Kees Van Oostrum’s directing career is poised to heat up with the release of A Perfect Man, a feature film he made in his home town, Amsterdam. Picked up for distribution by IFC/AMC Films after its November 1 theatrical release, A Perfect Man is currently one of the top ten most popular rentals on Amazon.com, iTunes and DirecTV, competing with big studio films.
For Kees, A Perfect Man is the second feature in the director’s chair, in addition to episodic series work and the film about George Washington that plays at Mount Vernon, We Fight to Be Free. For that unique 22-minute film, Kees directed and shot close-ups on 35mm film and wide shots on 65mm film.
“I’ve been in and out of directing my whole life, essentially,” says Kees. “When I went to film school in Holland I actually graduated as a director, not a director of photography. Camera work has allowed me to only direct the stuff I really like. That’s always been my attitude toward life. A Perfect Man is something I really wanted to make, and I’m very proud of it. There is not one iota of compromise in it for me. I also produced, so I was totally in control — and that was really nice.”
It’s a given that directors spend much more time with the material than cinematographers, and in this case, that is certainly true. Kees has been involved with this story for years. The script was an expansion of a Dutch short film titled Een Scherzo Furioso. In the new film, a relationship split is followed by conversations with a seeming stranger who is actually the ex. In the new context, the relationship is given new life. Live Schreiber stars as the architect who is better at relating on the phone, and Jeanne Tripplehorn plays the woman who calls him and portrays herself as a stranger. A key comedic role is played by their dog, who belongs to Kees’s niece in real life.
To shoot A Perfect Man, Kees enlisted Joost van Gelder — his close friend and fellow countryman Theo Van de Sande [ASC] was otherwise engaged. “I thought Joost would bring an eye that was challenging to me,” says Kees. “I thought he would do is very differently from how I would, and I really enjoyed that.
“I think one advantage of being a cinematographer who directs is that your choices are more definite,” he says. “I knew what I was getting involved with, and I enjoyed every minute of it. It’s like working with a great operator – you’re not going to be reframing shots, telling him or her what to do. You embrace the collaboration and the input. Directing a movie is a full-time job – you don’t really have time to concern yourself with the details of the photography. Obviously, you are involved with the design, but you’re not that actively concerned with it day-to-day. The cinematographer is there to do it for you!”
The format was anamorphic 35mm film, and the entire film was shot on four Technovision lenses from Italy that had been originally built for Vittorio Storaro. “We were inspired by John Bailey’s opinion, which is that sometimes small stories need anamorphic to make them bigger than life,” says Kees. “In relationship stories, you’re dealing so much with two-shots and two people in the frame. Anamorphic is just a wonderful tool to tell the story visually.”
Kees says that his cinematographer’s instincts show up most clearly in the location choices. “Of course, Amsterdam is the classic ‘Venice of the north,’ with the canals and the old bridges and the 17th century homes,” he says. “But I chose to shoot this picture entirely in what we call the metropolis of Amsterdam — the new part of the city that has been built in the last 10 to 15 years. It’s on the forefront of urban development, with all these shapes and bridges and tunnels, and great emerging architecture. It’s a very Edward Pei type of world, and I wanted the story to play within that. The main character is an architect, and in fact one of the buildings we shot in was designed by Pei.”
One reviewer wrote: “Together, Tripplehorn and Schreiber do on-screen what very few on-screen couples are ever able to pull off. They make their characters seem like they once had viable chemistry, lost it, and they make the process of finding love for one another again interesting to watch… the film has powerhouse acting and characters who are far more complex than most films allow.”
Recently, Kees has been back behind the camera on a number of projects including Copperhead, a Civil War-era story with director Ronald F. Maxwell; Where the Road Runs Out, which was filmed in Rotterdam, South Africa and Equatorial Guinea; and Dark Hearts, a feature Kees shot and produced. After extensive stints overseas, Kees is currently staying close to home and working on an episodic series for ABC called The Fosters. Watch for him at the Clubhouse!