Sveinbjörn I. Baldvinsson was born in Reykjavik on the 27th of August 1957 and grew up on the east side of town in Hlíðar and later in Laugarás. He started writing music and poetry at an early age and released his first book of poems at the age of nineteen and a solo album at twenty-one. He received his high school diploma from "Menntaskólinn við Tjörnina" in 1977 and earned his B.A. in comparative literature and Danish from the University of Iceland and the University of Copenhagen in 1982.
Sveinbjörn became more and more focused on dramatic writing and in the autumn of 1986 he moved with his family to Los Angeles to study dramatic writing at the University of Southern California. At the same time he started work on his first feature film, Foxtrot. In that same year Sveinbjörn's short-story "Icemaster" won first prize in a short-story competition held by the Reykjavík Arts Festival. The story has subsequently been published in many countries.
After finishing his Master's degree at USC and working on several projects in Los Angeles Sveinbjörn was Head of of domestic TV programming at The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service from 1993 till 1996, when he got the opportunity to work as a screenwriter in Denmark. For the next decade he worked regularly on Danish film and television projects. The best known of these are the TV series Taxa and Forsvar.
Sveinbjörn was Film commisissioner for The Icelandic Film Center from 2003 to 2006. He has been a tutor at international screenwriting courses for European writers and worked as a script consultant in Iceland as well as Scandinavia. Sveinbjörn was associate professor and Head of screenwiting at the Norwegian Film School in 2009 until 2019.
Sveinbjörn has played in several bands, such as Diabolus in Musica and the jazz band "Nýja kompaníið" and alongside writing he has remained active as a songwriter, lyricist and guitarist. His most famous works in this field are „Lagið um það sem er bannað“ and the lyrics for the Eurovision song „All Out Of Luck“.
Sveinbjörn was vice-chairman of The Writers' Union of Iceland and secretary of The Icelandic Artists Union from 1992 till 1994. He was secretary for The Icelandic Dramatists Union and a jury member for the Nordic Council's Literature Prize 1998-2009. Sveinbjörn was vice-president for the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe (FSE) 2006-2013 and president of the Federation from 2013-2015. He is a member of the European Film Academy.
Photo of author: Trude Lindland
From the Author
Like other artists I've often wondered why I ended up writing fiction for a living. Few other career choices offer a clearer path to rejection and disappointment, not to mention financial uncertainty. I've a couple of possible explanations, but they're more like circumstantial evidence than actual proof.
As with most people my creative efforts started early, since it's a great way to get attention and admiration from those who matter most. Clearly there's a little child inside all of us who through his or her actions just yearns for the world - like a smiling mother - to pat it on its head and say: You're wonderful.
It's harder to grasp why some of us stay on this precarious road long after most people have chosen another route, or at least made the wise decision not to do this for a living. Encouragement and interest from others is key, initially from your family, and later from other people. So is some kind of belief within yourself that what you're creating has value. This is perhaps the most important factor, but it's also obvious that the foundation of such a belief must be considered extremely uncertain at best.
At a young age I came to the highly debatable conclusion that I had the ability to write both words and notes in a way that meant something to others besides myself and I produced a lot of texts and melodies as a teenager. We all seek to belong to some group, a bunch of friends, a sports team or a band. The guitar and the ball point pen became my essential social instruments.
The poems and the melodies provided the essential shelter and means of communication I needed as the introvert and taciturn boy I was, in order to make friends and be an active member of society. It says a lot that my closest friends today are those I played with in a band, although it's been decades since I did that on a regular basis. This also explains why I could never have been a drawer-poet, locking my writings away for no-one to see. My artistic work is a means of communication, not a personal secret.
Why I ended up choosing writing over music as my career, becomes more of a mystery to me the more I think about it, because I´ve always enjoyed playing music and singing more than I enjoy writing. But it was probably a choice based on downsides rather than upsides. I never felt I was that good a singer and I lacked the patience to practice enough to be a pro guitar player.
I know I didn't make the choice out of laziness, because I don't mind rewriting almost endlessly, as long as I feel I'm improving the script I'm working on. That attitude is actually a prerequisite for having a career as a screenwriter.
Fear of laziness has in fact been a valuable motivation for me my whole life, ever since it became my childhood conviction that laziness was the worst of all human flaws. As an introvert daydreamer at heart I realized at a very young age that I had all the attributes needed to become a lazybone of anecdotal proportions who would never amount to anything. Like my great uncle Isleifur. Ever since I gained that insight I've worked hard at proving to myself and others that this is not the case. It didn't even change after I learned the term "ideation".
When I look over my list of works to date, I'm pretty content and at least I don't think anyone can call me lazy. Certainly not when I add to the list all those drafts of unproduced screenplays I've written during these years and took just as much time and work as those who got made.
Then it's this whole thing about drama. Theater, films, series. Why did I drift into this field, instead of committing to writing novels like so many of my colleagues. Again, several reasons are possible, but for me it's mostly two. On one hand there's this thing about my creative work always being some kind of communication and - consequently - me finding it exhilarating to be able to communicate with many, rather than just a few. On the other hand I discovered quite early that the works which made the biggest impression on me were those that touched my deeply and directly, on an emotional level, rather than being drawn to complex and cleverly convoluted texts.
This must be among the reasons why I was drawn to drama, on stage and on screen. The fates of actual human beings and the conflicts and the emotions at play between them in the moment have always affected me in a different and deeper way than anything else. It was my good fortune from an early age to have the opportunity to go to the theater and there I experienced the power of great drama and the impact such works and certain moments within them can make on the audience. And here it's important to add that that the power and the impact apply both to what makes us cry and what brings us to tears.
It is in essence the engagement that gets me. When the audience becomes, in a way, a part of the life of other human beings, hopes and fears for them - and hopefully learns something from it about themselves and the world around them - and inside them. If I can achieve that in my works, even just for a moment, I feel it's all worth it.
Let's be kind
to each other
to build a future
our future can get stolen from us
Let's be kind
to each other
life is past.
("Ljóð handa konum IX" - Ljóð handa hinum og þessum, 1981)
2015 - Edda Awards: Best TV Drama: Hraunið / The Lava Field
1996 - GIFF (Gothembrg Int'l Film Festival): Audience award: Tár úr steini / Tears of Stone
1988 - USC Playwrights Guild One Act Play Competition 1988, 1st Prize: Visiting Hour
1986 - Short story competition held by the Arts Festival: First prize: "Icemaster"
2010 - Edda Awards: Best TV Drama: Hamarinn / The Cliff
2008 -Edda Awards: Best TV Drama: Mannaveiðar / I Hunt Men
1999 - Edda Awards: Feature film of the year: Sporlaust / No Trace