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How To Make a Film

THE HAGUE – Allowed to join the crew of the short-film Set in Stone for one day, I peak into the world of filmmaking.

How do you make a film? Where do you start? What do you need? I talk to the producer, the director, and one of the actresses of the low/no-budget film Set In Stone, starring Christophe Haddad. – Nienke van Staveren, 2012

Sunday morning at 6am, my train leaves from Amsterdam. About 90 minutes later I am picked up from The Hague Central Station by set-manager Kent together with two actors, and after a bathroom break we continue our trip towards Bergen op Zoom, where a little fort-like park will function as the set of the film Set In Stone.

We arrive at 8.45 am, and part of the crew is already unpacking loads of equipment. The small park is closed for the day, allowing the film crew to shoot in peace. In peace? “Yes, no screaming people in shots who think they are funny, no barking dogs, no worries about curious people wandering around in places we don’t need them,” explains producer John den Hollander later.

John is a 23 year-old producer, currently rounding up his bachelor degree in Leisure Management. He was involved in productions such as Goede Tijden, Slechte Tijden and Het Imperium, but this is his first major independent project. While the set moves to the third location, I find a moment to sit down with John. “Where do you start when you want to make a film?” A few seconds of silence, and then he deliberately answers, “Networking. Getting to know people to start a production, you need to find a crew.” It sounds straightforward, but how do you do that? “There are several ways, you can for example go to film festivals or network through Internet. The best way to do it, though, is face-to-face. Talk to people, get to know them.”

“Telling a Story. Evoking Reactions.”

                 While the making-off crew is taking some shots of us, I ask him what the three most essential aspects are in filmmaking. That is a harder question, after all, “it is a collaborative process involving many different aspects,” he explains. “Art/location are probably the most underestimated and maybe even most important elements. Direction and camera are of course essentials, but they could be combined. Also, sound and production are indispensable, and you need good actors.” The hardest thing to get done, he explains, is getting the budget together and finding good actors. The governmental cuts and explosion of acting-training programs lately are not very helpful – “there are a lot of people who think they can act.” Right before duty calls, he tells me what for him is the most fun in filmmaking: “Telling a story. Provoking reactions. I’m somewhere in between Hollywood and Art-house – essentially, there has to be an idea behind it.”

While John gets back to his job, and the crew start shooting another scene, I talk with Anne Verschuren, one of the actors of the movie. It’s a day with a lot of waiting for her, “I only have two scenes today, and since the location is pretty far, I’m here all day.” On top of that her scenes will be shot last due to technical issues, “Shooting is waiting. You know that beforehand, so I always bring something to do.” Other actors are preparing there lines when they are not shooting, but Anne is socializing with crew-members or reading her book. “First of all, I don’t have to prepare a lot for my scenes today. Also, I just like to be prepared before I enter the set. You never no what happens on set, and when I’m in front of the camera I just want to be well-prepared so I can trust on my preparation and intuition once the camera starts rolling.” I wonder what brought Anne here, as she has worked on fully professional sets of big productions before (De Daltons, Zusjes). “The script,” Anne answers, “It was a very good script. Plus, when I heard some of the names involved after a talk with the director, I knew this was going to be a serious, ambitious project.”

What are the five most essential things?

Organization times 5

                   The importance of the script comes forward again when I ask Bruno Ramos, the Brazilian writer and director of the film, the same question I asked John earlier, “What do you need to make a film, in the most simple sense?”  His answer is quick and simple, “A good script. You can have all the millions in the world and a network with 3000 people around you: without a great idea, you’re just another guy.” While the set gets rebuilt once again and the (at least 4!) camera’s get repositioned, Bruno has time to answer some questions. “Why are you making this film?” “I’m basically making this film to build a network of people, who know what they are doing and who I can trust to move on to bigger projects with. Since I just moved to the country, that’s a way I found to meet people and so far it’s paying off great.” When I ask him what the five most essential things are you need to produce a quality film, he answers straightforward, “I would say organization five times. But if I must add another four: a crew that eats, breathes and lives what they do. Cooperation. Communication. Enthusiasm.”

The daylight slowly starts to fade. Bruno has to get back to set up another scene, and while Anne finally can start her scenes, a functionary from the municipality, who gave permission for shooting and the closing of the park stops by to watch the shooting. When the last streaks of sunlight disappear we can call it a wrap, and while the crew starts packing up the equipment and deconstruct the set, I leave for Amsterdam. Filming is an intriguing phenomenon, and the importance of organization, networking, and passion has become clear today – they are the essential ingredients for good filmmaking.

