Cinematographer Joris Kerbosch about the movie ‘Ron Goossens, Low-Budget Stuntman’.
Joris Kerbosch (Culemborg, 1980) is best known for his work as cinematographer for directing duo Steffen Haars and Flip van der Kuil, for whom he shot the movies ‘New Kids Turbo’ (2010), ‘New Kids Nitro’ (2011) and ‘BROs BEFORE HOs’ (2013). ‘Ron Goossens, Low-Budget Stuntman,’ is their fourth feature film collaboration. Together those comedies where amongst the highest grossing films in The Netherlands and acclaimed international recognition. NSC spoke with cinematographer Joris Kerbosch about the film.
In retrospect, what made you want to become a cinematographer?
One way or another, I was always busy with framing pictures as a child. There are pictures of me as a little boy wandering through the house with a toilet roll in front of my eye. I have no clue why I did that, but I know I was fascinated with framing the world around me from a very early age.
My first real memory goes back to when my father (actor Michiel Kerbosch) took me to the set of Sesame Street at the age of seven. They were shooting in a large studio in Hilversum, and the whole street was one big set. It was fascinating to see that people were creating a fictional world for television. It was especially the camera crew that made a big impression on me. So I spent the whole day in a chair observing a cameraman. From that moment on, I knew that I wanted to become a cameraman myself.
And how did your journey continue?
It was still a romantic dream, but also a trigger to watch a lot of movies. At home, I grew up with films like ‘Tootsie,’ the ‘Police Academy’ series and the ‘Indiana Jones’ trilogy. The latter was actually considered ‘too exciting’. It was during Media and Film studies at the University of Amsterdam that I started to broaden my horizon. I love ‘coming of age’ stories with a message of hope in it. Therefore, films like ‘The Graduate’ and ‘Les Quatre Cent Coups’ belong to my all-time favorites.
At the Dutch Film Academy, I learned to translate creative ideas in a practical way and continued refining my taste.
Could you give a brief overview of your work as a cinematographer?
It’s always hard to define your own work. There will be a recognizable signature for sure, but I don’t believe in one ‘fixed style’. I am always searching for the most appropriate visual narration for the story. I like to come up with different approaches. With many dramatic traveling shots ‘BROs BEFORE HOs’ is more classical in terms of camerawork than ‘Ron Goossens, Low-Budget Stuntman,’ the latter has a more subjective handheld approach. Translating the screenplay into form and style is one of the most beautiful parts of the job, during the process I want to be open to all possibilities. It’s wonderful to create visual worlds for movies like ‘Ron Goossens, Low-Budget Stuntman,’ a children’s movie ‘Meesterspion,’ or the more classical detective tv-series ‘Heer & Meester’.
Back to the present
In the opening of the movie, we see the extremely drunk Ron Goossens (played by Tim Haars) spectacular surviving an insane car stunt trying to jump over an opened bridge. The taped performance goes viral on the internet. Impresario Berrie (Michiel Romeyn) sees an opportunity for Ron to work in the Dutch film industry as a cut-price stuntman. Ron doesn’t accept the offer until his adulterous wife Angela (Maartje van Wetering) gives him a seemingly impossible ultimatum; Ron has to sleep with Netherlands most sought-after actress Bo Maerten (played by herself) to save his relationship. Subsequently, we follow our anti-hero in all his devastating attempts to seduce Bo as a “stuntman”.
What was your first reaction after reading the script of ‘Ron Goossens, Low-Budget Stuntman’?
It was difficult to hit the right tone. The first draft was open for many interpretations. It was a more layered story, so I didn’t consider it as a New Kids-like movie, but somehow it felt equal by its level of rudeness. In one of the first scenes of the movie, Ron goes to his favorite pub. In the first draft, he tells his wife at home that he’s going to the pub and leaves the house. By slamming of the door, a photo frame picturing a portrait of the couple falls into a thousand pieces on the ground. During the process of talking about the script, we came to the conclusion that this was not the way we wanted to tell the story. For us, it was shallowing the characters. We didn’t always want to show and cut to a joke in a visual way for this movie. In terms of camerawork, we wanted to stay close to the drama and to our main character. The screenplay changed significantly because of our decision to stay with Ron.
What did the preparation of this film look like?
We like to have a visual plan far before principal photography starts. We’ve been doing this since we started to make sketch comedy for the internet. People often think it’s all improvised, but everything is meticulously planned throughout in advance. This doesn’t mean that there’s nothing left to happen organically on set. That’s something you need to see as a topping on the cake.
