Liisi Rohumae Talks Passion for Screenwriting and Hit Series ‘Behind Closed Doors’
Growing up in the small town of Rakvere, Estonia, Liisi Rohumae adored television. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, Friends, La Femme Nikita, Profiler, Alias, CSI – these were the shows she never missed. She remembers refusing to even answer the phone when they were on. In her early twenties, she called in sick to work for a day just to binge watch the first season of Heroes. The more she allowed herself to indulge, the more she realized this world of film and television was not just a hobby or a form of entertainment, it was her passion. It was simple really, she wanted to be a screenwriter because she loved film and television.
“I love the magic of it. It’s like being Alice and going down the rabbit hole. You never really know where you might end up and there are many twists and turns along the way, but the journey is always worth taking and always surprises you in some way. I like the freedom of it, the opportunity to set my own hours. I like the collaborative side – going to rehearsals and table reads, meeting lots of different people. I also like the loneliness of it – staring down that blank page, feeling helpless at first and then eventually witnessing something come to life. First on paper and then in real life. It’s magic,” she says.
Now, it’s Rohumae’s work that is enchanting audiences around the world, from her films Bad Hair Friday and Chasing Unicorns, both of which were hits at the Estonian box office, to her work in television on Broke, which advanced to the second round (Top 20%) at the 2020 Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition, making it to the top out of over 13,000 submissions, and Secrets, which was the fourth rated television show in Estonia during its run.
“Liisi and I first worked together all the way back in 2008 on one of the longest-running Estonian TV series Secrets (Saladused). Ever since then, Liisi is the first screenwriter I approach about new projects. I absolutely adore working with her,” says Tuuli Roosma, award-winning TV host and producer. “Last summer I called her up about a TV series called Behind Closed Doors (Suletud Uste Taga), asking her to come on board as lead writer for the new season. This summer I made the exact same phone call, offering her not only the lead writer position, but all 12 episodes of the new season. She is the only screenwriter on the project. Her sparkling dialogue, unforgettable characters – that is what stands out to me in her incredible writing. Viewers connect with characters and Liisi writes some truly memorable ones.”
Behind Closed Doors takes audiences into the innermost lives of its characters. Each of the 12 40-minute episodes tells a new story filled with drama and conflict and a bit of humor too, and are all based on real stories. Rohumae was the head writer for the last season as well as this upcoming one. She wrote a total of six episodes for the 2020 season, and for this year’s, Rohumae will be writing every episode on her own, an outstanding honor for any screenwriter.
With each episode introducing a whole new set of characters and story, the writing had to re-engage viewers each and every week. There is no foundation to rely on and build from, and Rohumae managed to overcome that challenge brilliantly.
“If the new characters are not engaging enough, the viewer will just switch the channel. This series is shot in documentary style, so every person we see on screen needs to sound genuine or the whole balance is off. I wrote real characters and authentic dialogue; the viewers connected with that, and the TV ratings confirmed it. It was very reaffirming as a screenwriter,” she says.
The series was shot in the summer of 2020, and Rohumae started writing it at the end of May. Such an expedited timeline may have been impossible for less experienced screenwriters, but Rohumae delivered 6 top quality scripts in just a few weeks.
“I enjoyed the fast-paced nature of this project. I would deliver an episode a week and very often it would be shot in the next few days. That’s quite a turnaround,” she says.
Behind Closed Doors airs on TV3 Group, a leading Media House in the Baltic States. In 2020, the series was in a TOP10 position in TV ratings 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.
“These stories are important. Everyday people conquering the obstacles life throws their way, finding joy and love in difficult moments. All episodes are based on real stories, and real human stories are always important. They allow us to be more connected and feel more seen. Stories in general give us an opportunity to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, I believe there is so much value in that. It helps us to be more empathetic, to be better human beings,” she adds.
Be sure to check out the upcoming season of Behind Closed Doors, which Rohumae wrote solo, when it premieres on TV3 this fall.
Photo by Sohvi Viik