Come Create w/ Emma Branderhorst

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Skandl’s Come Create interview series is your gateway to insider knowledge from creatives in careers ranging from directing to graphic design.

We’re a branding and communications agency, and we’ve selected the interviewees for this series based on our admiration for their work and attitude, in order for them to talk about their field and their experiences.

This time we hear from Emma Branderhorst https://emmabranderhorst.com/over-mij, a filmmaker whose short, Onderhuids, had its International Premiere at the Berlinale Generation 2020. She won the Wildcard prize at the Dutch Film Festival 2019. Her profile picture was taken at the Hortus, Emma’s favourite Amsterdam spot.

I graduated from the School of the Arts as an audiovisual maker in 2019. During my studies I did a specialization in directing fiction, but of course you are always learning next to school, by looking around and reading a lot. This learning never stops.

My style of filmmaking is realistic and I prefer to tell small stories with recognizable themes. Before the script was written for my latest film, Onderhuids (Under the Skin), I did a lot of research through interviews, reading books and watching films. I wrote out this research and it served as a guideline during the writing process. While shooting I prefer to work with non-actors, for Onderhuids I worked mainly with youth who have never performed in a movie before. The great thing about non-actors is that they are the part. You are always looking for real people who best suit the characters, this way you keep the authenticity and really feel it. 

For me as a director, a good script and good actors are the most important thing. The technical aspects surrounding a film can be “basic”. We were always reminded of this at school. Now that I am allowed to do larger projects, I am also more concerned with technical issues. I often choose a nice camera with spherical lenses.

For people who are beginning to make films and want to develop their own personal style: stay with yourself. Do not try to “make up” stories with which you have little or no feeling. As a filmmaker, you are unique, your stories are unique. Try to turn them into a beautiful story which is authentic. I think it’s a pitfall for many younger makers, that it must be very “epic,” or big. Your personal motivation should be the basis for your project. Otherwise you are exchangeable, and nobody wants that. 

I try to develop myself every day, and this does not really depend on one thing. I am now learning French, because my dream is to eventually write and direct a French film.

There are certain trends within the film world, and there are techniques that work well. I am aware of the trends, but as I mentioned earlier, it is very important to me to stay with myself and my own style. I often find trends to be too hip and not suitable for my stories. It’s good (and fun) to watch a lot of movies. If you’re in the Netherlands, get a Cineville pass and go to the movies! I also discover short films via various platforms, like Short of the Week and Vimeo Staff Picks. You can also find beautiful, artistic short projects via Nowness.

I am a huge fan of Greta Gerwig. In a short time she has experienced a very nice growth, from actress to writer and now an Oscar-worthy director. She makes beautiful films; personal, but with very recognizable themes. She mainly works with female leading roles and is of course a female director. All pluses!

It is important for me as a director to have a website, this is where I put my work. This gives people a good idea of your current work and experience. I am now hard at work building my portfolio. In practice, unfortunately, it’s the case that many clients want you to have demonstrable work experience. 

In the film world, opportunities usually come through word of mouth. I wrote to many production houses just asking to have a coffee. Keep it casual.

It is also nice to have friends outside the industry you work in, otherwise everything is always about work.

To be honest, I find dealing with feedback difficult. But: never respond immediately, because a first response often comes from pure emotion. I always try to leave feedback to summer for a while, and then read and respons quietly. And then apply it – if necessary – to my work.