For us decoupage is equal to writing. We often start before any location is known. We’re at Steffen’s place. We sit randomly across the living room and we take all the time to make the shot list. It took a month or two before we worked through the whole movie. In this process, we converted the script into images and rhythm. I think rhythm can help you a lot with the punctuation. These are things you can easily think about with just a pen and a piece of paper. Especially when you’re three men strong.
With the visual plan in hand, we can start to search for suitable locations. If a location is not completely ideal, we can still reshape our plan with the advantage of knowing the rhythm of the scenes. I prefer this approach more than other way around. This doesn’t mean that you cannot be pleasantly surprised by a location.
A week before the recce, we try to visit all the locations and photograph all possible angles with the help of the Artemis application on my phone. I try to do it as loose from the hip as possible. Not too pretty, so that I still feel free on set to add something.
Which creative references were important for this movie?
The movie ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ has been our guide during preparation. When all sketch comedies were shot handheld from the hip, we just didn’t. We weren’t interested doing that at the time. Somehow, for this film Steffen was intrigued by the ‘Dallas Buyers Club,’ because the handheld camerawork was not bothering him at all. He also saw that it helped to get closer to the main character. Matthew McConaughy plays a true anti-hero who is not really likeable, and still you feel for him in the ‘Dallas Buyers Club’. As true anti-hero lovers, Steffen and Flip noticed that this film was special and their idea was to adapt the dramatic style into their comedy. When watching our movie, you will not immediately think about it as a reference. Which doesn’t bother me. It’s more important that other movies can help you to give form to your own film.
This is not your first film with Steffen and Flip, how did the collaboration ever start?
I met Steffen at the Dutch Film Academy as a fellow-student in the cinematography class. When Steffen shot something he often asked me to be his gaffer. In the beginning, I was not so interested in shooting myself and liked to help as a gaffer when I could. Two years after graduation in 2006, Steffen only wanted to continue to work as a director. He was not so keen on being his own cameraman anymore. Then he approached me to do the camerawork for the internet pilot of ‘New Kids on the Block’. Followed by two seasons of ‘New Kids’ internet-sketches. Many people watched these sketches. They became a huge online hit, with over 100 million views. Comedy Central broadcasted the third season as prime-time television. Then Reinout Oerlemans (former owner of Eyeworks Film & TV-Drama, now Kaap Holland Film) approached Steffen and Flip with the question if they were interested in making a feature film. Everything accelerated from that moment on.
What is Steffen and Flip’s role division?
On the set of ‘Ron Goossens, Low-Budget Stuntman’ it was clear-cut. We always blocked and rehearsed all scenes on set together. Then Steffen took over control of the set as director and Flip (who is also the editor of the movie) went to his van to edit all the footage of the previous days. While Steffen was busy on set, Flip also had consultations with the producers about the coming days of shooting. This distribution of tasks worked excellent. It was also very motivating for cast and crew to see a rough edited version of previous shot scenes day-to-day.
What camera, lenses and workflow did you use?
Nowadays, for me, the choice for a specific camera is not so interesting anymore. I go for ARRI, because they make ‘easy to understand’ cameras with the best curve and latitude for me. I eventually chose the Alexa Mini to create a compact handheld setup in combination with relative large Lomo anamorphic lenses from the eighties.
We took advantage of the whole 4:3 sensor area and went for a 2.66:1 aspects ratio to show the beautiful imperfections of the lenses. Normally, you would make a slight center crop in post-production to end up with a de-squeezed 2.39:1 frame. We wanted this pureness that felt raw and distorted by the time, and somehow the 2.66:1 combined with handheld helped to maximize this effect a lot.
I have chosen ProRes 4444XQ as digital negative for budget reasons. For me, a set of lenses is more image-determining then ARRIRAW is, and since we are working with very tight budgets in the Netherlands, those are things you have to consider.
We shot extensive wardrobe and make-up tests on an actual location. This enabled us to find out a lot regarding the style of the movie. Things work differently on screen than by eye. Afterwards, we evaluated all our tests in projection with the colorist.
This resulted in a lot of color, wardrobe and digital negative exposure knowledge. For the texture of the skin tones, I underexposed the negative by one stop. The Alexa image falls apart in a gentle way. Some noise will show up, but not in an ugly manner. I found that quite interesting.
“Translating the screenplay into form and style is one of the most beautiful parts of the job, during the process I want to be open to all possibilities.” - Joris Kerbosch.
The chosen anamorphic lenses seem to support Ron’s drunk state. Have you deliberately sought for this visual support?
