Lilja Ósk Snorradóttir started her career in the film industry at the age of thirteen. During summer breaks from school, she would work in production departments in various capacities, from being a runner to taking on a producers roll. Lilja holds a BSc degree in Business Administration from the Reykjavik University. After graduation, she was offered to manage Brokerage Certified courses and to teach Business Maths at the Reykjavik University. After two years of teaching, Lilja was hired to Siminn hf, the largest telecom company in Iceland where she headed the gsm mobile department for new products. Lilja returned to her production roots and is now the Managing Director of Pegasus Pictures and sits on the board of the Association of Icelandic Film Producers. She was one of the 2019 European Film Promotion’s Producers on the Move.
Tara Karajica caught up with her at this year’s Stockfish Film Festival where she was a panelist at the 2nd Nordic Female Filmmakers Meeting Point.
What made you go into filmmaking?
Lilja Ósk Snorradóttir: Well, I was born and raised in the film industry. My father was a d.p. and is a producer now and my mother is a graphic designer, so this is something that I’ve basically done my whole life. They would stick me in front of the camera until they didn’t want to do that anymore, and when I was around thirteen, I got my first production job: I first delivered sandwiches and then I moved up to be a runner and a production assistant. I think I filled every single position in the production departments.
Was there always a conscious choice to be a producer or you considered other disciplines within filmmaking?
L.O.S.: It was always a producer job, but I tried to do something else sixteen years ago. I went on maternity leave and I thought: “Well, I have to do something outside of the film industry.” So I tried that for three years, doing a regular 9 to 5 job and then I decided this wasn’t for me. I think that was actually the time when I realized I really wanted to be a producer, so I went back. It was very healthy for me to step away and try something else just to figure out that this is actually what I want to do. That was part of the growing up process, I think.
You worked on many Icelandic award-winning productions like And Breathe Normally and Sparrows. Can you talk about this work?
L.S.: I was so lucky to have been working on these productions. They brought me in for Sparrows because that is a production that Nimbus Iceland and Nimbus Denmark did together. Pegasus came in as a co-production partner and that was actually a brilliant experience because we oversaw the production itself and the film was completely shot in Iceland. It was a good learning experience for me as well and I met Rúnar [Rúnarsson] on this production. It’s a small country, but somehow, we had never worked together before. They came into a meeting and, usually, you take some time to decide things, but Mikkel Jersin, Rúnar and I, we had a really good two-hour long meeting. After that, I knew I really wanted to be part of this production because, for me, it’s also all about the people you meet because a production is kind of a semi-marriage and you have to like the people that you’re working with and I could feel that this would work out. So now, we are on our second feature together with Rúnar and we have already done another production with Mikkel, which is called Brakland.
You have also worked on foreign productions in Iceland, the most recent one being Arctic with Martha De Laurentiis as executive producer and starring Mads Mikkelsen, and you also have Game of Thrones among your credits. Can you talk about this side of the job?
L.S.: These were five different experiences. For Arctic, for example, we came in as co-producers, which was fantastic. And when they came in, first they were looking at locations and parts of the crew and they were going to bring in their own d.p. in as well as some parts of the creative team, but in the end, they decided that it was going to be an all Icelandic set so, actually, the only non-Icelandic people were the U.S. producers and Mads Mikkelsen. Every other creative position was filled by an Icelander – and we are extremely proud of it, actually. And Game of Thrones was so much fun! It was a great experience! We have worked with them on all the seasons except for the first one. I mean, who wouldn’t want to work on Game of Thrones?!
Iceland has become an attractive filming location and many U.S. films and series such as Game of Thrones and Batman Begins were filmed here. Can you talk about how the producers of Iceland made it into this filming location hit apart from the obvious beauty of the nature?
L.S.: Just in general, it is a lot of hard work. At Pegasus, we have a person working on that. They travel around the world and introduce Iceland and keep in touch with former contacts. We also have something called “Film in Iceland” which is an entity that works to introduce Iceland as a film location and goes to major film festivals and promotes Iceland in general, not specific production companies. There is something of an effort coming from the film community in general, but we have been doing that ourselves for quite some time now. That is something we do in an effort to bring in productions and then, of course, it’s also word of mouth. Because the film industry isn’t really big here, when we have a production like for example Game of Thrones coming here, they have their friends who want to shoot their TV series and they ask them who they worked with, so that’s how it works as well. And then, the attractiveness of Iceland is, of course, its locations. Generally, people come to shoot exteriors – they don’t really come to shoot interiors. The country is small. You can have a black cave and then drive to the glacier in one hour, and then drive to the perfect waterfall in half an hour, so it’s very production friendly and what is also really valuable is the crew. They have so much experience and the people who come here for service productions, they talk about that. The crew is so good; they are hard-working and very skilled, and I know that, on several occasions, they have had phone calls afterwards asking them to come to work abroad. Then, of course, we have the 25% cash rebate and that is also extremely important for us.
How have these foreign productions helped boost and improve the Icelandic film scene?
L.S.: The way that foreign productions helped the Icelandic film scene is that we have more business all year round, so we can maintain the crew talent pool. Before, if we only made, say, six features a year, we wouldn’t have work for that many people, so that helps and we can actually have two or three features going on at the same time and have crew for that. It doesn’t really matter if it’s an Icelandic production or a foreign one, but you just learn something new and gain more experience with every single production you go to.
How do you see the film scene now, compared to a few years ago? There’s been this sudden boom in the recent years.
L.S.: There’s a huge difference. We have had so much more service than ten years ago. And then, we have had more and more talent coming up. You could see that the Icelandic films that are being produced now are traveling more and more. We produce very few films per year, but a huge portion of that goes to A-list film festivals, gets great reviews and is winning awards.
What is your opinion of the situation of women in film today? What is it like in Iceland?
L.S.: Well, I find it difficult to compare Iceland to the world, because the situation in the U.S. is completely different to the situation in France and in France it’s different than in Denmark and so on. I think every country is unique. The situation here in Iceland is that we do have more and more women getting in filmmaking, but we still don’t have enough. We would love to see more women as directors or scriptwriters. The ratio on the producers’ side is a bit better than in the other fields. It’s 40% women against 60% men. We’re definitely not there yet, but I think we are moving slowly in the right direction.
What is your favorite film you produced?
L.S.: They are so different! That’s the thing – I think there’s something really special about each and every one of them. I can’t really say…
Do you have a favorite female filmmaker and someone you would really want to work with?
L.S.: I thought Martha De Laurentiis is super cool! That is someone that I would love to work with again. And as far as favorite female filmmakers are concerned, I think Sofia Coppola is really good, which is a very classic answer!
What was the best advice you were given and what would you tell a woman starting out in the film biz today?
L.S.: You know what? The best advice I have been given once – I was so nervous I was just about to break down and someone said: “You’re not saving lives. It’s just a film. It doesn’t really matter.” And when I got that attitude, it helped me. It helped me overcome stressful situations because it doesn’t really matter. You will make it anyway. It doesn’t have to be today or tomorrow. That was actually the best slap in the face I got. And I have already told this to people who came to seek advice.
What are your next projects?
L.S.: Now, we are working on a new feature by Rúnar Rúnarsson, so that’s the next one that is coming up. We are in post-production with that one right now. And then, we will just have to see what gets funded from the film fund.
This interview was conducted at the 2019 Stockfish Film Festival.