Writer, producer and film director Atso Pärnänen has done several short films and feature film productions in which he often also works as a story editor. At the moment he is working on a documentary film and some screenplays for feature fiction films.
Pärnänen started off in film production in the United Kingdom, where he had the opportunity to combine the academic side of studies with a practical approach. He then continued in Paris and took part in many international workshops and a story editing course at the Torino Film Lab Training Program.
He has worked at important film festivals especially in the United Kingdom, Finland and France and among the countries from, which he has story edited projects are the USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, The Netherlands and Austria.
Atso Pärnänen believes there are certain steps in the creative process of achieving a good story. We sat down with him to have a Tequila style confession and he talk about these steps.
-What are the steps for achieving a good story?
I would say that the first step is to keep thinking about it. Pitching is good, be careful whom you pitch, because you need to get positive and good criticism, not the kind of “I didn’t like it/I liked it” and make sure that you don’t get depressed, just keep doing it. Pitch it and then start to plan treatments and step outlines. It is difficult to say anything definite on this because everybody has his or her own style. Mine starts with long walks and throwing a baseball up in the air and catching it and then at once throwing it again. So I would say keep thinking and then just getting something on paper. Generally speaking whatever you do in the film industry, you should read a lot of scripts, keep your eyes open.
-What has been the most important project in which you have been involved so far?
I would probably say that actually it’s the film that we did during our studies, “Footsteps in the Sand”. It was nominated for best documentary at History Channel/ Imperial War Museum Festival in London. But what was important about it was that I had the chance to read letters and diaries by an old war veteran of the WWII. It was really interesting to have access to those and then to get to make a film about him. Even better was that people liked it and more importantly that he liked it and that he was comfortable with it.
-How did you end up in The Torino Film Lab Training Program?
I went there to develop skills as a story editor and it turned out to be a very good program. I had four people in my group from different parts of world, each of them with different types and styles of stories. We had a really good tutor and together we went through the development process of these scripts.
When everyone has his or hers own project and comes from different countries you get to see different points of views. It is a very rich atmosphere, like we were at a camp fire where you would tell stories before bed time and tell the story over and over again and soon realize that this part is getting better or that is not so interesting. Most of the people that were there had also already done feature films or written scripts.
-You are working on a documentary about a priest.
It takes place in Italy. I was the there whole spring and did research. I have just finished the script. There is a town called Brescello, near Parma. Many films have been shot there. The most famous ones are the Don Camillo films, which I always liked and I wondered how that place would be and how it would be to approach it an essay style documentary, reflecting on the fact and fiction in and of this real town. The church is still there, there is a museum for the movies and books. Everything looks like its just having a break. Some of the people look like they were actors in the movies in which you on the other hand had very Italian issues but also the cold war atmosphere. So the little town in Italy could actually be seen at the time of the films to reflect the situation of the world.
–You are writing a screenplay for a film now. Does the story involve a priest as well?
Well, I don’t tend to talk about works in development, but since this has been made public sort of so…There are indeed two projects with a priest in the scripts, they are not related, they are not linked. I have been writing a script about a priest who lives in a small town and decides to close the church and the citizens of the town have to make some conclusions about it.
-Where is this story taking place?
At the moment it takes place in the United States. It was easier and more interesting to have a small town in the US. It is more colorful than a small town in Finland because of the history and the priest as a character. I think it would be easily too one sided if it would be set in Finland because Finland is mainly a Lutheran country, nothing bad in that, but in the US you have first the story of the country and then you have millions and millions of interesting stories of the people who are there now, but also their backgrounds, how they ended up there, or how their grandfathers came there. And an American small town is an icon itself.
-In which part of the US?
It is in the Midwest. So it gives a Scandinavian aspect to it. But basically it is written in a style that it could take place in England too with some changes of course. In any case it is easier to write using the English language and this way also the dialog has more sides and meaning to it than it would have if it would be written in Finnish.
-At what stage is this story now?
We’re in the kitchen and something is cooking.
-Are you planning to direct this film?
I could, but I don’t know yet. Let’s see how it turns out.
You have been living abroad for quite a while, how do you feel when you visit Finland.
Oh the water tabs always remain nice in Finland just as the weather remains unpredictable. I notice that if I occasionally meet Finns abroad many of them talk in circles around each other, so what’s the point of going abroad if you then go and spend time only with your familiar herd.
-What do you like about Finland and don’t you like?
Being in Finland can create a lot of stress sometimes because you have to keep your shoes in such a good condition all the time. That’s the place where people mostly will be looking at when they occasionally try to talk to you. It’s an old joke but some jokes seem to last.
-Anything you want to add?
I guess this is it. You got your interview
–But this is not an interview, this is a confession
Haha, then I ask for forgiveness
In the confessional
Adelita de las Pistolas