Interview with director Jasper Bronkhorst

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

Actually I always knew, but many decisions that I have made kept me from trying. By a lucky accident I was asked to write a script for a short film. The minute I walked onto the set I knew it for sure, this was only 4 years ago.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

Yes and no. You can study technique and theory and create a network, but you cannot learn to become an artist. I have to quote Tyler Durden here: “Putting a feather up your ass doesn’t make you a chicken”. A film school diploma is evidence that you are able to learn, but is hardly evidence that you actually have something interesting to tell. Some people benefit, others choose to spend their tuition money on creating their first film. I think most film professionals pretty much agree that the best way to learn how to make a film is to make a film.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

Both have their difficulties. When you start out as a film creator you have to earn the trust of a cast and crew and this takes a lot of time. Writing yourself as a director helps a lot, because your vision as a director is somewhat on the page of the screenplay. Keep going I found difficult because I tend to go all in when I do a movie. When you have a wife and two children like I do, you have to be careful what project to choose next, because you have to have the support – which I luckily have – of your family.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

If there is one thing that I have learned is: always keep communicating as detailed as possible with the crew. I made moodboards and storyboards. Nobody knows your vision or what you want, it’s all locked away in your head until you communicate this and be as precise (and enthusiastic!) as possible.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

With the casting I was very lucky, because both actors really liked the script, so this went really well, including the rehearsal. The things that I found the most difficult were on set and in post. On set I had a shotlist that was way too ambitious. We ended up shooting two thirds of the shotlist so I was really afraid that I didn’t have a film to edit. In the end it turned out well, since most shots that were missing were insert shots, the story and the suspense was there, so I had a movie.  What I found really difficult in postproduction is having a creative disagreement with people who are very talented and experienced, work on your project for free and have another vision on what the movie is about. I think this was the most difficult part.  I decided to stay as true as possible to my original intentions, because it is always your ass on the line. If I would crash and burn than it would be my own fault and I wouldn’t be able to point a finger to anyone. I am really happy with how it turned out and incredible grateful to everybody that gave their trust.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

This was in the editing process. I had a healthy creative discussion with the editor about how the suspense would work or not. Fortunately, he was kind enough to edit the film exactly the way I wanted it, even though he has made many films as a director and has cut many films en tv episodes as an editor. I am still grateful that he gave me my own chance to fail, sort of speak.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

Since I am a new film creator I was kindly supported by my producer, Monne Tuinhout, who believed in the script and took care of much of the crew. I knew Monne through my dp, Richard Spierings that I knew before. We had a rough ride together, since everything had to be shot in so little time (one night), but we look forward at working again together on a new project.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

This is a really tough question to answer. There are filmmakers that give an audience exactly what they want (think of the ever expanding Marvel Universe), but I think you shouldn’t give an audience what they want, but what you want to tell. Not worrying about an audience seems presumptuous to me. I wish I could say that I don’t worry about the audience, but I think that every film creator to some extent HAS to think about the audience, even if the audience is yourself or someone you know. With film you put images in such an order that they will provoke a reaction. This decision alone acknowledges that every film director to some extent will work for an audience. I have a difficult time with directors who claim otherwise. It is the most expensive art form in the world, if you really don’t care, than why not paint? Or just write?

That said, if you are an artist who can work within the confines of cinematic conventions expected by audiences and are still able to be completely true to the art you want to make, than you are very blessed. I think true auteurs can still create films, but since there is no such thing as a cinema audience anymore in a fragmented media landscape flooded with ‘content’ like today, one has to settle for smaller, niche audiences. In other words, it is easier than ever before to create films, but it is harder than ever to reach an audience at all, even if you don’t really care.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

The most important role of festivals for me of course is that people see my film and respond to it. I don’t think that there is a greater joy than that. Secondly I get to meet a lot of interesting and talented people. When your film gets selected or receives an award, it is recognition for all the hard work everybody has put in it. Of course I hope that it works as a motivation to team up with me again to create something completely new. However I am quite new to festivals and I have yet to find out ‘how to get the most of them’. At this point I am mostly busy with two new productions for this year, a job and a busy family, all the rest is extra 😉

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

Yes, I believe that every filmmaker should be as original and fresh as possible. To me, there is nothing more off putting than films that don’t even aspire to break new ground. ‘Always be ahead of your audience’ is something I always have in the back of my mind (yes, an audience ;-)). I like the idea of a heightened reality in cinema. However, when it comes to technique I tend to use a much more classic cinematic approach, especially when it comes to editing and digital effects. Citizen Kane broke ground in many different ways. Vertigo broke ground in many ways as well and is a great film but hasn’t aged that well because of the use of contemporary effects and editing techniques, although this is up for endless debate. Two different films completely, but to me ‘Kane’ feels more fresh and alive than Vertigo, which feels quite heavy and mechanical today. So yes, I always try to tell a story that hasn’t been told yet, but I am very careful with technique that have the risk of ruining a good story.