Heat

Thessa Meijer

HALAL Amsterdam

1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it? 

In 2017 I directed a TV-film, The Day My House Fell, produced by VENFILM/Studio Ruba. It tells the story of three adult brothers living with their elderly mother in an old, lopsided house. The house is on the verge of collapse, ready to tumble any minute. I wanted to explore the different ways we deal with the loss of something safe, and see what happens when people avoid confrontation. It was such a special project. The art department designed and built a movable house--with a remote control to adjust the angle--on an open field somewhere in the south of the Netherlands. We shot everything on location in 10 days.

My first commercial project was with HALAL in 2019; a really fun film about taking another look at things for Dutch eyewear brand Ace&Tate.

2) How did you get into directing? 

When I was a kid, I had this hobby entering online competitions. All you had to do was basically to source the correct answers and then enter multiple competitions. I won several things, like toilet air freshener. But one time I won a video camera. That’s when I started filming.

In the beginning it was just me capturing things I did with my friends. I really liked directing them, capturing moments and making something special out of a summer-picnic or some spare hours after school. After watching Jim Henson’s Time Piece, I began to experiment more with editing, stop-motion and visual trickery.

I went to the HKU University of the Arts Utrecht to study video art, but soon realized that I really enjoyed telling stories and working with actors, so I made the switch to directing fiction.

3) What is your most recent project? 

At the moment I’m developing my debut feature Volcano Girl, together with HALAL!

Until mid February 2021, I will be living in Paris as part of Cinéfondation The Residence by Cannes Film Festival to work on the screenplay, super exciting! 

4) What is the best part of being a director? 

There are so many parts of directing that I deeply love, I fully believe it’s the most fun job in the whole world. As a director, you always have an excuse to follow your curiosity and ask questions. With every new project, you become a bit of an expert of a new (fictional) world or of an aspect of the world that you already know. For example: I know quite a lot about blue-spotted mudskippers and the hierarchy within a team of street sweepers, to name a few. Especially in commercial work, you never know what unknown territory will be next.

But most of all, I really love how filmmaking brings people together to experience something and understand each other a bit better.

5) What is the worst part of being a director? 

The fears and doubts that often arise when creating something new and also sometimes being soooo obsessed with a project that it’s hard to fully connect with family and friends.

6) What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, television, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre--comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.? 

As a writer/director, I like to do both long and personal projects as well as short and quick commercial projects and music videos. It keeps me sane to alternate between digging very deep into specific subjects and personal experiences and exploring all the different possibilities, but then being able to switch and jump into a new project that already has a very clear brief and fixed borders to work with. I like the different energies and challenges of short and long form. Whatever the format, I always love working on projects that are magical, a little wild, and/or weirdly funny.

7) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you? 

I used to have this teacher in art school, who was always super enthusiastic and encouraging about my work and creative process, even if I had no idea where it was going to. That really helped me to trust the process and build confidence as a filmmaker. At the moment I learn the most from my peers, fellow directors, crew members, and creative people and artists around me.

8) Who is your favorite director and why? 

There are so many directors whose work I admire that I really can’t name one favorite! But I’m very much inspired by filmmakers who create their own universes, like Yorgos Lanthimos, Andrei Tarkovsky and Roy Andersson. I love seeing how they bring those parallel universes and realities to live, that tell us something about the world we are living in today.

9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content? 

One of my most recent favorites is Kitchen Sink by Alison Maclean, a late '80s horror short. It’s about a woman cleaning her kitchen sink and there are some amazing practical effects… That’s probably all I should say about it. I also really loved Babyteeth by Shannon Murphy--super fun and eccentric, but also incredibly sad and beautiful.

Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You just blew me away. The writer/director/lead-actress is an insane talent and the series addresses sexual consent in such a fresh, bold and honest way.

And the Bodyform & Libresse’s #wombstories by Nisha Ganatra are very relatable and real. The combination of live-action and animation is extremely well done and I love how the brand keeps breaking period stigma.

10) Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)

I grew up in different places in The Netherlands, from Zwolle (east), Groningen (north) to a village near Alkmaar (northwest). My father is a doctor, so we moved places quite a lot when I was younger. For a while I thought that I might wanted to study medicine too, so I chose all the nature, biology and science subjects in high school just to be sure. I really enjoyed dissecting a lamb’s heart--even though I was a vegetarian. These kinds of topics still fascinate me a lot.

Some past jobs include being a newspaper deliverer, a tulip bulbs sorter, a bakery shop assistant and head cashier, but I can be quite clumsy so it’s better for everyone that I could leave that behind!

11) How has the pandemic impacted your career, art, craft, shaped your attitudes and reflections on life which in turn may influence your work, approach, spirit, mindset?

At the beginning of lockdown, I was working on project applications and had a pretty solid routine where I tricked myself into “going to work and coming back home every day” by having a walk around my house in the morning and evening. When the deadlines were finished, I decided to take a short break, but it turned out that I’m not very good at relaxing on my own and I got terribly obsessed with all these random things.. One of them was Feng Shui. You could find me at 4AM in the morning, using a protractor to measure where the “Love & Relationship corner” of my studio apartment was (it turned out to be in my laundry basket). I’m relieved to be seeing more people now and working on actual projects again.

I very much hoped that the pandemic would make big changes and government action possible in terms of sustainability and climate policy, but unfortunately that’s not the case (yet). I’m very curious to see what creative people at brands and agencies will come up with in the near future.

Contact

The Netherlands & Germany: 
Contact Gijs Determeijer, Partner, EP, Head of Commercial Dept, HALAL via email 
+316 2492 7213
Website