A Conversation with Stijn Van der Veken, ASC, SBC
Leading Your Audience’s Eye
StudentFilmmakers Magazine: You’re known for your ominous, beautiful dark cinematography and playing with shadows and contrast. Where did your style for lighting come from?
Stijn Van der Veken, ASC, SBC: Cinematography is all about guiding the story and the actors’ performances to the audience in such a way that the story is believable although it is fictional. Therefore, we create a visual atmosphere which supports this by using light as our main tool blending it with camera positions, camera moves and the right choices of focal lengths and framing of course. We want to guide the audience’s eyes to what is important story-wise on screen. To achieve this, shaping the picture with lighter and darker areas, creating depth by making foregrounds more dark and backgrounds lighter sometimes, using mixed colors and most important, shaping our actors’ faces with light and shadows depending on the mood of the story. My main inspiration comes from Roger Deakins’ cinematography because for me he achieves all of this in a brilliant way! The audience doesn’t experience a camera, but the camera leads them through the story. In every movie he photographed, he achieved this which is absolutely stunning I think.
StudentFilmmakers Magazine: Is it difficult working with multi-nationality crews?
Stijn Van der Veken, ASC, SBC: I love working with mixed, international crews because they broaden your world and vision in both a professional and personal way. I see it as a great challenge to meet and work with new people from all over the world. It doesn’t mean we always have a perfect match with each other, but at least we are geared to make it work. Different nationalities, people, cultures, cities and continents have sometimes a completely different look onto imagery which is so inspiring to me.
StudentFilmmakers Magazine: Can we discuss “The Sum of Histories”? You were able to convey elements of time travel in subtle ways. How did you achieve this?
Stijn Van der Veken, ASC, SBC: “The Sum of Histories” was a rather small film but very appealing to me because of the subject, mixing the past and the future within the same film over the course of 2 hours.
We used ARRI / Zeiss Master anamorphic lenses for the future; and rehoused Cooke Speed Panchro’s for the present. The future storylines were lit in a more ‘clean’ colorful way with fine and outlined camera moves; while the present was approached in a way more ‘rock & roll’ way of shooting, meaning more handheld, warmer colors, lens flares, etc.…
This seems like a very simple approach, but once in the edit, it did make a lot of sense, as the two different shooting styles were so much enhanced by the cut.
StudentFilmmakers Magazine: What are your Top 3 Lighting Tips for new generation filmmakers and storytellers?
Stijn Van der Veken, ASC, SBC:
Tip # 1: Put your ego aside, accommodate the story, the performances and the director, and know you’ll only achieve this as a team, never as an individual.
Tip # 2: Use your EYE as your initial and main camera / lens.
Tip # 3: Observe natural light’s beauty, and use it as your main inspiration source.
Born and raised in Belgium, Stijn Van der Veken ASC, SBC, graduated from the film school of IAD, and began his career as a camera assistant. He soon moved into the role of director of photography shooting documentary series for Belgian television, such “Shadow of the Cross” and “Salmon for Corleone.” In addition, he shot several drama series for Belgian television, including “In Flanders Fields”, “Emperor of Taste,” “Wolven,” and “Quiz Me Quick.” Feature film projects include “Vele Hemels boven de Zevende”(Many Heavens), “Terug naar Morgen” (Sum of Histories), “Zot Van A,” “Wolf.” The short film, “Death of a Shadow,” garnered him acclaim for his beautiful cinematography, as well as being shortlisted for the Oscar Nominations for Best Short, and a earning a nomination at the European Film Awards for Best Short. Another film, “Murk Light” earned him the Black Pearl prize for Best Cinematography at the Abu Dhabi International Film Festival. Stijn wrapped the television series, “In Flanders Fields” with director Jan Matthys, and three episodes for the third season of the BBC Scotland drama, “Shetland.” He recently also lensed other drama series such as “Outlander season 4 & 5” for STARZ & Sony, “Four Weddings & a Funeral” for HULU / Universal…