A year before principal photography I shot a commercial with Steffen on HAWK C-Series Anamorphics. It was the first time we shot anamorphic together and Steffen was immediately very enthusiastic about the format. From that moment on he wanted to shoot this film handheld with anamorphic lenses, which wasn’t really my ambition in the first place. He always has a strong belief in this kind of choices. It was unconventional and seemed challenging to me at the same time. After I expressed my uncertainties Steffen immediately reacted with: “We will do this dude!” Those challenging words gave so much confidence you really want to go for it.
Then I went to Cam-A-Lot to test all their available anamorphic lens options and borrowed a set of Lomo anamorphics from a fellow DoP. I liked the Lomo’s a lot. While searching for something raw and pure, these lenses gave so much extra. The way the image falls apart at almost wide-open aperture and the image distortion helped us to express Ron’s almost everlasting delirium.
At the turning point in the film, we see Ron becoming sober at deserted sand plains. For this sobering edit sequence, it felt like I needed some extra visual expression. After a long search, I ended up with placing the bottom of a teapot in front of the lens. The bottom of this round cut glass teapot gave an alienating distortion to the edges of the image while the middle remained in focus. This effect helped a lot to express this phase. Sobering is somehow a kind of superlative stage of drunkenness, where you can hallucinate and so on.
After Ron sobered up, we are no longer handheld close on the skin. We keep more distance and let the camera 'slide' on a dolly or Steadicam. It wasn’t meant to be obvious, and hopefully this transition works in a subconscious way.
What were the most used focal lengths, and did you try to maintain a specific aperture?
We mainly used the 50mm, since it allowed us to get close to Ron without compromises. For wide shots, we often used an older square front 35mm, which was also very sensitive for flare. At specific moments, we used a harsh light-source in frame to take advantage of these extreme anamorphic flares.
First Assistant Camera Luuk Schmitz did an excellent job for this film. The Lomo’s had lousy engraved focus scales. Luckily his ARRI WCU-4 remote enabled him to work with pre-marked focus rings, which helped a lot.
Our shooting stop was often around T2.8/4, which is quite a focus challenge when using a 50mm close to your main character. It was nice to work with someone like Luuk who’s prepared to go with the flow of a production.
Did you make use of special handheld solutions?
Mainly because I am a head taller than our lead Tim Haars, who plays Ron Goossens, I’ve used the Easyrig a lot. Our grip Willem Biemans had built a nice rickshaw for all handheld traveling shots. He always came with clever solutions on this production. With difficult low angle handheld shots, he was leaning over me to support the camera with a rope, so I could operate the camera more comfortably. That was such a relief.
Do you prefer to operate from a viewfinder or monitor in handheld situations?
That depends, I am often forced to look at the monitor when using the Easyrig. If possible, I try to operate through the viewfinder. It helps so much to pay attention to the actual image. Despite the image size, I get more of a cinema experience as the first spectator of the movie.
What was your lighting strategy for this film and how did you approach this?
We had a quite unconventional approach. Since we had many movie-set settings in the film, it was possible to place light stands and light fixtures within the frame. It felt nice to use a lot of Jumbos and other tungsten light sources. This made it easier to enrich the image with anamorphic lens flares to also enhance Ron’s state of being. Based on a floor plan we placed many in-frame light fixtures.
We continued this approach less obvious into all non-movie-set scenes. Most of the times we enhanced the existing light situation in an unnatural way. This rough motivated lighting style worked well for the many night shoots. At the peak of Ron’s state of drunkenness, he tries to climb into Bo Maerten’s apartment at night. We shot this scene at the canals of Amsterdam and strategically placed 2K blondes behind a few street lights. They were always prominent in the shots. Homewards after filming the director Steffen approached me and said: “I don’t know dude. I think you pushed it too far tonight.” That was one of those moments that you hope you do the right thing but you’re not entirely sure. Luckily, during grading it turned out to work really well and Steffen was thrilled by the look of that scene.
With a couple of Jumbos, 5 and 2Ks we were able to light most in-movie sets and night scenes. We also had an ‘older’ 18K HMI Fresnel with us, which was our key light for many interior and exterior scenes. We often used direct light in this film, but also kept the key light at the same position while changing camera positions. What was first a back light could become a direct key light. This is a completely different approach compared to the more classical way of always placing the key 'from the short side'. It was nice to explore the beauty of this rough approach.
