Finnish Australian Saara Lamberg is a director, actor, writer and producer. She has received several awards for her work, including Bronze prize at the Beverly Hills screenplay contest (Hollywood 2013) for her first feature film Innuendo.
Clare: Where did the idea for Innuendo come from?
Saara: There were so many characters and stories in my life that inspired the film. The character of “Ben” was a little bit based on a chainsaw carver that I know, but Ben’s story in the film is certainly not my friend’s story- it’s fiction. The story about the life drawing came from me being a model. When you're a life drawing model you have a lot of time to think because you have to hold a pose and stay still so that's when I came up with the story. It’s a bit like meditation- also a great tool by the way.
Clare: How did you get into life modelling?
Sarah: When I first came to Australia I was an artist in residence at Montsalvat Arts Centre. I met visual artists and became a model for various different classes. I grew up in Finland with the sauna culture and in a household where my mother used to walk around naked all the time. It was very much an embarrassment as a teenager, but now I can appreciate that freedom and body confidence she instilled in me. For me taking your clothes off in front of people who want to draw you doesn't feel that difficult.
Clare: Is writing something you've always done?
Saara: I started writing short stories even before I started school. I made magazines for my cousins. Mum made me read a lot and I think that's a good foundation for a writer. Mind you I don't read hardly anything at this stage, it's quite embarrassing, I haven't read a book for a long time.
Clare: Is that because you're too busy?
Saara: I guess that's always the excuse we tell ourselves. No, I just prefer watching films with great screenplays. It’s another way to appreciate writing.
As a child, I made magazines for my cousins, then published a newspaper for school and was an editor for the Finnish Red Cross. A local paper noticed me and asked me to write for them. I wrote my first short film screenplay 10 years ago. I produced some short films at university and more after before launching into making Innuendo.
Clare: Tell me about Innuendo, how did that come to be?
Saara: After I'd written Innuendo I sent it to a few screenplay contests to get feedback. I never expected anything to come of it, but in 2014 the Beverly Hills Screenplay in Hollywood chose Innuendo as the Bronze winner. So I thought this is a story that's worth pursuing and I started shopping it around with producers and directors.
Clare: But you ended up producing and directing yourself?
Yes. Having worked in, and directed short films only, I thought that I needed a more experienced director and producer so I gave myself a year to find those people. I was hoping we could get a budget for Innuendo to get it produced in the traditional model. Some major producers and directors were interested but they have so many other projects they're working on that a newcomer like me will always be at the bottom of their slate. It was going to be years before it was going to get anywhere, if at all. So after the year came to the end, I pushed on, and produced and directed it myself. I thought I'm just going to take this project as an extended short film. Geoffrey Wright encouraged me to get it done step by step, little by little and that's exactly what I did.
Clare: How did you approach self-directing?
Saara: I've already self-directed in all my short films so it wasn’t a foreign concept. You need to establish a good relationship with the cinematographer to get practical advice in terms of the shots, so you can concentrate on directing performances and acting. I would give direction, then we'd do a take, then I'd step out, give some direction and then we'd do another take. You have to be very 'on' all the time because you have to be able to interchange in between acting and directing without missing a beat. It's a complex mindset and with practice you get better at it.
Clare: Tell me about the challenge of getting distribution.
Saara: Some distributors have thought Innuendo is too 'smarthouse' for Australian audiences. In my opinion, perhaps there hasn't traditionally been many making these kinds of films in Australia but it doesn't mean there isn't an audience for them. Luckily, I’ve had more interest from America and I am working on a sales deal right now. I am still hoping to establish something with Australian cinemas, as so many people here have told me they are dying to see it.
Clare: What inspires you?
Saara: I really like films that explore taboos and complexities of life, the nasty and nice things that humans do to each other and this darker side that exists in all of us whether we like to admit it or not. There are no ‘bad people’ and ‘good people’. We all have needs and different ways of fulfilling those needs, good and bad ways. It's these different colours and shades that are in all of us that are so interesting, and I love films that explore people as whole, complex beings.
Clare: Is it important that your work inspires others?
Saara: I want it to be memorable- I want it to cause either a strong emotional impact or a thought process or a surprise. I want my films to stir up something new, something that you didn't expect.
Clare: Was it the lack of work in Australia that led you to creating your own work, or was it something that was already a burning passion for you?
Saara: Acting was the burning passion and you’re right, at times I was very frustrated at the lack of interesting roles. I feel writing is a tool, a way to create content. Acting was the ignition but now that I'm producing, writing and directing, I feel making film is the new passion and the different parts are just components of the same thing. It also gives me so much more power as an actor when I can create my own characters and stories. The producing is not always fun; it's more the tedious work that you do so that you get to write, act and direct but sometimes I find myself really enjoying it! Gosh I'm even enjoying some parts of the selling and the promoting. I call Innuendo my baby- all my money, time and energy goes into it.
Clare: What's your inner critic like?
Saara: Awful. Such a bitch! But I've learned to live with her because I'm not going to get rid of her any time soon. At the same time I think she's important. I'm trying to see my inner critic as someone who will keep me grounded and help me stay realistic about things, even when I want to go with the inner angel that says everything will be okay when really it might not be. But at the same time, you have to be able to work with the critic. You can't let them over rule you because the fear can paralyze you. If you can utilise your inner critic, and take whatever you need from it, it can be a wonderful thing. Use the same logic for any criticism you receive, inside or outside of self, and you’re good to go.