Case Study: Ballet of Service Marlies Smeenge was amazed by the Butler Academy.
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Case Study: Ballet of Service

Marlies Smeenge was amazed by the Butler Academy.

The first time she visited the Butler Academy, Marlies Smeenge immediately knew she wanted to make a documentary. Not just about the academy itself, but also about the people behind the facade of perfection. With The Ballet of Service, the filmmaker gives her viewer a glimpse of an unknown world.

"I love the feeling of coming to places that I never knew (still) existed. Being a filmmaker and being able to take an audience there with me, makes it ten times as good."

25 februari 2021

Back to youth and 1400 takes

"My first response when finding out that such a thing as the Butler Academy existed, was pure amazement. I arrived in my battered old car, parking it right next to a very expensive looking Bentley. I didn't know where to look, because the building was huge and looking like something from a long forgotten century."

"When I opened my car door, there was a butler right next to it, holding an umbrella out over my head. 'Welcome Miss Smeenge', he said, 'Welcome to the International Butler Academy'. I could barely stop my jaw from dropping. When I came in everybody seemed to know that I was expected. The butler motioned me to sit down on a embroided couch next to the fireplace. 'Would you like a refreshment?' he asked.

"While sitting next to the roaring fire, staring at the antiquities, swords and family heirlooms around me, I thought to myself: I need to shoot a documentary here."

"I love the feeling of coming to places that I never knew (still) existed. Being a filmmaker and being able to take an audience there with me, makes it ten times as good. However well told, a story is just a story. But being able to witness the story yourself takes it to a whole new level. I think that the possibilty of showing an audience something that they otherwise might never have seen - something fascinating, amazing and moving - is what drives me as a documentary maker."

People behind the facade of perfection

"I was actually researching at the Butler Academy to make a series there when I got the opportunity to shoot a short documentary, with an amazing crew of graduating students from The Netherlands Film Academy. Because the length could be fifteen minutes tops, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to visually explore the Butler Academy and to see if it would live up to the cinematic potential for a series that I really believed it had."

"Between shooting scenes, I would have time to have more casual conversations with the butlers to find out what type of people they actually were. Because when they are working they are all smiles and extremely professional, but you don't really get to know the person behind this facade of hospitality perfection. The people behind the butler were and still are endlessly fascinating to me."

Challenging times

"The saying that as a director and writer you make your documentary three times (once during the script writing phase, once during shooting and once during editing) is very true in my opinion. The more movies I make, the more I accept that however well prepared you are, you are still documenting real life and that simply never ceases to surprise. Editing therefore always feels like 'listening' to the heartbeat of the material. You obviously shouldn't forget the story you essentially want to tell, but you can't force the material to follow your precooked blueprint of everything the movie should be. Even more so: the things that surprised you during shooting are usually the moments that give you goosebumps even during editing."

"COVID threw a lot of challenges our way. We fortunately finished shooting a couple of days before The Netherlands went into lockdown, but the entire post production -process was scarred by the many things that were simply not possible during lockdown. Such as being in the same room as the editor during the editing, having testviewings with a physically present audience that could give us live feedback, and having people that coached us come into our sound studio to listen to the sound design."

Pride of overcoming problems together

"I really see film as a way to connect people. No matter what everybody's background or story is, you can be in a room full of strangers and be moved by the very same things. Being able to experience this with a live audience at the end of the long, tiring journey of making the movie is a big part of what makes it all worth it. I'm not gonna lie: Having the possibility of this shared experience taken away due to the pandemic was quite depressing."

"However, I am so incredibly proud of my entire crew, for the way they handled all the challenges and the way they never gave up giving their all for the film. Days were twice as long and thrice as tiring. Videocalling connections being out of sync. Shared screens showing one frame per five seconds maximum during the editing of many sequences. Trying to get a high quality recording of our music with all recording studio's being closed… A big shout out to all of you, my dear crew, you warriors: Dobber, Emma, Brian, Suzanne, Zita, Remco, Ezequiel, Jurrian, Anne and Quita."

(c) All visual material is used with the filmmaker's permission.

Watch this short via Euregion Film Festival 2021.

March 1-7, online.

Tickets & more info.

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