Raise your hand if you have ever thought of going back to school. Three film and TV professionals with double degrees tell us why it might well be worth it. Even if you don’t end up changing the direction of your career, education is always worth it.
“We would all benefit from seeing things from many different angles.”
– Kaisa El Ramly
Director, producer and actress Kaisa El Ramly graduated from DAMU, the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, in 2001. After graduation, the young actress returned to Finland and got a job as a presenter and reporter in a show called Tuubi on the newly established TV channel SubTV. In the theatre scene, however, she felt like an outsider.
‘Because I hadn’t studied acting in Finland, I had no contacts with the Finnish theatre folk.’
El Ramly sent job applications to ‘every theatre in Finland’. Finally, the Vaasa City Theatre, Vaasan kaupunginteatteri, invited her over, which resulted in a two-year contract. After Vaasa, El Ramly was employed in Turku at the Turku City Theatre for five years.
Working on a contract was rough, particularly with roles that she did not want to play. While rehearsing for new productions, El Ramly noticed that she had started to think about her roles from a wider perspective than simply an actor’s viewpoint. Little by little, the thought of not just wanting to do the work she was told to do grew stronger – she wanted to make her own decisions.
Her first such decision was handing in her notice. The second was moving back to Helsinki, and the third establishing her own theatre company.
The objective of Teatteri K09, operating on the do-it-yourself principle, was to make productions of the classics through the lens of our time.
‘We worked so hard for the shows. But the audience didn’t find us, as we didn’t have enough resources for marketing our projects and making them visible. My artistic expression became more and more minimalistic, and the theatre as a form of art started to feel wrong. I needed a new channel for expressing myself.’
Studying is easier when you’re older
El Ramly decided to apply to Aalto University to study cinematography and scenography.
‘I already had experience in directing, so I applied to the production programme. I wanted to get a good vantage point in order to be able to understand the entire process of making a film, from start to finish.’
How was it, studying for another degree with a decade of work experience?
‘Every moment was new and exciting! The other students being 10 years younger than me was refreshing. At the same time I noticed what tremendous life experience I already had, and I started to appreciate things I hadn’t valued before. For example, as I already know so much, I can just zoom ahead at full speed.
‘On the other hand, because I was older, I wasn’t afraid of asking stupid questions and learning from them. When I was younger, I might have pretended to know it all, even though I didn’t.’
Last year, Kaisa El Ramly graduated with a Master of Arts degree and also won the Nordic Talents Pitch Prize with her project Scenes from a dying town, which she is currently making into her first feature film.
Pigeonholing people is cowardice
El Ramly is no longer an outsider.
‘The biggest thing the degree gave me was getting a foot in the door. The scene in Finland is so small that education is a way of getting to know the right people in your field.
At times, people are so fixed in their scene that they understand the different professions of their own field quite poorly.’
‘The funniest situations were the ones when students from a production course talked about actors as weird or scary types. It was then that I noticed how one specific thing can be seen in so many different ways. There are so many unnecessary fears and funny prejudices. Seeing things from two very different perspectives will help you in many negotiations.’
But can two educations or two different job descriptions become a liability? Are there suspicions about people who cannot be categorised?
‘We tend to pigeonhole people easily here, but it’s old-fashioned – and a form of cowardice. The more people dare to think that diverse know-how is not something negative but an asset to all, the better. We would all benefit from seeing things from many different angles.’
“Teacher training strengthened me as an artist.”
– Ari Matikainen
When director, producer and teacher Ari Matikainen was studying to become a documentary director in the beginning of the 2000s at the School of Art and Design, he made a living by working as a substitute teacher in the Helsinki metropolitan area. He had already studied to become a classroom teacher at the University of Helsinki, specialising in teaching music and communication.
However, his first university degree has provided more benefits than just the occasional work gigs.
“Just the all-round education in teacher training has given me so much. I have really read quite a lot. In addition, there is a lot of group work and public speaking in teacher training, and you get vocal training. These have helped me tremendously when pitching projects in the film industry for instance.’
The most important offering of teacher training is perhaps a little surprising:
‘The training really supports the personality of each student. This attitude has also strengthened me in doing my art.’
Like El Ramly, Matikainen has also found studying at an older age easier.
‘As I already had a degree and was done with the growing pains of youth, I could really focus on studying.
Many feel that going back to school in the middle of your career is very hard simply in terms of the schedule.’ However, for Matikainen completing an entire degree on a schedule that was not the most typical proved to be useful above all.
‘Succeeding in such a long-term project improves your ability to cope with stress. This is an important lesson in this business: you must set goals and strive towards them.’
“Psychotherapy helped me understand acting.”
– Kari Ketonen
When the actor, scriptwriter, director and psychotherapist Kari Ketonen studied in the Theatre Academy in the 1990s, his relationship with acting started to suffer during the courses.
‘I have a strong athletic background from judo, which requires constant effort or the referee will issue a warning. I kept up the same effort and determination when I was acting, but fell into a crisis when I didn’t know what I was so determined to do. I was ready to push, but towards what end? I was nearly done with it all, when I discovered gestalt therapy. There, the spirit of not-trying resulted in something I liked.’
Ketonen began to devour more information about gestalt therapy. He found other interesting theories, such as psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich’s character-analytical body psychotherapy. Many of its concepts and lessons could be applied directly to acting, and Ketonen decided to study further. He started his psychotherapy studies in a training organised by Gestalt Oy in 2003, and four years later, Ketonen graduated as a psychotherapist.
‘With what I had learned in the context of therapy, I started to feel, somewhere between 30 and 40 years of age, that I had finally made it clear to myself what acting was all about. In this profession, it is essential to be able to take your acting forward yourself. You have to have a map where you can situate your experience and estimate where you should go next.’
Today, Ketonen draws on his expertise as an actor as well as a psychotherapist when teaching businesses about charisma and factors that affect it. Ketonen has never had the time to work as a therapist as such, even though during his studies he could well imagine himself becoming a therapist.
‘Working as a therapist would take at least two days per week, and three days would not be enough for writing, directing and all-round entertaining. But who knows, maybe I will get the glasses, fake beard and woollen jacket and open up a practice in the future.’