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Interview with director Erik van Schaaik

Erik van Schaaik started filming at age twelve, creating super-8 flicks that made it to international television. During his study graphic design Erik worked for Dutch television, creating a series of animation films, live action drama and documentaries, using a variety of styles and techniques. After graduation Erik continued in the field of children’s television writing, animating and directing many different shows. For the big screen he created award winning animated short films Vent, The Phantom Of The Cinema and the stop-motion horror comedy Under The Apple Tree and a brand new Badtime Story: The Smile. Erik is now working on animated feature film Nosferatu Reanimated.

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

I was around 15 years old when one of my super-8 horror films was broadcasted on Belgium television. That was a very special moment.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

Not at all. You just have to study film by doing it, and doing it all day, every day, with all your heart.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

Filmmaking is sheer joy. The only thing that is hard is the production side of things. Getting the money. Begging for money. I hate that.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

Ignore all the naysayers, only work with people that really want to go for it and enjoy the project as much as I do.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

Start off with a good script and a detailed animatic. These are the most important tools to reach your goal. Production realities always have to do with uncertainties like people and money. You have to negotiate, maneuver, adjust and simply try your best.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

To tell a voice actor that he is going to be replaced.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

I know some of them from prior productions. Others were recommended by colleagues. Being kind, respectful and encouraging is all you have to do to keep a good relationship. I take good care of my team. And I show them that I am a hard worker myself.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

Yes, you have to know your audience and speak to them. You are communicating, right?
When a filmmaker chooses a specific, small audience, for instance, ‘lovers of medieval music’ or some other strange fetish, than the film is going to be a niche product. And so, it can’t have a huge budget. It is made only for a hand full of people. Might still be a great little film, tho.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

In truth, I don’t like festivals. I don’t even enjoy watching animation, I just like to make animation. I am a maker. Festivals are good for networking. And I don’t like doing that either, but it is good for business. Just show your face, smile and make friends that might help you with a new project. Doesn’t seem too difficult, but still… There’s always too much spotlights, or too much competition that can make you depressed. Really. Festivals isn’t just fun and drinks.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

Both is true. However, no matter what topic you choose to make a film about, your job is to be a great – and I mean GREAT – storyteller. Your storytelling technique is what makes the movie great. Nothing else. People often forget that part. Very often. There are not many good storytellers… It is a difficult job, tho.