Interview of a new SBC member : Wim Vanswijgenhoven

We enjoy the nomination of Wim Vanswijgenhoven as SBC member to ask him some questions about his work.

Maverick by Domien Huyghe 

Could you present yourself ?

WV : I was born in Sint Truiden. I’m 33 years old and I finished my education at RITS about 9 years ago. I have been working since that point in cinema/commercial/documentary. I did some interns here and there as a stagair grip and electrician. One internship I did during school was for example on the tv series “katarakt” as a grip with Yves Crabbe, shot by Stijn Vanderveken. I had the pleasure also to work with Mark Bakker, which is a Dutch gaffer. I worked with him and his team on a couple of movies, he had a really nice crew, and I learned a lot from them. After that I proceeded shooting myself, it were small documentaries and commercials first. Later on the projects became a bit bigger ( sometimes) and I got to know this American director Justin Steele. I shot his feature Gutshot Straight with Steven Seagal etc as a second unit for him, but I ended up shooting the last 3 weeks on my own, because the first unit DP had a family emergency. Justin was happy with my work and he introduced me to Matt Berkowitz with whom I shot Wild in Blue. After that I shot a couple of more shorts and music video’s with them. Back in belgium I started working more and more on commercials, and short movies. Until last year Caviar called me to shoot Sprakeloos.

The heeler by Justin Steele

Let’s say you have to choose three films that represent your work. Which one would you choose ?

WV : I have to go for : Sprakeloos by Hilde van Mieghem (feature film), Wild in Blue by Matt Berkowitz (feature film) and De weg van alle vlees by Deben van Dam (short film). There are other projects that I’m very proud of, like work in progress Remise by Deben van Dam or Maverick by Domien Huyghe or The heeler where I got to work with JK Simmons.

Remise by Deben van Dam

Why did you choose those films ?

WV : Like I said Wild in Blue was my first feature film I ever shot. I shot it in LA which made it extra exciting for me at that time. I liked shooting it cause the story really gave us the opportunity to try out non conventional things and work really intuitively.

Wild in Blue by Matt Berkowitz

Sprakeloos is my first propper feature film in Belgium, It means a lot to me to have a movie out in belgian theaters that my friends and family can just go and watch. Which was not the case with the other fiction projects I did until then, they were only projected on some festivals or not in this country.

Sprakeloos by Hilde van Mieghem

I’m really proud of De weg van alle vlees. I think, when I look back now, the cinematography was still a bit insecure, but that movie helped me a lot to get my name out there. It won a lot of prices and I’m really proud of that movie as a whole.

De weg van alle vlees by Deben van Dam

Can you give us some info about the content of the projects ? What are the stories about in your opinion ?

WV : Wild in Blue is about a sociopath that makes his own documentary about the woman he meets.

Wild in Blue by Matt Berkowitz

Sprakeloos is about the writer Tom Lannoie who’s mother losses her ability to speak after a stroke.

Sprakeloos by Hilde van Mieghem

De weg van alle vlees is about a man on a palliative care unit wanting to get laid before he chooses to euthanize himself.

How did you come to work on these projects ? Did you already knew the directors ? A part for Wild in blue that you already explained.

WV : Deben, the director of Weg van alle Vlees, is a long time friend, we shot almost all his projects together. Untill today we always try to work together whenever possible. I met him when we were about 16,17 years old. When he had his first short script “ene slag” ready, we shot it together. We had a lot of fun on that shoot and I liked his taste in directing a lot. Still today I can look at that short and laugh about the great dialogue he had written.

De weg van alle vlees by Deben van Dam

And for Sprakeloos I got a phone call from Caviar saying they liked my work on some short movies I shot. I Shot 2 shortfilms that won the VAF wildcards in Leuven short film festival: Umpire by Leo Vandijl and De weg van alle vlees.  Caviar told me that they wanted to propose me for this film. So I read the script and talked with Hilde. After some meetings I heard that she wanted to shoot the movie with me.

Sprakeloos by Hilde van Mieghem

How was it to work with those three directors ?

WV : Matt Berkowitz is a great guy. He is always really passionated about his projects and gave me a lot of support in trying out stuff that were new for both of us. Because of that story, where a sociopath made his own film, we shot on VHS, HI8, 8mm, and Red Epic with zeiss standard speeds, we worked with a lot of bright colours, distortions, strange movements. It was a great first experience in not trying to make each shot beautiful and just get into the mindset of this crazy sociopath. He would often whisper these things in my ear while I was framing, like random crazy thoughts this character would have while I was shooting the POV of the killer. It was funny, but it helped me as well.

