Immediately after his graduation from the Dutch Film Academy in 2006, Daniël Bouquet made a flying start as Director of Photography. For his second feature length production “Nothing Personal” (2008) he won the Golden Calf award for best Cinematography during the Netherlands Film Festival in 2009. Nowadays he works mainly on a variety of international projects, amongst commercials for major brands like Adidas, Gillette and Vogue. The NSC talked with him about his career, interests and more.
Who or what made you decide to become a Cinematographer?
I grew up in an environment with a lot of music and theatre. I didn’t like school, but I felt more involved during the art classes I attended after school at the studio of artist Max Koning. Next to my parents, Max taught me to look at things differently. I came to his studio to learn wash drawing, and after one week we were suddenly working with sand and thick paint on large sheets of paper. This is how I learned about different techniques and textures. With the wrong approach, your wash painting could become a ‘ladies of leisure technique’, or ‘Aerdenhoutse-kakwijven-techniek’ as we say in Dutch. By using Arabic gum, you got more texture. Max also taught me to take distance, while discussing our work he smoked the cigarette I rolled for him. This was my introduction to modern and classical art, various techniques, opera and stewed pears. This studio laid the foundation for me.
Another preparation was provided during acting classes in high school. Paul Rooijakkers had his classroom in the basement of the school, stuffed with red carpets, theatre lights and lots of costumes. He was the only person who was able to let even the Gabbers (a Dutch subculture) dance.
Thereafter I attended the Royal Academy of Visual Arts in The Hague. I was still very young and the classes were different than at Max’s place. The photography class was great, but I still decided to quit after one year to explore other interests. Cinema was always the main thread during this years. I worked part time as a projectionist at the Filmschuur in Haarlem. Everything was analogue, it was a magical feeling to put the film reels together. At the same time, it was very scary when the film got almost stuck during reel changes and could let the projector jam. The classics in long-term circulation were always pretty dirty. The Filmschuur is probably the place where I decided to study Cinematography. All my interests came together in this study.
Which film and artists had an important influence in your life?
Films that made a big impression for several reasons are: ’Nói Albinói,’ ‘Oslo 31. August,’ ‘La Vie au Ranch,’ ‘Dark Horse,’ ‘The Brothers Lionheart,’ ‘Paris Texas,’ ‘Trois Couleurs: Blue,’ ‘Mit Verlust Ist zu Rechnen,’ ‘Il Postino,’ ‘La Huitieme Jour,’ ‘Rat Catcher,’ ‘Der Himmel Uber Berlin,’ ‘Schindler’s List,’ ‘Let’s Get Lost,’ ‘Gattaca,’ ‘The White Diamond,’ ‘Wuthering Heights,’ ‘Let The Right One In,’ ‘The Red Shoes,’ ‘Il Postino,’ ‘Robin Hood Prince of Thieves,’ ‘Europa,’ 'The Thin Red Line,’ ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ ‘The Longest Day,’ and many more.
From a young age, I especially liked Scandinavian films. I should not generalize this since they’re all individual countries with different cultures; but I love the cold and simple stories about everyday life. Sometimes there can be magic in small things, like ‘Dark Horse’ from Dagur Kári Pétursson and ‘Europe’ from Lars von Trier.
As in most Dutch households, Word War II has always been a theme. My grandfather from my father's side worked on the Burma train line in the Dutch East Indies, and my grandmother from my mother's side was in the resistance in the North of the Netherlands. Two totally different experiences and many stories, which contributed to a lot theme related art exposure.
I like the work of Dutch artist, Armando a lot. His work ‘Schuldig Landschap’ (Guilty Landscape) is something that I interpret in my own way and sometimes reflects in my work. In a film, an image of a location without characters can give beautiful significance to a memory or period. Also rhythmically this can help during editing.
Do you like to visit museums and galleries? Do you have a certain art preference?
Which art exhibitions made an impression recently?
Yes, I visit them regularly. I travel a lot, and where possible I try to visit exhibitions. It can be varied. I liked ‘Riverbed’ from Olafur Eliasson and photographic work from Awoiska van der Molen.
What appeals you the most in the work of Eliasson and Van Der Molen?
‘Riverbed’ is a sort of lunar landscape with a small downwards coming stream through a number of large white spaces. It’s very exciting to be able to walk through this empty landscape yourself. The beauty in emptiness I experience there, you can also find in the photographs of Awoiska. They are surfaces and textures in nature. Occasionally very dark. Suddenly elements like a branch or a tree in an empty lunar landscape can become very romantic or even emotional. In this way, you can almost talk about shapes and textures as if they’re emotions.
“We are 18” film still by Daniel Bouquet
Do you collect art and/or artbooks?
I cautiously try to collect some photographs and have assembled a nice collection of books and magazines. Which are all precious to me
Currently you mostly work abroad, what led you move in this direction?
After graduation I received a lot offers, mostly Dutch drama production offers. Often heavy stories on a small budget. After a couple of years, I wanted to try something different, and create something more light hearted. Both in terms of story and budget.
Form sometimes seems to appear as a dirty word in filmmaking, but for me it’s an important component. The projects I have worked on lately, I feel there is more scope for this. It is not only a matter of money since a project on a shoestring budget must not necessarily become a ‘social realism drama’ or ‘grey polder drama’ as we would say it.
In other countries I saw things I also wanted to make. This was my drive for working abroad.I have the feeling that things need to be made quickly in the Netherlands. Often we would start working on a project that is not ready to be filmed yet. With the result that there is not enough money and you start filming scenes that will not be used or don’t work for the film. I also would like to be more challenged by more interesting stories. With the exception of documentaries, it seems as if there is nothing left to fight for.
