?

First I write the structure and the characters - up to a page about every major one. An extended structure can be up to 3-4 pages. I follow a rather strict structure, so when this is solid, I can write a screenplay rather quickly - in only a couple of days - because I already know where my story is going, I just have to figure out exactly how.

 Is screenwriting an art?

It’s an art that requires a lot of handicraft. The more workshops I attend, the more scripts I read and analyse, the more I learn the tricks and tactics that help me develop a screenplay. But all art forms require knowledge and practice, don’t they?  Screenwriting is gaining in importance. People are beginning to take it seriously again. 

What is the most important thing people who want to write for film do?

Be open. Young writers are often reluctant to discuss their scripts and tend to defend the weak spots by saying either “but it happened like that in real life” or “it doesn’t have to be like real life in the film”. You can excuse anything in a script with these two arguments. No one can change your script but you, don’t be intimidated by feedback, it’s meant to help you. You don’t have to listen to everyone, filter out what is useful for you.

How much does the actual casting of your movies correspond with how you imagine your characters when you’re writing?

Not much, but then I don’t imagine much. There are certain types, of course, and I give a brief description for each character, but I’m the first one to say that let’s think of an actor who is the least likely to be in this role. I don’t like typecasting.

Leana Jalukse and Tiina Mälberg
What has been your best working experience till date?

My best collaboration as a writer is with producer Aet Laigu - who also produced MOTHER. She is a creative producer, who is very much involved in developing the script, and we work very efficiently together as we have learnt a lot together over the years and sort of complement each other. My other great passion is the film market Baltic Event (be.poff.ee), which I work for as the Co-Production Market Manager for the seventh year already. Also acting as a Script Expert allows me to read dozens of scripts every autumn.

What responses have you had to the film as you’ve travelled to festivals?

Most people seem to have been fascinated about the revelation in the end. Only a few have been 
genuinely shocked. Of course, as it’s a crime story, many people want me to clarify the details - mostly because not everything gets an answer in this film. Also, what I hear very often are compliments to the lead actress Tiina Mälberg, who is amazing in this role. It’s her debut in the lead role of a feature film, and she does a brilliant job.

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