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28th September 2012
Next level
Title of film: MAELSTRØM
Director: Tom Geraedts
Production Company: MIE
Talented digital artist and new director Tom Geraedts moves into live action vfx mix with his stunning short film Maelstrøm

Tell us a bit about your background please. What led you to film making, are you self-taught or did you study film?

Born in a little Dutch town in 1988, with plenty of space to run around between the cows and sheep. Camping in the woods, building huts and letting insects battle. When I was about 10 years old I was really into carpentry, which evolved into graphic design and after several coming of age years during the last 5 years, into animation and filmmaking. Hey maybe that’s why there’s so much wood in my work, it all makes sense now! Never studied film… my geeky interest in everything digital led me to study Multimedia Design. Now I’m more interested in real things, so I’m coming back to film but combined with vfx skills so that’s always useful.

I’m fairly quiet, but inside I’m a bit of a rebel trying to challenge the status quo.

You already have a substantial reel of music videos and participated on acclaimed motion graphics work. Which ones were key to your development as a filmmaker? And looking back at your earlier work what advice would you give your younger self, what would you do differently?

The last few years I’ve been working in the animation and motion graphics world. This pushes you to meticulously imagine every shot and its look before you start drawing even one line. This feels quite rigid… In a way working like this doesn’t allow you to ‘find’ beauty like you’d have on location or with actors. I’m only just getting started but if I could talk to my younger self I’d tell him to focus more on what story I wanted to tell, instead of focusing solely on aesthetics. I think the pure-animation music videos I worked on were key to my development as a filmmaker because they made me realize I needed to work with live-action and a variety of people and their disciplines.

You have been focusing on motion graphics and effects until now but with your short film Maelstrøm you have begun to explore live action more. Is this new departure something you would like to develop – where do you see your work evolving in terms of style?

With my first short film ‘Eros’ I tried to visually show the way a blind person perceives the world. I translated the impulses from the other four senses into imaginary visuals. With my new short film ‘Maelstrøm’ I did something similar: visualizing a young woman’s inner visions during her spiritual revolution. But I wanted to do more, so I also tried to show her daily life. We shot about 1.5 years ago and exploring live action was such a relief from the computer! I’d like to develop much more as a live-action director. I think with an animation background I’d always focus on beautiful cinematic imaginary. Nature and natural textures, materials and colours always seem to slip back into my work.

Your film plays with changing perceptions and consciousness. What is it about those ideas that appeal to you and why do you think film is an effective way to explore them?

I’m really interested in the concept of expanding one’s consciousness and changing the perception of the world around you. People of ancient civilizations have always been doing this either through meditation, yoga, chanting, fasting or (like the girl in my film) through ingesting psychoactive substances. This is important to be able to shape a well-rounded image of your life. It’s like taking a journey far away to come back with new ideas and new direction. You see things that are normally only happening outside of thought realm. Normally you go through life with a certain tunnel vision. In contemporary western culture we hardly scratch the surface of looking inward ourselves. The closest we get to it is ‘living in the moment’ by smoking cigarettes or dancing all night long on a rave.

These spiritual and personal developments are highly subjective, and everyone has their own story. I think with film there is potential to resonate with those deep desires, on a very primal way (sound, images, emotions). As long as people can relate… but that can also happen on a subconscious level. There are some archetypical desires that everyone shares that are great to play with in film. Finding a partner, violence, sex, self-realization, friendship… similar primal themes that you find back in every film. I also really love films like Baraka and recently Samsara from Ron Fricke. Films without a narrative but stimulating purely through visuals and music on such a deep level…

Where did the seed for Maelstrøm come from and how did you evolve the story?

While doing research about spiritual practices during my MA I stumbled upon the psychoactive tea called Ayahuasca. Indigenous Indians in South America have used it for thousands of years. They come together in ceremonies, drink the tea and mentally and physically purge their mind and bodies from all sorts of problems. Terrence McKenna (American philosopher) said it allows you to tune into a purer form of reality. Aldous Huxley took William Blake’s line ‘Cleansing the doors of perception’ after experiencing something similar. I was intrigued by their experiences and started reading into it. I stumbled upon a lot of pseudo science and new-age bullshit but also interesting stuff from Carl Jung and Graham Hancock.

The story of Maelstrøm is an abstract way of showing a girl’s journey through dreamlike states, also to literally purge her emotional baggage.

The mix of live action and effects are integral to each other in the film – did you storyboard thoroughly and keep to it during shooting?

Yes all the scenes were pretty much imagined like this and shot according to the sketches I had. It was my first live-action shoot with a crew so I needed to be sure to know exactly what to shoot!

What were the key lessons you learnt from making Maelstrøm – and what were the main challenges and how did you overcome them?

Never make a film about drugs! Ha, no I really learnt what it means to create something people can relate with. The film plays with a few unconventional themes that not everyone has experience with so for those it might be nothing more but trippy visuals. If I would re-make the film I would make sure to establish the girl in a different way, and make the audience care for her more.

What are you currently working on that you can tell us about?

Just finished two music videos for Dutch DJ Don Diablo, which was a lot of fun. There will be a third one and we’re working on a concept as we speak. Also slowly thinking about a new short film. I’m interested in unconventional ways of living. Non-conformity. Something different from the traditional boy-meets-girl-gets-married idea. Community living, cooking for each other, washing each other’s bum… So many men and women have tried it in the past and have failed at it and I wonder why!

Are you signed to any production company at the moment?

Not signed to any production company at the moment and looking for a new environment where I’d be stimulated by other (live-action) directors and artists.

And what interests you most – commercials, short films, or music videos?

I think all three are great forms of storytelling, and aren’t we all practicing for that feature film we want to make one day? I love the creative freedom of short films and the authorship that comes with it. In music videos I like the translation from specific sounds into visuals, and building a brand for an artist with it. Haven’t done a commercial yet…

Apart from film making what interests you?

Really passionate about traveling and getting myself into crazy situations with people I hardly know. Ask me to go on an adventure and I will come with you. Also I still really love good design and I go for walks in nature sometimes. I discovered some great forests around London! Working on some sort of meditation installation/event as well.

LINKS:

TOM GERAEDTS

Credits

Directed by: 
Tom Geraedts

Produced by: 
Joe Marshall

Production company:
MIE

Featuring: 
Sabrina Kaici

Director of Photography: 
Paul Mackay

Editor: 
Ross Hallard @ TRIM Editing

Sound Design:
Jeff Dodson

With music by Gregg Kowalsky and Alva Noto

Steadicam: Iain MacKay

Camera operator: Rami Bartholdy

1st AC (Focus): Rawdon Haynes

Gaffer: Carolina Schmidtholstein

Make-up: Ezana Ove

Motion Control : Matt Day, Richard Widgery

Animal Handler: Emma Lock

Art department: Phoebe Brown

Set photography: Willeke Machiels

Runners: Jannes van Beijsterveldt, Nathalie Iltis, Willeke Machiels, Rikki Bond

Cast: 
Sabrina Kaici

Connor Williams

Design and animation: Tom Geraedts

Additional 3D modeling: Sarah Beeby

Rotoscoping: Eduarda Lima

Flame: Ben Robards @ Absolute Post

Matte Painting: EB Hu

Grading: Denny Cooper @ Rushes Soho