When we introduce Heleen Declercq, we’re talking about a new calibre of director. Someone who is intrigued by the world. Someone you can take at their word.
Coming from a documentary background, she’s not looking to disguise reality. There’s perhaps too much about reality that we are not looking at, or not looking at closely enough.
We’re extremely proud to have her join the Mr.Frank fam, adding some of that indispensable girl power to our roster, and a healthy dose of sincerity to keep us grounded.
As is custom, we welcome her to our team by sitting down for a chat.
When I watch your work, I feel that you have great respect for the viewer. What is your main consideration, when it comes to your viewers?
For me, it’s very important that the viewer feels like they are a part of the moment that they are seeing. But to capture a great moment, I want to actually create a great moment on set.
A good example is the music video for Blessed by Dvtch Norris. It was the first music video I did, and I actually reached out to him myself to say ‘hey, I really like your music – what do you think about collaborating?’ and he said yes! Coming into this project our main focus was just to have fun, and I think this really comes through with the final result.
You’ve actually done quite a few music videos, I get the sense that music and sound are high on your list of priorities.
Yes! I think sound is super important because with sound you can bring a totally new layer to each moment on screen. Sound by itself can tell a whole story, and I think it’s very important that a film – either a documentary or a commercial, it doesn’t matter – incorporates the type of sound that can stand by itself. If the sound has that quality, then I’m happy.
It’s also nice when the sound can tell you something different than what you see. I’m always trying to play with that.
But, speaking of making the viewer feel like they are a part of those moments, I think that sound plays a very big part in that. It’s through the sound that the scene becomes more tangible. And I’m not talking about music here, I’m talking specifically about sound design.
How would you describe the difference between those two?
I think music is the thing that pushes the emotion that you want the viewer to have, and sound design is the thing that makes the film more realistic, and more of an experience, rather than just something you’re looking at.
I think these elements really shine in the music video you did for Blackwave, Bittersweet Baby. What was your thought process behind that project?
It was a lot to do with layers. I wanted to focus on capturing the daily life of the city, that’s the first layer, but then having a bigger story in the background. There’s one scene where you see a guy get punched in the face, and that’s actually representing a gay-bashing situation, which is a very big problem in Brussels. I wanted to show this in a way that’s like…if you know, then you know. It’s the layer you have to look for. In all the small situations in the video, there’s a bigger story behind the smaller stories.
That’s definitely something I notice in a lot of your work - the idea of a bigger story behind everything you see.
That’s because I studied specifically documentary filmmaking. Usually I combine documentary work with commercial work, but even when I’m working on non-documentary projects, I still use the documentary angle to frame the stories of the characters that are in front of the camera. If I’m going to show gay bashing, then I’m going to really work with gay people – I’m not just going to put some random actors in there.
I think the word authenticity comes up a lot with commercial projects, but at the end of the day – is it really the priority? For me, a way to reach authenticity is to focus on the cast. The cast is the main thing because they represent real people. Agencies are usually the ones to decide on the main story behind a commercial project, but I like to focus on finding the right cast in order to make those stories more real.
I think this is what comes through when I said you seem to show a lot of respect for your viewers. As a director, you have a lot of power in making sure words like diversity and authenticity are prioritized every step of the way.
I think production companies in general do believe in their talent, their directors, so they tend to push more for these changes. In Belgium we also have initiatives like the WANDA collective, who are fighting for more inclusive representation, but their focus is more on fiction and documentary productions. But I think that it’s mostly with commercial work that you have the biggest challenge.
By seeing commercial work through the lens of your documentary background, it’s very obvious how - as you say - it’s through the cast that a commercial becomes rooted in reality.
Definitely. I think it’s terrible to just choose someone to represent a certain social group without taking the time to really understand that person’s experience, their point of view, and making that a part of the final result. That’s what I really focus on doing when I make music videos or commercials, and of course with documentaries – I do that research with the characters. You have to do it beforehand, when you have the time and space, because there is no time once you’re already on set.
Are you working on any documentary projects at the moment?
Yeah, I’m working on a documentary series about several Belgian women who are fighting for more intersectional feminism in Belgium. One of them is a singer…the other is a woman working for the European Space Agency…but I’m not sure that I can share much more, for now!
That’s fine! Maybe while we wait for that project to come out, you can give us some recommendations on other things we can watch/read/listen/follow?
My friend Clara just released her first album “Space 1.8” under the name Nala Sinephro. Go listen to that! I promise you, you won’t regret it. It’s a huge inspiration for me, when it comes to new visual ideas.