Director Profile – Daniël Bakker
Young director Daniel offers an insight into his creative upbringing and penchant for coming-of-age dramas
With his 22nd birthday just passed (and wilfully not celebrated), Daniël Bakker is the youngest in our director’s roster – but you would never have guessed. Despite his graduation film being premiered by Nowness and his recent admission to the prestigious Dutch Film Academy, Daniël’s humility remains unwavering. We touched base with him to learn more about his passion for raw narratives, his love of music and everything in between.
You’re the youngest director represented by Mr.Frank. How old are you exactly?
I just turned 22. I didn’t do much to celebrate, though. I’m not really into birthdays – I have a fear of getting older.
How did you end up getting into film?
I was never very academic, so high school was a bit of a struggle. I decided to go to film school when I was 16 and I learned so much there. The teaching was more focused on the technical side of film, though - camera technique, editing etc. - rather than on directing or writing screenplays.
I was really close to continuing with my studies at high school for another two years because that’s what all of my friends were doing. Then my dad turned to me one day and just said, “Daniel, you fucking hate school. Why not do something you love instead?” And that was that!
It’s quite funny really. I was actually drinking some beers with a childhood friend of mine the other day in Oosterpark, and we got chatting about the different paths we ended up taking and what might have influenced our decisions. I think, because I wasn’t very academic, I chose to focus instead on my genuine skills and interests – the more creative stuff.
Were you pursuing your more creative side even when you were at high school?
Yes, always. My mum is an artist and she really pushed me towards drawing, writing stories and just generally being creative.
I’m not sure if it’s what led me to become a director but when I was around 11 years old, I would often borrow my mum’s camcorder and make homemade videos with my friends. I found it really fun to experiment.
Why do you think high school wasn’t the right path for you?
I’m not a very quick learner when it comes to academia. I have both dyslexia and dyspraxia, but I try not to use that as an excuse! I think it’s more because I didn’t find the subjects very interesting at school. Learning about film is a whole different ball game – I can dive straight into it and absorb all the information with ease.
I think a lot of people can end up leaving school thinking they’re not interested in education at all, when really their interests just lie outside the school curriculum. Do you agree with that?
Definitely. There are a lot of different forms of intelligence and being ‘book smart’ is the one that society tends to favour. But there are lesser-known forms of intelligence too, of course, which are just as important.
Tell me a bit about the film you made which was featured by Nowness.
That was my graduation film which I made at the end of my four-year course. It was an interpretation of Touch the Leather, a song by Fat White Family. Film school gave us a lot of rules – it couldn’t be a music video and it had to be longer than seven minutes. Well, it is a music video and it’s not longer than seven minutes (laughs). I just wanted to make my own thing!
I actually continued working on it over summer, after the school deadline, editing it slightly differently and adding the voice-over at the beginning. I sent it to Nowness on a whim sometime in September. They were really cool about it and ended up featuring it, which I wasn’t expecting at all!
How did you end up working with Mr.Frank?
They knew the DoP, Wouter, who worked on Touch the Leather with me and asked after me once they’d seen the video. I met Wouter on a film set when I was working as a video assistant and I asked him if he wanted to work with me for my graduation project. The film industry is so intertwined.
You’ve just started studying at the Film Academy. What would you like to have gained by the end of your course there?
I decided to apply to the Film Academy because I would really like to develop myself as a director, specifically a director of fiction. I was so excited when I was accepted – it’s quite difficult to get in.
The course is four years long and I’m hoping that, by the end of it, I will have learned how to work with various actors, pitch my ideas to crews and producers, create fiction that I’m really proud of...those sorts of things.
My graduation film will be a fiction film of around 20 to 30 minutes, so I’m really looking forward to that.
Do you reckon you’ll be the youngest on your course?
Mmm...I’m not too sure. I think the average age will be somewhere around 24.
Do you feel as though you have already defined your filming aesthetic, or are you open to change and development?
No way is my style set in stone – I’m just a rookie! I’m aware that there’s a long road ahead, and I want to continue developing my style and looking up to those who inspire me.
Is there anyone you find particularly inspiring at the moment?
My source of inspiration is constantly changing. This week, I am very interested in Tomas Kaan, a Dutch director. He strikes a cool mix between documentary and fiction. He made a documentary called We are 18 which is about nine guys, all 18 years old. He set them up in this big house and they all just sit around talking about their lives, their insecurities, aggression, love. It really feels like the middle ground between documentary - because the guys are so real and honest - and cinematic fiction. I love coming-of-age films.
Do you take as much time planning the aesthetic of your film as you do the narrative?
For a year or so, I’ve been more interested in storytelling and character-development, whereas previously I was more into the visual aspect of film. I think that’s actually where my interest in film stemmed from – the ability to create a mood with visuals. It’s so cool when you can do that.
With Touch the Leather, it was really important to me that the style was strong. I thought through every part of the visuals: the colours, the clothing, the location and so on.
When it comes to the narrative, I’m very interested in realism. When you see an actor in a film, I think it’s important to feel a connection with them and to truly believe that the struggles they face are real.
I think sometimes if you focus too much on the aesthetic of the film, you can lose some of the rawness from its narrative. That said, what I really want to explore is how best to mix the two: narrative and aesthetic. Because I think both are important.
Pretty much all artists are perfectionists when it comes to being exposed. Would you agree with that on a personal level?
Film direction is one of the hardest domains when it comes to perfectionism because there are so many different people involved in the process that the film is never going to come out the way you originally expect it to. I dislike that fact, but I’ve learned to accept it.
Anyway, sometimes it can also be really cool when new ideas are brought to the table - things that may have never even occurred to you - so there’s a positive side to it too.
Besides relinquishing control over the outcome of a film, what do you find the most challenging aspect of filmmaking?
For now (although I hope this will change with experience), I never know whether I’m doing the right thing. The problem with film is that it’s so subjective, so no one can really say with any authority whether something is good or not. Obviously people can pass judgment, but that’s just their opinion!
So you’re now studying at the Film Academy but you’re also working with Mr.Frank at the same time, mainly doing commercial work – is that for financial reasons or for experience?
No one goes into film to make money (laughs). That’s definitely for learning. At the time Mr.Frank contacted me about working together, I didn’t know whether I had got into the Film Academy. Now that I’ve started studying, I’m juggling the two. I think you can learn a lot through commercial work as it’s often so fast-paced. I’m hoping to gain experience in solving problems quickly and working with various clients, actors and crews.
I think it’s a great quality in a director if they’re able to make the most out of commercial work and seize the opportunities presented by it.
What’s your favourite film?
I don’t really have one favourite film – it changes all the time. This week? Blue Valentine, which I just saw recently for the first time. I’m pretty into romantic dramas. Do you know the French film, Blue is the Warmest Colour? It’s a feature film but it almost feels like a documentary. The actors are just so real.
I went to see Porto in the cinema a couple of days ago. It’s produced by the director of Paterson, which is a really poetic movie. This one was also quite poetic. It’s about two people falling in love in Porto.
What is your main source of inspiration for creating?
Music. I am always listening to music.
What kind of music?
You should check out my Spotify! It really depends on my mood. Most of the time it’s music that’s a little bit dreamy. But then, like everything, it changes every couple of months.
Do you visualise scenes when you listen to music?
Yes! In fact, a couple of days ago I was listening to a song by La Femme, a French band, and there was just a whole video clip playing in my head. I’m actually tempted to contact them to ask if I can make a music video for their song. What a cool band…