NRFF Interviews Director Martijn Winkler

Film Block: L        Cinema:  LAB 2        Date:  02.03.18      Time: 6.30-8.00 PM


Directed by Martijn Winkler


Martijn Winkler (1978) is a writer, director and digital creative from Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He specializes in fiction with a tragicomic edge, working on several films, teleplays and TV-series that have garnered international acclaim. His work has been selected at film festivals such as Clermont Ferrand International Film Festival, Palm Springs Film Festival and Cannes.

During his career he has steadily built a strong expertise in online and new media by working as a creative director in the digital agency field. In 2012 he founded VERTOV digital storytelling, and went on to create and produce award-winning viral videos, commercials and social media campaigns for international brands,

reaching millions of people around the globe. In 2014 he won a prestigious Gold SABRE Award for the viral ‘Rituals: Laughing Buddha’ and in 2016 he won a Silver Dolphin in Cannes for Best Viral, for ‘ANWB: Winter Is Coming’. 

His latest short film, #tagged (2017, 12 minutes, production: VERTOV, writer/director: Martijn Winkler), has been selected in competition at numerous international film festivals, and won Best International Short Film at Dublin Web Fest 2017. He is president of the Dutch Directors Guild, contributor to leading Dutch communication/tech blog Frankwatching, guest lecturer at the Dutch Film and Television Academy and the University of Amsterdam, and is debuting with a novel at publisher Atlas Contact in 2018. Interview by Massimo Barbato, Creative Director, NRFF.

1. Congratulations on being part of the second edition of the New Renaissance Film Festival, Amsterdam? How does it feel to have #tagged screened here?

Thank you! It feels truly awesome to be able to screen my short film in my hometown, on the big screen. I made #tagged specifically with the big screen in mind, hoping it would reach audiences and trigger conversations about the influence of technology and devices on our everyday lives. Screening at a great festival like New Renaissance is a great boost to that mission. And when I look at all the other amazing films screening here, I am very honored indeed, to be part of this lineup.

2. Can you give an outline of the story?

#tagged is the story of a 14-year-old girl and her mobile phone. We watch as the content she posts on different social media gets out of hand, and out of her control. Her phone turns from being her best friend to her worst enemy… In a unique visual concept, we view 24 hours in the life of a young teenager, from the point of view of her smartphone.

Part of the appeal of the film, is the use of long, uninterrupted takes, and no special effects. Everything you see is live and actually happening, both on the mobile screen, as in the surrounding area. It proves to be an intense viewing experience, truly envisioning what the role of mobile phones is for 14-year olds these days. To realise it, we rehearsed several weeks with a large group of teens for veracity: they all contributed to the script too, adding dialogue, and the ‘right’ kind of apps to use, etc.

3. What was your main inspiration for the film?

Well, the starting point was the love/hate relationship I have with my phone. On the one hand, I love the possibilities it gives me, the fun I have with it, the amazement of its technology… But on the other hand I often hate the person I become with my phone: disconnected from life around me, anti-social,  gazing down and in the screen, addicted. These themes resonate with all generations I feel, but at its strongest and arguably most important, with teens: who have grown up not knowing a world without this technology, who are completely taken over by it. How would it feel to look through their eyes, to experience both its intimate appeal and its possibility for public destruction?

4. Describe your creative process.

It’s a bit boring, really. Quite disciplined: sitting down at regular intervals (every workday, basically), offline and undisturbed for at least 2 hours at a time, and working it. Be that writing, preparing a shoot, editing, etc. There’s a saying: creativity is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I guess that’s true. There’s no divine moment where everything happens; rather, it’s simply putting in the effort every day. That said, I really feed off other talented people around me too; working with a talented cast and crew can truly enrich the creative process and make for a better film. So a big part of my creative process is selecting the right team of people around me. People I look up to, whom I can learn from, who challenge me, who are different from me… Finally, having fun is a big part of it too. Having fun is important in any creative process I think: it helps you go on, against tough odds often, and surely adds to the quality of the film you make.

