Where are you based and how did you first get into this line of work?
I’m based in Amsterdam and started getting into film when I was around seven years old, I believe. I’ve also started writing and taking photos. Then I met a friend, with whom I started making a couple of hour long films with, during my first attendance at a film and photography school.
After that, I studied directing at The Dutch Film Academy in Amsterdam, and I started directing commercials for Caviar Amsterdam. They also produced my first two shorts and helped develop my first feature film ‘Find this dumb little bitch and throw her into a river’, which is touring festivals around the world right now.
I guess one defining moment was just before I applied to a film academy and I was in doubt if I should apply for directing or camera.
I had a talk with my father and he said it would probably be best if I would study camera because I could get work more easily after graduating. And directing was the hardest to get into. When I walked out of that meeting, I suddenly knew what I wanted to do. I thought f*ck it, I’m going to try and apply for directing.
How did you get the Don’t Call Me Precious project?
I was just getting ready to go on a five week road trip on the west coast of America with my daughter and girlfriend, when I got a call from my producer saying a script came in.
I told him I was leaving the next week so I couldn’t do it, but then he said: “Read it. It’s for Nike”. So of course, I read it and the subject was amazing to me. So my girlfriend (who always helps me write my pitches) and I, thought to go for it—because it’s such a small chance you ever win a pitch like this anyway. We won the pitch, postponed our whole trip and the next thing I knew I was on a plane to Shanghai the next week!
One of the insane, crazy things about the pitch was that it turned out that one of the page filling photos—that I used on the third page of my treatment (of a beautiful young girl) turned out to be the daughter of someone at NIKE who was involved in the project! CRAZY!
What gear/cameras did you use and why?
We didn’t use anything special. We shot on Alexa mini and had a second cam on a Steadicam. I really wanted to use anamorphic lenses because I love the look but because they only allow 16.9 on TV in China, so I had to cancel that idea which was a big shame.
In terms of style, I wanted to make a difference in the feeling between the home situation of the kids and the playing ground by going handheld at home, and on steadicam on the field.
Did you plan out the story structure from the beginning or did it come out in post?
The big lines were clear but the exact order was a mystery. The music plays a very important role in these kind of commercials, so luckily I had a fantastic editor from England who had a great gift in finding some amazing music.
What do you do differently from other filmmakers?
I don’t know but I guess everyone has there own intuition which makes them totally different from any other person. The only key is to learn to listen and trust it.
If you had to go back and do it all again, how would you get a foothold in the business?
Just the same as I did now I think. I would again just try stuff, make stuff and try to find who I am and what my deepest fascinations are. (Still doing this right now by the way.)
What’s the one secret tip, go-to trick that you use often that takes your work to the next level?
Make it personal and try to find stories that you can connect with, on a emotional level. Because if it touches you in whatever way it does, it will probably be the same for other people.
What has been the hardest part of doing what you do?
Not knowing if your career will ever go somewhere amazing or if you will always stay average.
What is currently the best part of doing what you do?
Not knowing where your career is going and having the freedom to work with the people you love. And doing what you love most!
What are some of your favorite stories or web videos that you’ve gotten inspired by?
Well, I actually watch a lot of TED talks which always really inspire me. Just this week I revisited an older one that I saw years ago, that really touched me and had always stayed in the back of my mind. I’m writing a short film on it now which I hope to finance and make next year. So I can’t tell you right now which one it is. Sorry!
Where can people follow your work?
You can also follow me on my Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/benbrandamsterdam/