Do you experience another approach in filmmaking elsewhere?
The attention to the final result I experience differently in other countries. In the Netherlands, everyone likes to express their opinion, to the point where we have to be careful it doesn’t become to much of a democratic process. This is different abroad.
“Rihanna” still by Daniël Bouquet
What is the most special collaboration you have experienced to date?
I will always have fond memories of the collaboration during the making of my final thesis film in Doel close to Antwerp. That was an exceptional process. It was winter and for a couple of weeks we adopted the rhythm of the village where we were filming and lived together. We did not have hot water, so now and then we had to go to a swimming pool in Antwerp to take a shower. We had 42 rolls of 16mm film stock, which we split up in quarter rolls in the preparation of scenes. The focus of the crew during that time was amazing.
How do you connect with a director you have not collaborated with before?
Every collaboration is different since what touches you from the other differs each project over again. I don’t have a standard approach. But collecting as much information as possible about a project and to comprehend someone's vision of it are on top of the list. This way I also test my enthusiasm and try to avoid any misunderstandings.
How do you come together to create a certain style?
Usually I start with a mood board upon which the other can shoot at. That is my first interpretation. After that, we talk more about the content. Gradually we come together to certain form. Partly driven by the possibilities.
Are there crew members within your department you like to take to every shoot?
It’s not always possible to take everyone abroad, but especially the gaffer, focus puller and Steadicam operator would be the first to come. I find most Steadicam usage a bit kitsch, now knowing two good operators who like to experiment gives me so much more freedom to express myself. They are from London and Paris, and sometimes they can join me on a trip.
Do you have more creative freedom on international productions, concerning equipment choice and post production?
I try to attract the projects where this freedom seems to exist. In some countries there is a bit more room for certain things. Sometimes a project requires more resolution, and the client will ask for the maximum amount of “K’s” available. But generally I can select the required equipment myself.
With some commercials and larger music video productions, I notice that you get less involved in the post-production process. Sometimes I ask for the ungraded version and arrange my own private grading, but this can be hard because you also try present only one version. On most occasions I send references to the colourist, a person who I did not choose either.
Do you have a particular preference in terms of recording format, lens or light choice?
I do have a preference, but that’s always about character. I like to try new things, except cameras. Since the digital era, I find it difficult that there is no camera model on the market that provides the same direct output, workability and ergonomics like we have with celluloid. This relates directly to your question on what I like to explore in the nearby future. Since I have had some interesting moments with ‘colour scientist’ and colourist Laurens Orij, I am convinced that the image difference nowadays has less to do with your camera choice, but has everything to do with the analogue to digital conversion within the camera. This is a reversible process that goes back to how the image entered the camera… This is advanced mathematics for which I now need a ‘colour scientist’. Otherwise, you have to surrender to the given limitations of all the different camera systems. I think that is an interesting approach. I like to create a specific character. Rough or just very subtle. I want to control it. That’s something I need to be in charge of, either in-camera or with someone I can trust. This way it will become more a matter of camera workability and lens choice. At this moment most digital cameras are too small, too big, too light, too heavy, things are sticking out, not the right viewfinder or sensor.
“Desiigner Panda” behind the scenes photo by Geoff Taylor
Would you like to contact camera manufacturers about this?
We could communicate more with each other, but this is already happening and everyone has different wishes. We are still in the early stages of the digital cinema camera era. On a base level I want to have as accurate possible color representation. With enough dynamic range and workable camera housing. The closer you get this, the more you help us filmmakers.
What does it mean for you to be NSC member?
I was only working for a short period when I became a NSC member, but it feels good to be respected by colleagues. It should make it much easier to approach each other and share experiences. This should be encouraged more, especially since you always work individually.
How do you stay in touch with your Dutch colleagues?
I don’t have much contact with Dutch colleagues, but I do have a couple of good friends who are in the same business and we share a lot of information.
Would you be open for more narrative productions? If so, any particular genre that appeals to you most?
We just shot a beautiful project on Tahiti with a small cast and crew from Los Angeles. This is currently in the editing, hopefully this short film will help us to fund the feature film length version.
I also know that they are working on a book adaption of ‘Een Schitterend Gebrek’ (‘In Lucia’s Eyes’) in The Netherlands. With enough attention that would be awesome. I would love to do a costume drama.
What is the reason you want to do a period piece?
I am looking forward to a project like ‘Wuthering Heights’ from Andrea Arnold. It is fantastic to see how they captured that world. It would give me the opportunity to tell something different. You should watch the film. Then you know what I mean.
“Nothing Personal” film still by Daniël Bouquet
How do you see the future of cinematography? What are your worries?
We will always keep telling stories and with the aid of new technology there will be pioneering storytelling wise. This sparks my interest. Some things I will embrace and other things not. During Camerimage in Poland, I attended the screening of ‘Arrival’ and the Q&A with Director of Photography Bradford Young afterward. He is a good lecturer and was talking amongst others about the fact you have to stay critical towards the work that is offered to you and where you will participate in. Superficiality is lurking. Often you have to work cheap and fast, this is at the expense of quality. It is important that we mention this and give attention to it.
What are you currently looking forward too?
There are so many things I would like to make. With certain people or in different genres. But I also like photography for example. I am looking forward to exploring all those fields.
Interview by Vincent Visser
English translation by Herman Verschuur & Vincent Visser