Frank Van Den Eeden about ‘Full Contact’

A few weeks ago we did an article about the work of Frank van den Eeden on ‘Home’ by Fien Troch and less than a year ago we wrote a short article about his best cinematography award at the 51st Chicago Int Film Festival 2015 for ‘Full contact’. Why a new one ? Because last friday ‘Full Contact’ won Best Cinematography at the Netherlands Film Festival 2016 and Best Film at the Director’s Forum. We though it deserved a ‘full contact’.

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What is ‘Full Contact’ about ?

FvdE :Full Contact’ looks into the psyche of a Nevada based drone operator (Grégoire Colin) who accidentally bombs a school somewhere in Yemen. He is unable to get the boys he killed out of his head and from there on the narrative melts down to become a road movie of the subconscious.

How did you come to work on the project? Did you already knew the director ?

FvdE : I knew who David Verbeek was, but we never met. I was impressed by his visual approach on his previous works, especially on ‘R U there’ wich was into the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section of the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. ‘Full Contact’ focusses heavily on visual storytelling so I didn’t hesitate when David asked me to team up with him.

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Can you tell me about your artistic approach of the project ?

FvdE : With ‘Full Contact’ we needed to get inside the head of it’s main character Ivan. Our way of shooting had to reflect his state of mind. Prior to any location visits we had mapped out what our approach would be for each scene. The first part (Nevada) was shot in a very controlled, almost robotic way using steadycam, dollyshots and static shots with medium and longer lenses. The second part (the island) where Ivan is no longer in control was mainly shot handheld with wider lenses and closer to the actors lending this part an unstable feel. For the last part (the city) we opted for a more conventional approach, a bit less extreme in framing and operating with more focus on the way Ivan connects with the people around him.

Any special difficulties that had to be solved for this shoot?

FvdE : We had many. We had helicopter shots for the drone pov’s wich included cgi explosions. We shot a (very cold) underwater scene with Gregoire, operated by Wim Michiels. We found ourselves shooting for days on a remote island with a dog as a co-star. We had to create the US Army base and it’s Nevada surroundings through a combination of different existing locations and needed an accurate copy of a drone control center built for us in studio.

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A mayor difficulty was the shootout scene on the island wich in the story takes place at dawn. It was a complex scene overlooking a wide area of the island, with many actors and multiple body hits. We decided to shoot this during three magic hours with available light only. This way we avoided a ‘lit’ look and could shoot 360 degrees. We did rehearsals from late afternoon and were ready to shoot when the sun was just above the horizon. We shot the scene in reverse order untill the light was completely gone. In the final edit we had the sun coming up during the shootout with Ivan in daylight as the only survivor.

Another difficulty was the red-eye ‘Blade Runner’ effect David wanted for the dog when it approached Ivan for the first time. I had a 50 percent mirror with a light source standby but I figured that if we would shoot the dog through the flames the effect should be strong enough and have a natural feel, wich it did.

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For how long and how did you prep ? Was it sufficient?

FvdE : We prepped for about 10 weeks, the first weeks in both Amsterdam and Antwerp, the rest on location in Croatia. We were still scouting one or two locations when we started shooting but the total prep time was sufficient. On the shotlist we indicated what kind of light we wanted for the exteriors, ranging from a harsh high sun to low sun, magic hour etc. With first AD Marko Sprajc we scheduled all these scenes to our prefered time of day.

For how long and where did you shoot ?

FvdE : We had 28 days of shooting, all in Croatia. We shot in and around Zagreb, the island Mana, the coastal area of Telascica, the island Viasici, Biograd, Novalja and The Pecinski park at Grabovaca. We had a lot of elements in the script that pushed us to the ‘risky’ side of filmmaking and a few more days of shooting would be very welcome but in the end everything went very smooth.

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What camera and what lenses did you use ? 

FvdE : We had an Alexa and shot cropped scope on a 16:9 sensor in pro-res. I used a series of Cooke S4 and had a Alura 45-250mm with me on selected days, we also carried a macro for one or two days. 

How was the lighting handled ? 

FvdE : Mostly we shot with available light for exteriors and used practicals for interiors. We had some L7’s, 2.5K hmi’s, kino’s and some smaller tungsten units to add more level when needed. I like the L7 a lot as it can easily blend with any type of available light. We shot some night scenes on the island with a gas controlled fire as our main source and filled the background a bit with HMI. All the shots with Ivan riding his bike are available light, we shot most of them in dusk. The stripclub was a bit more complex but again we worked mostly with the existing showlight and added some small units and used smoke. For the fightscenes in the gym we used two HQI toplights that produced a cold and harsh light, we added a few neons on the walls and avoided additional sources so we had freedom to move with our actors.

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How about the framing ? Did you use any specifical grip equipment ? 

FvdE : We had a mixture of dolly shots and jib shots. I did a lot of handheld shots using an easyrig. We had some carmount setups and a helimount. 

How did the work with the actors go ?

FvdE : Gregoire, lizzy and Sliman went all the way. We shot many long sequences that were very physical and exhausting but they never complained.

How about your collaboration with the other departments : make-up, costume design, art direction, etc. ?

FvdE : I’m impressed with their detailed and accurate work on this film. ‘Full Contact’ has three segments all with a different approach so we couldn’t go with one set of rules. In a way it was like making three different films. Art Director Mario Ivezic did an amazing job on creating the US army base and it’s Nevada Surroundings. Zorana Meic was in charge of costumes and Ana Bulajic Crcek took care of our make-up needs.

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How did you handle the post production of the film? 

FvdE : Grading was done by Olivier Oigneux in Amsterdam at Haghefilm for 10 days. Vfx was done by ShoSHo in Amsterdam.

Do you know the budget of the movie ?

FvdE : It was just over 1 milion.

How is the result of the project for you ? Can you tell us about the prizes it received ?

FvdE : It won Best Cinematography at the Netherlands Film Festival 2016 (with Best Editing for Sander Vos, and nominations for Sound Design, Best Script and Best Director), together with Best Film at the Director’s Forum. It also received the Best Cinematography Award at the 51st Chicago film festival and had it’s world premiere at the 2015 Platform selection in Toronto.

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Equipment : All the equipment came from TunaFilm, Zagreb.

Focus puller : Mario Vargović

Gaffer : Filip Beatovic

Best boy : Darko Lovric

Key grip : Hrvoje Vulic

Steadycam : Zoran Mikincic

Grading : Olivier Oigneux

VFX : ShoSHo