• Interviews

Marika Makaroff – The Idealistic Creator

Chief Creative Officer and founder of Gutsy Marika Makaroff and her team have given a new touch to the iconic Finnish characters, the Moomins. She shares core values like kindness, love and respect for nature with them.

“Moomintroll,” a Finnish Chief Creative Officer and founder, Marika Makaroff, replies when asked which Moomin character she identifies most with. During the last seven years she’s been diving deep into the iconic fantasy world that was created by Swedish-speaking Finnish author, novelist, painter, illustrator and comic strip creator Tove Jansson in the mid 1940s. When Makaroff learnt that the Moomins’ IP was available she seized the opportunity; she studied Jansson’s life, work and stories she had written and illustrated over the decades and raised money with a crowdfunding campaign. After a few months she pitched her vision about a new TV series against big global companies and won the rights. Naming her newly founded company Gutsy felt descriptive of that exact moment.

“Everybody said that I’m totally mad,” she tells Goldenglobes.com at a hotel she is staying in Los Angeles.

She proved all the people wrong who doubted her. Her company, based in Helsinki and Bristol, employs approximately 40+ people. The Moominvalley production and its nearly 200 member crew, creates the 22 minute episodes of the animated family drama series, Moominvalley. Its three seasons have aired in 68 countries in 31 languages. Recently the episode Lonely Mountain was nominated at the Annie Awards in the Best Children’s Media/TV category. It was the only European production in the category.

“That feels really amazing. First of all, we were against Disney and DreamWorks and other big US companies. It’s a great achievement for the whole team because we have worked so hard, and every single season we push our limits and try to make the series even better.”

Previously the series received an International Emmy Kids Awards nomination. And it has been renewed for the fourth season.

“What I love about the series is that it still features, for example, the Nordic light and the Nordic nature. I think that right now, because the world has been filled with the tragic news, COVID-19 and war, that it’s even more essential to have access to good content without violence – and more importantly, provide content that is filled with hope and beauty to the families.”

Those core values are the reason she identifies with Moomintroll.

“The character is the power of idealism. And even though he’s nerdy, curious and kind, he believes that he can change the world and do better. On the other hand, he can be quite an annoying drama queen from time to time. When I started the project, I felt like I’m Moomintroll. And I think that there is a little Moomintroll living inside of me still because I’m idealistic.”

Makaroff grew up in Vantaa, in southern Finland. Her childhood home was mixed with business and a bohemian lifestyle. The door was open to everybody.

“I think I’m kind of a mix between my mother, who was an accountant and my father, who was this big, charismatic personality. They both played the guitar and piano. My dad was always helping people, for example, bands whose managers had left them out of a deal and they couldn’t find a hotel. When I came home from school there might have been a band from the US or Russia living with us for one week.”

Her dad encouraged Makaroff to travel and treat all people well. He died at 53 after having a stroke. Makaroff started to write and direct her own plays at age eight. When she was 14, she was playing in a punk band. 

“I think that I have always been a bit rebellious. I have been singing and playing the drums, the guitar and the flute. And for me it’s a kind of therapy. But at the same time, when you have studied music, I think that it helps you to be focused on details, to be patient about the work that you are doing. And understand how everybody works in a band and how you have to understand everybody in order to create something special.”

From her high school, Sotungin lukio, she remembers her history teacher who had a different approach to teaching. He asked students to study historical events but also questioned why for example someone would hide their hands in a painting or photo. What does that tell about the person or their health condition?

“I learned that it is important to study news from different angles and have background knowledge of the historical facts to fully comprehend the information that lies behind the facts. It’s so true that the more you know the more there is to know. And you can learn to appreciate the knowledge.

By then storytelling had captured her heart. She was especially interested in sound and studied radio journalism. While she was working at a radio station, she almost declined a job offer as the first female late-night talk show host in Finland because she preferred to stay behind the scenes but eventually changed her mind: “It was easy to be flexible with my own boundaries when I got to know how much the job pays” she laughs. Afterwards, she hosted different kinds of TV shows and studied acting, but realized that she didn’t enjoy being in front of the camera.

“I’m so much better behind the camera. I understood that my true passion is with the stories and how to tell them.”

Makaroff continued work in television as a producer and head of production before she became a managing director and creative director at Fremantle Media and produced Finnish versions of TV shows such as The Apprentice, Dragons Den, Idols, Top Model and X Factor. The job of managing director at Friday TV brought her to Stockholm, Sweden for two years. Little by little she noticed she was missing her creative side and decided to look for other opportunities.

“I thought that maybe the next step would be doing something for Finland and perhaps with a Finnish IP. I contacted the company that owns the Moomin characters and asked; “Have you ever thought about creating a new TV series?” And they said; “Have you heard something? We have in fact recently decided there should be a new Moomin TV series.” And they gave me six months.”

Now she could fulfill her creative side again.

“I think that I have come back to the person I was when I was eight years old. I’m still enthusiastic and inspired about different kinds of content and stories. I have the opportunity to write together with the best possible screenwriters. I’m in a perfect place. I don’t know why it took so long, but to be honest, I think that understanding that I’m more a creative than a business person has been the biggest thing for me during the past ten years. I’m so happy to be able to focus on the creative side and not to mess with paperwork.”

Makaroff is now developing a Moomin feature film and looking for the right partners to launch the Moominvalley series in the US.