Bringing A Perfect Man to the Screen: An Interview with Director Kees Van Oostrum
A Perfect Man, starring Liev Schreiber and Jeanne Tripplehorn, premieres in theaters today, November 1, 2013. IFC Films is distributing the independent feature film, directed by Kees Van Oostrum, ASC.
Van Oostrum is a cinematographer by trade, but initiated the project and took his first turn at the helm. He brought a broad base of experience and perspective to the film, which was produced in Amsterdam, Holland where Van Oostrum was born and raised.
“I was an avid still photography hobbyist during my teenage years,” he recalls. “A film called Accident, directed by Joseph Losey in 1970, motivated me to enroll in the Dutch Film Academy, where I studied cinematography and directing.”
Van Oostrum earned a scholarship from the Dutch government, which enabled him to continue his education at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. He earned his first credit in 1980 for the feature film Nights at O’Rear’s. Van Oostrum settled in Los Angeles and went on to earn approximately 70 cinematography credits for narrative films for television and cinema, and occasional documentaries.
His peers in the American Society of Cinematographers have nominated Van Oostrum for Outstanding Achievement Awards in their annual competition for the television movies The Burden of Proof (1992), Medusa’s Child (1997) and Spartacus (2004). He claimed top honors for Return to Lonesome Dove, Part II (1993). Van Oostrum was also nominated for Emmy awards for the mini-series Miss Rose White (1992) and Return to Lonesome Dove, Part 11.
The following is a conversation with Van Oostrum about the production and cinema release of A Perfect Man. The film is also currently available on video on demand.
Bob Fisher, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): What was the genesis of this project?
Kees Van Oostrum (KVO): The idea was inspired by a short movie that I saw. I recruited Larry Brand and Peter Elkoff to write the script. It is an intimate story about a complex relationship between a husband and wife. They are separated as the story evolves, because he hasn’t been faithful to her. After a while, she calls him on the phone and pretends to be another woman. That sparks a new romance between them. I wanted to produce the film in Chicago, but couldn’t get the funding. About eight years ago, a company in Germany offered to finance the film if we produced it in Europe. I accepted that offer, and chose to produce it in Amsterdam.
MM: How did that work with the story?
KVO: We made the male character an American architect who is working in Amsterdam where he lives with his wife.
MM: Who was cast in leading roles?
KVO: Liev Schreiber and Jeanne Tripplehorn played the husband and wife.
MM: Had you worked with them before?
KVO: I shot Old Man, a television movie that Jeanne was featured in 1997. I met Liev a long time ago when we were preparing for a movie that didn’t work out.
MM: You had an impressive array of cinematography credits. How did you choose a cinematographer to collaborate with you as a director?
KVO: I wanted a cinematographer who had ideas about how to approach shooting this film. Joost van Gelder is a Dutch cinematographer who had shot a lot of commercials. This was only his second feature film. He has a great eye and was enthusiastic about the story. In our first conversations, we agreed on creating an intimate look and that the anamorphic format was right for the aesthetic we envisioned.
MM: Did you shoot A Perfect Man at practical locations or on sets?
KVO: We used practical locations in Amsterdam, but most of the movie takes place in a very large apartment set. I brought (production designer) Jeaninne Oppewall from Los Angeles to Amsterdam. There was an apartment built on top of an old department store during the beginning of the century that would have been ideal, but it had been converted to a resturant. Jeaninne used it as a model for designing a set on a stage. It was right for the story, because Nina and James want to live on top of the world. The setting puts them in the middle of the city looking down on it – there are shots where the audience sees the city from their perspectives. Liev’s work as an architect helped make environments part of the story.
MM: Why was A Perfect Man produced in 35 mm anamorphic format?
KVO: The anamorphic format provides a 2.4:1 aspect ratio which is similar to the way we see the world with our eyes. The ARRI 535 cameras we wanted to use were available in Amsterdam, but the anamorphic lenses weren’t. We contacted the rental house in Rome that provided camera gear for many films shot by Vittorio Storaro (ASC, AIC). They provided a package of four lenses that he has regularly used.
MM: Tell us about the role the dog plays and how you integrated him into scenes.
KVO: The dog is like a child in the family. His role is very important in many scenes. Before we went to Holland, I found and contacted a famous dog trainer in London. We spoke on the phone and I sent him the script. He started training two dogs. I should have asked him what kind of dog he had in mind. When I arrived in London, he was working with two Doberman Pincers. I said, these are beautiful dogs, but people see them as watch dogs.
MM: What did you do?
KVO: My niece in Amsterdam had a Belgian Terrier dog that had the right look, but he wasn’t trained for this type of activity. The trainer said, give me some time with the dog, and I will let you know. He called me after spending five or six hours with my niece’s dog, and said, he’s amazing. He will do anything you want him to do. The dog lived with my niece in a little trailer for 28 days at locations where we were shooting the film. She and the trainer worked with him. The dog was a one take actor with only occasional second takes.
MM: What about the gaffer and camera crew?
KVO: Everyone on the crew was Dutch. We had no problem communicating. Filmmaking is a global language.
MM: Were you shooting with one or multiple cameras?
KVO: We used one camera about 99 percent of the time. A few stunt scenes were covered with two cameras, but that was just a few days. The story defined the visual grammar. The male lead played a role in designing the modern metropolis of Amsterdam as an architect while his personal life was deteriorating. There is a comedic interweaving of his career and personal life.
MM: Why wasn’t A Perfect Man released years ago?
KVO: Soon after production was completed, the company that financed the project pulled out. Another company stepped into the breach, but they had financial problems during post production. The film was put on the shelf.
MM: That had to be discouraging.
KVO: Honestly, I thought it would never see the light of day. Around two years ago, I showed a rough cut to a few hundred students at Drexel University, in Pennsylvania, where I was teaching a filmmaking workshop. They responded so enthusiastically, I went home determined to complete production. I showed Gary Wilkes the rough cut. He arranged for funding needed to shoot additional film, finish editing, record a music score and DI timing.
MM: What were the new scenes that you shot?
KVO: We shot some background scenes in Amsterdam to capture more of the feeling of the modern city. We recorded the contrast between historic canals and buildings that were designed and constructed hundreds of years ago with new architecture. We created composite shots contrasting the old and the new architecture during postproduction in collaboration with visual effects supervisor Bob Bailey. We also shot film of a group of high school students in Pasadena with a green screen behind them and composited it with backgrounds filmed in Amsterdam. The music track was recorded in Prague with a full orchestra. We did the re-editing, mixing, dubbing and digital intermediate timing in Los Angeles.
MM: Where did you time the digital intermediate?
KVO: At Hollywood DI.
MM: It has to be a rewarding experience to have A Perfect Man seen by audiences after all of these years. What did you learn from this experience?
KVO: Every day of my life is a learning experience. I think it is important to never give up on your dreams. Believe in them, in yourself and the people who you are collaborating with and your dreams will come true. MM
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