Van der Veken Finds Few Borders in Filmmaking

“It begins with quality photography, but it’s important that a candidate also fits in with the philosophy of the organization, treats his or her crew decently, and is a good person.”

Stijn van der Veken, ASC, SBC is one of two Society members who are also members of the Belgian Society of Cinematographers. Willy Kurant, ASC is an honorary member of the SBC, which was founded in 1993 with the help and encouragement of Luciano Tovoli, ASC, AIC, and Pierre Lhomme, AFC. That’s fine company, indeed.

Stijn became a member of the ASC in December 2013, after he was recommended by Kees van Oostrum, David Darby and Bill Bennett. Bennett met Stijn during the course of testing projects for Arri, which Stijn has done since the development of the Alexa.

Stijn’s early bio will sound familiar to anyone who knows cinematographers. At age 14, he made a Super 8 film that was directed by a local theater director in the northern Flemish region of Belgium, where he was raised. He made sync-sound documentaries in the small gauge and attended film school in the southern French-speaking part of Belgium. Upon graduating, in 1989, he worked as a camera assistant on commercials and features. He made the difficult transition to shooting first in television, and then eventually on feature films.

In 2012, he shot an Oscar-nominated short film titled Death of a Shadow, which had an excellent festival run, including “best of the fest” recognition at the L.A. Shorts Festival and the jury prize at the HollyShorts Film Festival. Other recent credits include the 10-episode Belgian TV series In Flanders Field and a forthcoming feature with the working title Alles Voor Lena.

Stijn notes some interesting differences between the SBC and the ASC. He says that because Belgium has no single production center like Los Angeles, the SBC’s membership is more spread out and harder to gather into a critical mass. As a result, there are fewer events. “The smaller societies bring people together once or twice a year, which is nice,” he says. “But if the ASC wants to arrange a screening with the new Dolby laser projector, for example, it gets organized immediately. Every supplier and manufacturer, if invited by the ASC, will [accept] because it’s the most important platform worldwide. That’s something the smaller societies don’t have.”

Stijn comes from a country that encompasses two cultures. He has a strong relationship with Arri in Munich, and he has ties to Los Angeles, where he is represented by the Sandra Marsh & Associates. He sees the global ties in the cinematography community reflected in his work and career. “I’m surprised by how few boundaries or borders there are in the world of filmmaking. I was surprised by how many people had seen Death of a Shadow. Most of my contacts and the people the agency sent me out to see — bigger production companies — all knew the movie. That’s one of the most interesting things about our industry.

“We’re all a little bit selfish, and we all have egos. But I’m certain that nobody has the absolute right answer to anything. In terms of cinematography, everybody has some part of the right answer, I think. And when you meet another cinematographer, or see his or her work at a forum like Camerimage, it’s so interesting to see how they look at things, how they prepare a shoot, how they think about things.”

At Camerimage 2014, I moderated a panel that included Stijn and cinematographer Oona Menges. That led to an extended conversation and a new friendship between the cinematographers. Stijn cherishes that kind of fellowship.

“That’s why an organization like the ASC is so great,” he says. “It begins with quality photography, but it’s important that a candidate also fits in with the philosophy of the organization, treats his or her crew decently, and is a good person. I feel very privileged and lucky to have been invited to join.”

You’ll find his personal site here.
Photo by Robert Viglasky


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