Wild in Blue by Matt Berkowitz

With Sprakeloos it wasn’t always easy, there were ups and downs in our collaboration. But in the end we both are happy with the film. Which is the most important thing.

Sprakeloos by Hilde van Mieghem

Deben van Dam is one of my best friends, so of course this gives us extra trust and confidence in each other. We talk in preparation to the films about or way of shooting. But on set we shoot without a lot of discussing, just intuitively and with a lot of freedom to try things out.

De weg van alle vlees by Deben van Dam

Can you tell me about your technical and artistic approach of each project ?

WV : WIB is very simple in its approach, it all had to look to be shot by our main character or his best friend. But because of who these characters were, it gave us a lot of room to play around with formats, colours etc… The main characters house was covered in red and yellow paint everywhere. We didn’t have a lot of budget but we worked with small Hmi’s from outside and minimal fill from inside. We often shot 360 degrees long takes, a lot of POV shots. I enjoyed shooting the 8mm and VHS a lot. Cause with both of them there were a lot of nice surprises in the footage.

Wild in Blue by Matt Berkowitz

With Sprakeloos I think it was more complicated. Cause the style of the story and the acting dictated something which was a bit different then what we had foreseen during prep. But when we started shooting we just went for it. I think some scenes worked out fine and others a bit less.

Sprakeloos by Hilde van Mieghem

De weg van alle vlees was something where the cinematography needed to be simple. We surely didn’t want it to have a handheld social drama kind of a feel, cause of the subject of the film. It would just not work for the subtle genre which was a balance between drama and some dark humour. It would have made it tip over to much to the dramatic side of the story. So we decided to go for a more neutral approach, more classic american cinematic story telling. We went for sodium coloured nights and colder low contrast days. We worked a lot with the TL’s that where present on location and changed them in to daylight.

De weg van alle vlees by Deben van Dam

For how long did you prep ? Was it sufficient ? Where and when did you shoot ?

WV : Cause WIB was shot in LA, we mostly had contact via mail or Skype. Once I landed in LA we went to visit locations and I had probably one or two more days over to prep the movie after seen locations for the first time. It wasn’t really sufficient, but we worked trough it and managed to find a workflow which allowed us to shoot everything within the foreseen timen of 3 weeks. We shot a lot in downtown LA. Some scenes were shot in beverly hills and some scenes in koreatown which is central Los Angeles.

Wild in Blue by Matt Berkowitz

With Sprakeloos I think I prepped more then a month full time on it. I would prep a shotlist of each scene and go talk with Hilde about it the next day. We talked about certain shots that she really wanted in there, talked about lighting, about costume, about…. We then shoot for 33 days, mostly in Sint Niklaas (because it’s an autobiography and that’s where Tom lannoie’s family lived).

Sprakeloos by Hilde van Mieghem

Deben’s movie we prepped for a week or something. But we had been talking about the project already for a long time. I think 4 or 5 months we spend on talking about how we would shoot this project. And then since it was a short film the shooting only lasted five days. regarding the locations, we were just looking for a interesting looking caring unit or hospital or retirement home. We found it near Antwerp.

De weg van alle vlees by Deben van Dam

What camera and what lenses for Sprakeloos and  De weg van alle vlees ?

WV : Sprakeloos was shot on alexa mini with cooke anamorphic lenses rented from Lites.

De weg van alle vlees we shot on red epic and thanks to Patrick Otten we could shoot on Lomo Anamorphic lenses.

Who were your focus pullers on these three films ?

WV : I worked with Mitchey Meija on WIB. He was a local guy that worked on a lot famous music videos mostly from hiphop artists. He did a fantastic job, everytime I go back, we still try to work together.

Joris Rymen did the focus on Sprakeloos. He’s one of the best I’ve ever worked with. Most productions I do now, is with him.

Sprakeloos by Hilde van Mieghem

Ruben Appertans did the focus on De weg van alle vlees. Great guy.

How did it go with your gaffers ?

WV : I, like probably every DP, give a lot of value to a gaffer.

Laurens de Grande with whom I did Sprakeloos is someone that gives really everything he has. He has a great character and is always thinking about solutions. He’s good with his team and is a great communicator. We work together now since 3 or 4 years more or less. He works with SPOTS. Those BR lights are a help in some situations. To be able to control them all from behind the monitor in such an easy way is time saving and allows you and your gaffer to finish your work / levels more detailed. On Sprakeloos we used them a lot together with HMI’s from the outside. We would also sometimes build a soft toplight for the whole room and then came in stronger with the HMI through the window. It would allow the actors to move around more freely which was necessary for some scenes.