We have also played a lot with the color palette. During prep, my gaffer Eugene Sprik came with his plan of making the fill light grittier. Eye bags and other facial details were allowed to have a more miserable look. I had just finished the children’s movie ‘Meesterspion’ before this production started, on which we used Liberty Green for all of the night exteriors. It felt like an interesting color to blend with our fill light for ‘Ron Goossens, Low-Budget Stuntman’. During testing, this filter provided the unhealthy look we were searching for in the eye bags. So, we used Liberty Green in front of the fill light. We often placed it halfway on an HS2 light fixture to create a mixed light source. Just like in real life, where different light colors blend in all the time.
It is important to create a consistent style, this was the first time for me to choose a more radical approach to achieve that. At a certain point in the story actress Bo ends up in a hospital. This scene was shot at an existing and functioning hospital location with large windows on the eighth floor. All fluorescents were a bit magenta, and it was too expensive to replace them. Correcting magenta during post production is always a big compromise when it gets to skin tones. I also wanted to bend the realistic feeling of the location towards the tone of our film. We thought that putting yellow gels on the windows combined with magenta fluorescents could work. After testing, we decided to use Oklahoma Yellow. This gel looks too intense on set but gave beautiful results after color grading the footage.
It's nice to spar with my gaffer Eugene about these types of solutions. He has been my gaffer for quite some time and I appreciate his efforts a lot. Sometimes, he can have deep thoughts for a week, and then come with innovative solutions. For this film, he took a lot of initiative. I will always remember one of the car interior scenes at night. A scene in which Ron starts the engine and catches the light bounced back from his own headlights. Totally illogical, but it worked perfectly for the shot, which came to life this way. Eugene proposed this idea after evaluating the first take. He is a good observer who knows how to enhance the image and thus reaching a higher level.
What was the most complicate scene to shoot?
The stunt with a car flying through cafeteria 'Het Pleintje' (a location known from New Kids) was a logistical challenge. The cafeteria was on a moving trailer. We used seven cameras for the stunt, from which one in a drone. I was unable to operate a single camera myself. We had constant changing weather, so I had to be behind the monitors to communicate with the operators about the shooting stop. When the 1st AD shouts: "Action," there’s no turning back. This was an intensive stunt for me, on top of all the 'natural' tension. Fortunately, we worked with the ever-organized Marc van de Bijl as 1st AD and senior Stunt Coordinator Willem de Beukelaer who helped to create the right working conditions during such complex scenes.
The limousine scene was a challenge on a totally different level. We shot at night in a driving limousine with black leather interior and blinded windows. It was quite cozy with a location sound mixer, me and my assistant and two actors inside the car. We placed some LED strips on both sides of the interior to light the black-dressed actors. But with so many dark tones in frame I got the feeling of going over the edge of underexposing. To solve this problem and to make the scene more lifelike, I placed a small LED strip inside the mattebox. By using a dimmer, I could create a washout flare to emulate street lanterns flaring into the lens. It was something I tested briefly during prep, but wasn’t really sure where or when to use the effect. When I saw the black limo, I thought: “this might be the perfect time to use it and give this scene something extra.” Eventually, I was quite pleased with the results.
Where did you film and how did the schedule look like?
We shot in Amsterdam and surrounding areas. We had 28 days of principal photography. Extended with 3 mini-crew days for filming the title sequence in a swimming pool and 'music videos' with singer Dennie Christian in the studio.
Where did the DI take place and can you tell something about the process?
The grading of the film took place at 'De Grot' with colorist, Job te Veldhuis. During wardrobe and make-up testing, we found out that I could easily underexpose the digital negative by a stop or even two for some scenes. With this 'thin' base he could make color, skin tones and texture come to live in a raw style. We graded within 12 days in DCI-P3 projection on the Scratch platform.
What is a special memory when you look back on this production?
I developed a mutual understanding with lead actor Tim Haars, which relates to the fact we shot almost the entire film handheld with him in front of the lens. We built up an awareness of each other
in which he could influence the camera movement and vice versa. This made me come closer to him and the character of Ron Goossens which was precious to me.
The freedom and trust Steffen and Flip gave me and the rest of the crew on set, so everyone could give their absolute best, while still remaining in control. That’s quite a unique feature and it makes working with them a unique process.
Aspect Ratio: 2.66:1
Camera: Alexa Mini 4:3 (ProRes 4444XQ)
Lenses: Lomo Anamorphics, Angenieux 25-250 HR with anamorphic rear adapter
Digital Intermediate: Assimilate Scratch in DCI-P3 projection
Interview by Vincent Visser
English translation by Herman Verschuur & Vincent Visser
Special thanks to Sarina von Reth
All pictures and stills by courtesy of Kaap Holland Film © 2017