5. How did you finance #tagged?

We tried financing the film in the ‘traditional’ manner for two years: applying to film funds, media funds, television programming, etc. Unsuccessfully. We received comments about the film being too difficult to make and for an audience to understand. “You cannot make a film in which the only thing the audience sees is a phone.” We got that a lot. Obviously, we disagreed. So we decided to go ahead and make it anyway. Financing the film ourselves, as well as asking our friends and colleagues to work on the film for much lower fees (or in some case for free even). We were very fortunate indeed that everyone responded so enthusiastically and wanted to help us out, to make the film happen.

And then, we unexpectedly got connected to the Dutch public broadcaster KRO-NCRV (NPO 3LAB). They were very supportive of the film and its concept, and contributed to the budget, which made it possible to actually rent necessary equipment and go ahead and shoot the film.

So it goes to show, once you get the ball rolling – in our case, going ahead and making the film anyway – good things can happen. Don’t wait for the right moment to start your film, grab the moment and get it going.

6. What was the most challenging aspect of making it?

Well, the whole execution of the shoot was challenging of course, attaching a camera to a phone, making it possible for our main character to actually hold the phone, interact with it, make selfies, and so on, while the huge camera was stuck to it, and our operator was jumping around to follow the phone’s movements. Everything was live and in-camera, so there was no cheating in post-production. Basically, it was like directing a dance-film sometimes. In rehearsals, we created intricate choreographies with the actors and the camera operator. How to move, when to point the phone upwards or downwards, tilt it left or right, etc. A small 2 cm. tilt of the phone to the left, meant that the camera operator had to swivel the camera to the left for two meters or more. It was an acrobatic challenge at times.

But the most challenging part turned out to be working with the actual social media accounts. Before shooting we had to create many profiles and add many visuals, and stories, and post-updates on all these channels: Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, etc. During each take we had to get live push-notifications on screen at the exact right time, from the right accounts. And after each take, we had to clear all content so we could start the next take anew… It was a massive challenge to get all this working. For some shots we had a team of 10 people sitting behind the camera, with phones and laptops at hand, following huge Excel sheets detailing what post to publish at what exact moment in the shot to get it just right… I still cannot quite believe we actually made it all happen.

7. Is there a message you would like audiences to take away from watching it?

I hope the film raises more awareness about how we use our devices, and how to stay in control of those devices, instead of them controlling us. What is the cost of being so closely attached to our phones? An intimacy which seems benign, but can be quite harmful. I certainly don’t want to abolish our smartphones – I am much too fond of them myself – but a more critical view and a sense of control of the technology (it serving us) is missing in daily life. I hope #tagged brings that back a bit.

8. How have audiences responded so far?

It’s a tough film to see for an audience, I have found. It seems to strike a nerve; after each screening, at first the audience is quiet and a bit overwhelmed… there’s a lot to process. But after a while, the conversation starts. And I am quite proud that both teens and adults respond favorably to the film. Adults are actually a bit shocked to experience how much a smartphone takes over your outlook on life. But perhaps I am most proud of the fact that teens recognize the film’s subject matter and think the film is true to their daily experience. I certainly did not want the film to be about how adults perceive kids; I wanted it to actually match the perspective of the kids themselves. And I guess that has worked out.

9. Have you always wanted to be a director? What advice would you give someone starting out?

Well, I have been writing stories, and plays, and making films, as long as I can remember. The joy of creating a story and showing it to an audience… nothing can top that. At a certain moment, in my teens, I realized that it was the role of a director that most resembled what I liked to do. And ever since I never once doubted that I would be a director.

My advice to someone starting out: don’t wait, but go out there and make stuff. The only way to truly learn, and to get your name out there, is by making films. Don’t waste too much time on reading how to make films, or on that one big, tremendously ambitious feature film project, but do stuff that can actually be made right now. With equipment, people and locations that are at your disposal now. Make a short. Do a scene. Experiment with a crazy sequence. By all means, be ambitious and have that feature film idea in your back pocket, but if you keep waiting for the right moment to arrive, you’ll find it has already passed…

For one of my first ever films, all I had at hand were a VHS camcorder, my kid sister and our pet guinea pig. So I made the ridiculous short film ‘Killer Guinea Pig’. Now, I learned more from making that, than any how-to-make-a-movie book I read since. And it was tremendous fun (which most of those books aren’t).

10. Where can people follow your work or get in touch?

Check out for most of my work, as well as that of other talented directors whose films we are producing.


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