How This 17 Year-Old Director Made His Heartbreaking Short Film

How This 17 Year-Old Director Made His Heartbreaking Short Film

This is an interview with Guido Coppis, a 17 year-old filmmaker from the Netherlands. His recent short film Iron Flows Through My Veins — a heartbreaking study of a son's relationship with his mother in the most dire of situations — is not only an impressive achievement for such a young filmmaker, but it's also a great case study for low-budget filmmakers looking to make tiny budgets go further.

So without any further ado, here's Iron Flows Through My Veins and the full interview with the director. Since the film is in Dutch, you'll want to hit the closed captioning button to turn on the subtitles. Enjoy.

FILMMAKER'S PROCESS: What’s your background in filmmaking? I’m curious what originally inspired you to start making films, and how you’ve been pursuing film throughout your life. Beyond that, what are your goals when it comes to making films, and how do you define success as a filmmaker?

GUIDO COPPIS: I’ve always been interested in film. When I was very young, I started making videos with some people from school, which was a lot of fun and sparked my interest in making films. At some point I watched The White Ribbon by Michael Haneke which I thought was amazing. That film really got me interested in dramas.

Two years ago, I started following a film school in the Netherlands, from that point on I started making a lot of short films. My goal has always been to make films that make people think and most importantly films that affect people in any way. I think you’ve succeeded as a filmmaker if your film has an impact on someone, in any way.

Where’d the inspiration for Iron Flows Through My Veins come from? And how did you go about turning that inspiration into a finished short script?

I always wanted make a film about motherly love, however I didn’t really know how to approach the subject.

Eventually, I came up with the idea of making a film between mother and son, wherein the mother gets extremely sick, therefore is not able to take care of her son anymore. Her son needs to take care of her, her love and job as a mother basically gets taken away from her.

I thought this was a really interesting concept, the story around them quickly took shape, eventually I sat down and wrote the script in about a day.

This film tackles some incredibly dark subject matter, but doesn’t necessarily tell the audience how they should think or feel about any of the situations or characters. Is that something you intended to do, and if so, how did you accomplish it?

Definitely. I really like the idea of observation in films. I strongly dislike forcing viewers to feel in a certain way by cutting to a close up for example.

So my idea for this film was that the camera stayed on our main character throughout and created this very claustrophobic feeling. You experience everything like him, as a filmmaker I don’t force you to feel in a certain way. The audience can create their own feelings and thoughts with the characters.

You mentioned that you and your crew shot the film in 3 days for roughly 300 Euros. How did you manage to stretch that budget as far as you did? Walk us through the pre-production process and the shooting days, sharing any no-budget filmmaking advice you found useful.

Well it was a matter of everyone working entirely for free. Everything that we did or wanted to do had to be solved without any money, all the money that we had, had to go in paying the traveling costs for the cast and crew. I just asked everyone for favors really, the catering was done for free, we got to lend a car for free, locations were free, that kind of stuff.

With a production like this, in the form that I imagined it, I knew that it was absolutely not going to be easy. On the contrary, it was going to be very hard. Pre-production went pretty well, the casting process was quite easy as well since I worked with a couple of actors I had worked with before.

The woman that plays the role of the mother, Catalijn Willemsen, sent in an amazing audition, so that choice was made quite easily. Casting the role of my main character Jonas was a bit harder though. I got a lot of submissions, eventually I casted a certain actor which I was happy about.

My goal has always been to make films that make people think and most importantly films that affect people. I think you’ve succeeded as a filmmaker if your film has an impact on someone, in any way.

At some point however, I joined this art competition called Kunstbende. Two of the categories in the competition were film and theatre. I won the film category and this other participant, Xander Lenders, won the theatre category. He approached me and said that, if I was ever looking for an actor, he would be available. Turned out he was a perfect match, so I cancelled the other actor and got him on a board instead.It turned out to be a very good choice, he played his role perfectly.

The production went pretty well, it was hectic of course, shooting a film like this in such a short period of time is hard. The only big problem that we had is that a certain actress cancelled about a day before she needed to come and play her part. Luckily we solved this.

The post production was by far the hardest. The editing process went smoothly, but it was the sound that was a big challenge. It turned out that the sound recorded on set wasn’t good, not at all in fact. So I had to go look for a sound designer... for free. They are very hard to find however, especially the good ones. After sending a lot of emails to different sound designers, there was one that my composer found that wanted to do it named Milan Wijnmaalen.

He did an incredible job. The composer that I worked with was someone that I worked with before named Tjeerd Nijhof. He is also very good at what he does. So finding the right tone and vibe for the music was pretty easy.

Then came the color grading, which was just as hard, if not harder to find someone for than the sound design. Eventually a non-profit organisation called Cinesud helped me find someone. For the color, I wanted a cold, almost depressing grade that would emphasize the claustrophobic feeling in the film, which my colorist nailed perfectly in my opinion.

Tell me about the decision to shoot this project on a single lens. Was it a practical choice or did you do that purely for aesthetic reasons? What does that single lens look accomplish, and what does it tell us about the main character?

A bit of both. I really like the aesthetic of the lens we used, which was an old 50mm FD prime, it has kind of become my visual style. But I think it also confines our main character and allows me to tell the story entirely from his perspective, since we’re so close to him the entire time.

Shallow depth of field is key to this, if I had the budget to use different lenses with the same effect, then I would have used them. The budget however, was simply not there to do that.

What obstacles did you encounter during the pre-pro, production, and post of this film, and more importantly, what did you do to overcome or work around those obstacles?

Well like I mentioned before, getting a sound designer and a colorist was a big obstacle. But truly, the entire production is an obstacle. For everything you do, you have to find a workaround, since you can't solve your problems with money. Like I said, we were only able to pay the traveling costs of our cast and crew.

You have to be creative to find the proper solutions for those problems. I think the biggest obstacle for me personally was finding the right tone for the film, I wanted the film to feel claustrophobic and cold, but the challenge was to do this in a subtle way so that it doesn’t lose its power.

I solved this by spending a lot of time in my preparation in finding the perfect balance between the visual style and the performance of my actors by, for example, testing different frames and angles, to see what works best for that specific scene or moment. Preparation is key.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about the making of this film?

Well, a fun fact is that the ending credits have been written by our cast and crew themselves. I basically let them write down their name and functions, I scanned that in and then put that into the end credits. It’s a fun detail.

What are you working on next, and why is it important to you?

I’m working on a film about a boy that suffers from anorexia. I really want to make a film that is about accepting who we are, since that is very important to me. However, I want to take the next step in making my films, so I’m hoping, and doing my best to get any form of budget for that project. Just recently I also finished a music video called Change, which was very fun to make.

Where can people follow you and your future filmmaking endeavors online?

I upload all my latest work on my Vimeo page, but you can also find me on Facebook, feel free to follow me there as well. 

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