Sprakeloos by Hilde van Mieghem

Eric Rino was the gaffer on Wild in Blue. He had a small lighting package : some small HMI’s, the biggest one was a 4K HMI, and some kino flo’s. We had to prep often 2 levels of the house for one take cause of these long POV shots we did. The windows were painted over in red and yellow colours, a lot of the walls were painted in red which reflected on the characters. It made the lighting very interesting but challenging.

Wild in Blue by Matt Berkowitz

The gaffer of De weg van alle vlees was Maarten Verminck, we worked a lot together during our school years and shortly after. We always had a good understanding on how to approach a scene,. At this retirement home, we had to work always really quiet and unnoticeable. We shot there even during the night, so sometimes it was not easy making no noise. But Maarten and his crew always made sure they were subtle and never bothered other residents. This wasn’t easy, cause during one night they had to climb upon the roofs to put Hmi’s through the bedroom window for the final night scene.

De weg van alle vlees by Deben van Dam

Do you frame yourself ? How was the framing handled on each film ?

WV : Always. I never have given away the framing in any of my projects except for steadicam shots of course. I just think it’s a personal thing and you need to be able to give accents on certain points in the scene from your guts. I think it would be difficult for me to communicate that to an operator.

WIB was all handheld because of the concept of the story. It dictated us some kind of dogma in lighting and framing. I had to shoot a lot of shots as his POV, which pushed me in to a kind of acting role sometimes. I remember doing this scene with an ex playmate sitting on me half naked in a motel in LA. It was so funny, I will never forget that. Furthermore we didn’t really had a Grip the camera assistants took care of everything that was needed to shoot handheld. And there were no big constructions to be made.

Wild in Blue by Matt Berkowitz

Sprakeloos was a mix between dolly and handheld. We did a couple of crane and steady cam shots as well. It came from CQN, cause that is where my Key Grip Geert van beeck get’s it from. (Laughter) He is always relaxed, like most grippers. He gets the job done, without a lot of fuzz. It’s a big support to have guys like that on your crew, same for Marco Vanderveken who did De weg van alle vlees with me.

Sprakeloos by Hilde van Mieghem

This last one was all shot on dolly and a couple of steady cam shots. The equipment came from mediator which is this smaller rental/production/… place owned by Willy Faes. He helped us out a lot on that project. Marco was also a big support.

De weg van alle vlees by Deben van Dam

In both these projects I used Nico Savary as a steadicammer. He is a young guy from brussels, but talented and understands quickly what you need the shoot to look like.

How did the work with the actors go ?

WV : On WIB the casting was Karen Black, Steve Railsback and Daveigh Chase… All of them had done some big movies, Karen Black was an oscar nominated actress. But they were all really cool and into the story. I remember Karen Black asking me, while I was shooting a POV shot of the killer standing above her, to film her from her good side before she got her head banged in with a hammer. She was really nice about it.

Wild in Blue by Matt Berkowitz

On Sprakeloos, I loved to work with Flor Decleir. He’s a subtle actor, but really talented in what he does. Stany Crets, who directed a movie himself, was always very supportive and never complained.

Sprakeloos by Hilde van Mieghem

On De weg van alle vlees Sam Louwyck and Flor Decleir were the main characters. Sam Louwyck didn’t went to bed the night before he did his last scene where he had to die. He did it as a preparation for that scene, or not, who knows… (Laughter)I was shooting a close up of him, the scene was really heavy, he was having a dialogue with his doctor about commiting euthanasia and suddenly I saw him drifting of and he started to snore very load. He just fell asleep during the take. It was funny at first but when I saw the film when it was finished, I really liked the way he was acting in that scene. It helped a lot…

De weg van alle vlees by Deben van Dam

How did you handle the post production ?

WV : I flew back for WIB to do the grading. I could combine it with shooting a music video there so that was perfect. That film was really colourful and had all these mixed media. So with my colorist, Jon Mendenhall, we didn’t do much to it. We shifted contrast here and there and made sure there was a matching between the images. We did work a lot on exterior day shots, we shot mostly in harsh daylight cause of planning issues. We couldn’t just shoot whenever we wanted. So it needed some extra work in post. I think in total we worked 5 days on it or something like that.

Wild in Blue by Matt Berkowitz

The grading of Sprakeloos took us some time, with my colorist, Kene Illegems, we wanted to go for this naturalistic look. Which we managed to find after a while. In total we worked a month or so on that, not every day of course. We did the grading at CAVIAR, on the ground floor they have a nice grading suite.

Sprakeloos by Hilde van Mieghem

De weg van alle flees was grade with Olivier Ogneux. We were able to do at the fridge. I think we spend one day of colouring because of budget issues.

De weg van alle vlees by Deben van Dam