Amsterdam production company, Halal, has achieved four wins at this year’s Young Director Award (YDA) in Cannes – including the prestigious Producers Award.
Executive producer & partner, Gijs Determeijer, is aptly proud of that. He talked to The Stable about what it took for Halal achieve that kind of accolade.
The Young Director Award (YDA) has become internationally recognised as the most important “must-see” fringe event of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Thousands of entries are received and the awards are judged by high-profile film directors, executive producers and advertising executives from all over the world.
The Producers Award recognises the role of producers in nurturing and developing the careers of young directors. Right now, it feels like we just won the World Championship title for talent development. This honorary award is a testament to Halal’s ongoing dedication to provide a diverse, global platform for our talent to develop and explore their voice across genres and industries. That’s a pretty amazing feeling to have, just one year after we opened our first office outside of the Netherlands in Berlin and almost ten years since we started our company with three partners and one intern. Back then we represented maybe three directors. Today we represent 20 directors and 11 photographers, have a steady team of in-house producers and a strong support system for our directors and our photographers – including copywriters, graphic designers and PR. Our DNA lies in thinking outside of conventional narratives, and we have a holistic approach to content creation. Our four departments – documentary, photography, fiction and commercial – work in synergy with each other. As our business has an artist centric core, it’s important to us that everyone who’s attached to Halal gets opportunities to grow and challenge themselves.
To do that, we have always focused on encouraging and enabling our directors to make “other stuff”. In addition to securing high-profile commercial jobs on a global scale – enabling them to make money doing what they love – we want to be a springboard for them to grow and challenge themselves in other fields. Whether it’s documentaries, music videos or short films, we look for projects to make the directors more rounded, to venture into paths they have not yet taken. Generally speaking, the advertising world tends to ask directors to do a trick they have already done – which is understandable, there is a lot at stake and they need to convince their ECDs, their clients etc…so there’s no room for too much risk-taking. This is why we encourage our directors to do new things across genres. To show another side, to build their brand, get them exposure and experience which ultimately will benefit the commercial work. In the end it’s about us investing time and money into making sure our directors stay relevant, and in our fast-changing industry we strongly believe the best way to do that is to collaborate with different people, in different fields, making sure they’re crafting work that punches above its weight and raises their own bar.
I think the films for which we won at YDA this year are excellent examples of this. We have won with individual projects at YDA before, for instance with directors, Mees Peijnenburg, Sam de Jong and From Form. But to win four awards in one year is rather mind-blowing, especially taking into consideration that the films that won are not necessarily the most easily digestible.
Stray Sheep by Madja Amin is a slow-paced, absurd film dealing with personal issues of second generation immigrants. This project gave us the opportunity to show Madja’s ability to tell a story that’s longer than 1-3 minutes, and it’s a huge stepping stone towards the TV film we are now preparing with him. Madja himself is also a beautiful example of the type of talent we think the commercial industry needs – a fresh perspective. He has an unorthodox path to becoming a filmmaker, and his work represents a different voice.
The Walking Fish by Thessa Maijer is also quite an absurd film that tells the story of an ambitious sea-creature, which pursues her dream to join the human world. When Thessa told us she wanted to film this in Japan we were immediately excited, but it also posed many problems. Most of all, getting help in a foreign country for production on a shoestring budget is a big ask. We also shot this film in a region of Japan which is normally not represented in films. This film and awards put the amazingly talented Thessa Meijer on the international map. We haven’t been able to land her commercial jobs yet, so I hope this helps to convince the agencies out there of her talent and abilities. Meanwhile, we are developing Thessa’s first feature film, but obviously this will take us a year or two. So plenty of time to develop Thessa’s commercial career on the side. Brave agencies and creatives wanted.
We love to develop talent across platforms and genres and feel lucky to get to work with the crème-de-la-crème in all the different worlds in which we operate. This gives us the opportunity to be an enabler for our talent, allowing them to broaden their horizons and take their skill sets into different arenas. For instance, the last couple of years we directed commercials with photographers, Lotte van Raalte (with Ace&Tate) and Karen Rosetzsky. Noël Loozen used to be a photographer, after making a couple of short films and music videos we are currently moving into feature film development and have done some amazing commercial jobs with him. This means he gets to work across almost all the departments of Halal, which is exactly what we always set out to do. But supporting our talent comes in many forms, and I think exciting and new collaborations is another example.
For Emmanuel Adjei’s Shahmaran we worked closely with two foreign production companies, Compulsory (UK) and Handsome (FR). The project lasted more than two years, but the three of us really believed this work would show the world what Emmanuel is capable of. It resulted in two UK MVAs (to mention some of the awards it picked up), and it put him on Madonna’s radar for which he just directed the applauded Dark Ballet music video.
80% of our director’s roster is home grown NL talent. Many of them we represent globally, and some have been picked up by the bigger international production companies like Iconoclast, Partizan and Division. There is definitely a new Dutch Wave coming out of Amsterdam, and we feel proud to have discovered and nurtured a big portion of them. Take Emma Westenberg, who received a Grammy-nomination for her music video, Pynk, for Janelle Monae. We are so proud to get to work with these extremely talented individuals and be part of building their careers. And of course, we feel really lucky to get to work with both local and global commercial clients who give us and our talent exciting opportunities to push out next level work.