More information about Set In Stone:
http://www.setinstonethefilm.com (soon to be online)

Websites to start networking:

http://www.versfilmentv.nl

http://www.filmvacatures.nl

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A Dangerous Moment to Retire for Lejo Schenk

By Stella Toonen

Two weeks ago the Dutch government announced it is going to put a halt to the subsidies for the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. It is a decision with much impact, however, life goes on and director of the museum Lejo Schenk (62) will still be retiring in two months. “I feel much remorse to leave my team at this crucial moment though” he says.

Coming from the communication sector, Schenk was not yet a familiar face in the world of museums when he started as director of the Tropenmuseum in 2000. He had always been working as a journalist, editor or anchorman for various news programmes, and even directed a 50 minute documentary on euthanasia. In 1993 he became director of the Interkerkelijke Omroep Nederland (IKON), but when he turned 51 he decided to make a career-swap. “I felt I had seen and done everything in the world of communication. I had created concepts and productions, I had done programming and I experienced how it was to be responsible for a large media corporation. I didn’t want to do that for another ten years, I wanted something new.”

He then applied for the vacancy of director of the Tropenmuseum, and saw that the two disciplines were actually much alike. “Both journalists and exhibition designers have to present information in a way that is most attractive for their audience, because they want to get their message across.” And looking back at the last eleven years now, he is quite satisfied about his museum. “The number of visitors has grown, the collections have become bigger, and we have enriched the lives of a broad range of people by teaching them about non-Western cultures. That was exactly what we wanted to achieve.”

However, the last months of his career currently seem to cast a shadow over his satisfaction. “When I decided to retire at the end of this year, I knew some budget cuts were coming, but the management team and I were convinced that we would be able to handle them. That the government withdrew all subsidies was unexpected.” At the moment the museum is still discussing alternative sponsoring with the government, but if that does not provide a solution it might start taking legal steps. At the same time it is looking for other sources of income and for possible cooperation with other cultural institutions. An additional solution is to focus on the tourist audience, as now most of the visitors live in the Netherlands.

“Perhaps the most difficult thing here in the museum at this moment is dealing with the anger of the staff. It is great to know that they feel responsible for their museum, but they need to put off their protest until it is clear what the final decision of the government will be. Some people even started a petition to help us, but for now we can’t do anything with that.” For the Tropenmuseum these are unstable times, in which no one exactly knows what the future will be like.

It has been suggested in the media that cutting the budget of the cultural industry would create a more commercial supply of art, which would devalue the quality of this art. Schenk does not agree. “It is true that many museums try to create blockbuster exhibitions, and in some way it is good to adapt to the wishes of the audience, but we have come up with a more balanced strategy. In our exhibitions we combine the ethnographical pieces we want to show with contemporary art such as design or photography.” In that way he thinks the museum does not let down the audience interested in ethnography, but it also attracts new people.

Another critical question has been whether we should actually sponsor museums at all. If they turn out to not be popular enough to commercially stand on their own, why would we then keep on investing in them? “I suppose we are indeed not as essential as for instance a hospital” Schenk admits. “But we do add to the wellbeing of society. We have an educative function and we teach children and adults about other cultures, but also about their own identity and the norms and values they have to deal with. In the end we’re just a product of an educated civilization. And practically, we’re a safe place to store art.” He does not think a museum can ever stand on its own; no museum in Amsterdam does. “It is already quite an achievement if the museum earns around thirty percent of its costs back.”

While Schenk’s possible successors are still in the application procedure, the situation required him to adjust the criteria for the job several times. His regard to the future has also changed. “I was looking forward to January, when I would finally have time to write, study, do some sports, collect more ceramics and to revive my social life, but I still feel remorseful to leave my successor with the assignment to solve this disaster as a first task.” However, Schenk will not be completely leaving the cultural industry; he will still be active in several small boards and he is always willing to give advice to people in need. “If I know that the new director makes use of the full potential of the staff and does not feel threatened by change, I will start to enjoy the calmness of my retirement and the lack of any responsibilities in business.”

On November 2nd the Tropenmuseum presents the new exhibition Death Matters and on January 1st Schenk will start his retirement.