The Directors: Marit Weerheijm
Marit is a young award-winning filmmaker who has focused her career on telling powerful human-interest stories. Her eccentric film style can best be described as character-driven, naturalistic and organic with loads of room for spontaneity and creativity.
After graduating in 2016 from the Dutch Film Academy, she received the prestigious “Student Academy Award” for her short film When Grey is a Color as well as two prizes at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Her next short film EN ROUTE, which was decorated with the esteemed “Gouden Kalf” award at the Netherlands Film Festival in 2019, led directly to its international premiere at the Berlinale in 2020.
Marit has seamlessly transitioned the themes and artistic style of her short films into commercial work. She recently completed thought-provoking and eye-opening campaigns for Pink Ribbon and Dreamland, highlighting subjects such as breast cancer and gender identity.
In 2019 Marit was nominated for the Young Director Award during Cannes Lions Festival for her film “Finally”.
Name: Marit Weerheijm
Repped by/in: Czar Amsterdam & Czar Brussels
* Student Academy Award (Oscar) for best Graduation film ‘When Grey Is A Colour’
* Golden Calf (Dutch Oscars) for best short film ‘En Route’
* Nomination Young Directors Award at Cannes 2019 for ‘Finally’ - Pink Ribbon
What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?
I love telling stories about strong characters. That doesn’t mean that the characters can’t be insecure or struggling in life. On the contrary, I applaud those scripts that succeed in creating a full character in 45 seconds, which is a hard thing to do. I also get excited when there is a honest and strong message to the story. Is it a story that I find worth making? And that’s not just the activist stories - which I love to take on - but it can also be a story about other genuine emotions, such as fun and passion in e.g. the ad for Proximus that I made last year.
How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?
I always start by making a new folder on my laptop and just tossing in all the images that might inspire me for this story. That means that I go through every other folder that I made before to search for previous inspiration. Next up, I start browsing online for visual references, spending hours on Vimeo, YouTube, Film-Grab and other platforms. In this phase I also like to bounce ideas off my DP to get her/his point of view and also to hear myself talk out loud about the concept.
When I feel like I’ve spend too much time watching videos and film stills and I’m up for the next step, I open a fresh new document and I spend even more time (no joke) on finding the right font and color for my treatment. This process somehow creates space in my head to digest all the content that I took in, and while doing so, my approach to the story becomes clear in the design of my treatment. I write the scenes and give every one of them their own visual references. Only in the last days (depending on how much time this crazy fast industry has given me for this treatment) do I write the directors vision and all the other chapters. It doesn’t take me too much time to write my thoughts and ideas down, because my mind never stopped thinking about the story while searching for all these visuals. Oddly enough, the story is more important to me than the visual aspect, but searching for visuals while thinking about the story is like knitting in front of the tv (although I don’t knit, so I can only imagine). The search for visuals only takes up 10% of my working brain while the other 90% is working on the storyline.
If the script is for a brand that you're not familiar with/ don’t have a big affinity with or a market you're new to, how important is it for you to do research and understand that strategic and contextual side of the ad? If it’s important to you, how do you do it?
It starts by having a good conversation with the agency. If they know what they’re doing, they can explain their strategy and the contextual side of the ad to you. I also like to watch previous ads for the brand to see what their style and story is, only to throw that to the back of my mind when I start working on this new concept. One film that I did a lot of research for was ‘Finally’ for Pink Ribbon, the breast cancer organisation. I spiralled down a Wikipedia wormhole about breast cancer and it took me a few hours to get back up again. This probably counted as ‘too much research’ which delayed the process of making my treatment, but it opened my eyes to the gravity of the situation and I like how this job takes you on trips like these.
For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?
I honestly don’t want to single out one person. I think everyone you work with has the power and ability to make or break the film that you’re working on. And I think it’s a smart thing to give everyone around you the feeling that they do have this responsibility.
What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?
It’s all about the honesty of the story. I like working for a good cause, because the brand is honest and necessary. But I can also find these honest stories in other brands. The most important thing is that you feel excited to work on this film because you know someone in the audience is going to be moved or motivated in some way.
What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?
I have no idea what people say about me. But I do feel that this industry tends to be very careful with providing opportunities. When I look around me I see directors making a lot of the same things, only because that’s what they’re known for. I work a lot with kids, which I love, but I do like grown-ups too. I think a lot of directors would flourish in making something completely different from what they’re used to make. But we’ll never know until we try, until they get the opportunity.
Have you ever worked with a cost consultant and if so how have your experiences been?
I don’t know, I don’t think so. There’s always a struggle between the financial and the creative aspect of the film. I think you should always challenge the budget, push it to the limit and when you’ve reached that point, you accept that money is an exhaustible resource and then your creativity takes over again. And then I’m very thankful when I have a great producer next to me.
What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?
The first story that comes to mind is from a while back when I was still in filmschool. We were shooting a short film at a gas station and our cheap electric cooking plate short-circuited and caught on fire. That could’ve been a very very bad day for all of us. Luckily, one of the producers smelled the melting plastic and was able to put it down very fast. I was shooting a scene at the moment so I didn’t notice anything happening. They told me at the end of the day because they didn’t want me to worry about it. I always think about this when I see the ‘no smoking’ sign at a gas station.
How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?
I’m convinced that the best films come from good collaborations. It’s very important to protect your idea, but it’s wiser to focus on making your own vision your shared vision.
What are your thoughts on opening up the production world to a more diverse pool of talent? Are you open to mentoring and apprenticeships on set?
Very necessary! And I’m up for it!
How do you feel the pandemic is going to influence the way you work into the longer term? Have you picked up new habits that you feel will stick around for a long time?
I think that online meetings will stick. Not for every meeting of course, but it turns out that it saves a lot of time and co2 emissions, which is a good thing.
Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working (and, equally, to what degree is it possible to do so)?
I feel very uncomfortable knowing that something we shoot horizontally will also be used vertically. It feels kind of disrespectful to the work. Having my background in fiction film it’s very unnatural for me to create a vertical image for my storytelling. However, the market is changing and we should be aware of these changes and adapt. If it’s been communicated at the start of a project we can plan and make sure that we still find a way to create visually engaging images.
What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work (e.g. virtual production, interactive storytelling, AI/data-driven visuals etc)?
I like learning about new technology, I think it’s important to stay curious, but actually using it would be a next step. As for now, my most important gadget on set is my small directors monitor to be able to sit close to the actors while shooting.
Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why?
I decided to share two commercial films and two trailers of my fiction work, because I feel that these two worlds aren’t as divided as some people might think. I hope that my commercial work feels as an extension of me as a fiction director and that I can manage to maintain my vision and signature in all the work that I make.
FINALLY - PINK RIBBON
I loved making this film. It was one of my first projects and there was almost no money. The agency gave me total freedom to write scenes and create characters, which was great. We had the same vision and the collaboration was very comfortable. I loved how this simple and relatable story was able to tell such an important message.
TEASER - EN ROUTE (subway)
This is a trailer for my last short En Route. This specific scene was a combination of scripted lines and improvisation that worked really well with the child actors.
I loved that the brand felt the importance of telling this story.
TRAILER - WHEN GREY IS A COLOUR
This is a story about a young girl whose brother struggles with depression. The story is told from a child’s perspective, which adds some light to a very dark and heavy theme.
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