Case Study: Samoeraai Sven Peetoom talks about his short Samoeraai.
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Case Study: Samoeraai

Sven Peetoom talks about his short Samoeraai.

Sven Peetoom (1993) is a Dutch-Indonesian film director based in Rotterdam. After receiving a Bachelor in Film- and Literature studies, Sven attended the European Film College where he studied Documentary Directing. After receiving his diploma together with the prestigious Obel Scholarship he started making short fiction and documentary films with his company Courageous Cinema. His debut fiction short Samoeraai premiered at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam (IFFR). His other work has been screened on a variety of national and international festivals.

"Everyone cared so much and was willing to put in the extra hours, eat the dry pizzas and sleep in the mosquito-infested house."

20 augustus 2019

The dream of becoming a samurai

"Samoeraai is an autobiographical story. I mostly used images and memories from my youth: growing up with different step-dads, living in a world where fantasy and reality blended, and the dream of becoming a samurai. From these images I created the story for my short film. Writing the story was one of the easiest script experiences I’ve had so far. Especially because I was really certain about the storyline. The rest was mostly creating the right ambiance and flow of actions. I consulted various other friends who are also filmmakers to help me create a little bit more drama in the script. The writing took over half a year but the time I spent writing the script is probably less than 8 hours. It was mostly about the idea ripening in my head and waiting for the right moment to shoot it."

"I’m not a great dialogue-writer. I love when reality becomes part of the film instead of creating an own forced version of reality. That’s why I usually use pre-written dialogue sparsely and improvise everything with the actors. For example, the fight scene in Samoeraai was described as something like 'the mother and her boyfriend have a fight'. I directed the actors on set with intentions and actions and let the dialogue arise from their fight."

About the cast and crew

"The protagonist, Ivan, is a silent young boy who mostly lives in his fantasy world. Because I didn’t want to cast one of the many overacting musical boys you tend to find at casting agencies I casted a boy I found on Facebook who looked exactly like the type of kid I had imagined but who had no real on-camera experience. Because of his lack of experience and the character's retreated state of mind I didn’t give him any dialogue. I’m really glad with that decision because it lets the audience enter his fantasy and thoughts more easily. If he talked it would also be easier to spot his lack of acting experience."

"Camera-wise me and my director of photography, Jonathan Damborg, wanted to follow Ivan in his youthful movements. That’s why we decided upon long takes on a Steadicam. Production-wise that was a big disaster. We rented everything at the cheapest rentals - and everything fell apart during the shoot. You get what you pay for. However, we managed to fix everything with a lot of duct-tape and patience. Next time I’ll make sure to test every single bit of equipment. I loved the slow, long takes. Quite often when the art direction and the action are on point, most cuts are unnecessary. When you keep the shot for a longer time even a breath becomes meaningful - it gets you more into the moment."

Solving challenges

"The production took a long weekend and the experience was totally insane. As said before, a lot of our equipment failed, also because it was the hottest time of the year. We went over schedule every day, the food was terrible and we didn’t have enough money to fix anything since I was paying for everything out of my own pocket. However, working with a crew of friends, young ambitious and strong people - made all the difference. We managed to solve so many challenges we didn’t foresee on the spot and were able to keep on going even when motivation was low."

"The editing was done by the great editor Niels Veenendaal, who is a former classmate of mine. Because of everyone’s busy schedule at the end of the year the editing went pretty slowly. However, when we knew that there could be a chance to premiere at the IFFR (International Film Festival of Rotterdam) - on their day of Rotterdam films - we knew we had to speed it up. Within two weeks we found a composer and sound designer, Thymo Boog, who finished a temp sound in no-time. Our editor made a fine cut and without grading we applied the film. Luckily the programmers were able to see through the rough details and they selected the film."

A great calling card

"We had an amazing premiere at my favourite festival during the IFFR. But afterwards the hard work begins. Festival submissions are crazy, you get so many denials and you need so much patience to fill in all the different forms. We experienced some tough blows but also lucky streaks. However, overall I think you need to submit as much as possible if you think your film is worth it. It’s such an amazing feeling to be in a room full of people, seeing and hearing their reactions to your film. However, watch out for fake 'online' festivals and don’t spend all your money on the big festivals if they’re not going to select your film anyway (Sundance, Berlinale, etc.). It’s best to spend that money on paying your rent or making your next short."

"This short was a calling card to show what I can do with a small budget, which opened doors. I got into the Go Short Talent Campus where I learned to pitch my new film projects. The following month I won the pitch contests of the Filmkick by the Noordelijk Film Festival and the Slag Om de Schelde and gained a budget of 20.000 for my next two shorts. That’s how one short can empower you to make the next."

"Overall the process of making this film was great because it was a script and a story I loved a lot and the crew around me was assembled by a mix of friends and professionals. Everyone cared so much and was willing to put in the extra hours, eat the dry pizzas and sleep in the mosquito-infested house. Eventually this collective passion is what made this production such an amazing memory and I can’t wait to shoot the next one."

Samoeraai will compete in the Official Competition at SHIFT Film Festival 2019 for the title of Best Film and Audience Award.

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