Maarten Schmidt • Producer, Storyhouse
"The tagline of my company is 'Stories with purpose'"
- The Belgian Producer on the Move tells us about stepping into the youth fiction field, his success with documentaries and his view of the industry
Belgian producer Maarten Schmidt established the production company Storyhouse in 2013 and scored success already with his two first documentaries, Ne Me Quitte Pas [+see also:
film profile] and Our City. After such films as Breathless [+see also:
film profile] and Yaren and the Sun, he is increasingly going into fiction and we chatted to him on the occasion of his participation in Producers on the Move at Cannes.
Cineuropa: You have so far mostly been working in documentaries, but now you are developing fiction films as well. How do you pick your projects, what is it that is most important and attractive to you?
Maarten Schmidt: I still love documentaries, and one of the titles I'm producing right now is Under The Surface by Guido Verelst. It's the story of Anne who was born premature, has Asperger’s and goes under water to escape her sensitivity to noise. She would be happiest to live as a mermaid, but she has to learn how to live independently above the surface.
When it comes to selecting fiction projects, I'm focusing on youth content and on projects with a distinct author-driven vision. And given my background in documentaries, I'd like to focus on true story fiction. A project we're in early stages of development with is a fiction adaptation of Talal Derki's 2017 Oscar-nominated Of Fathers and Sons [+see also:
film profile], about radical jihadism and terrorist training in Syria.
I'm looking for diverse stories and voices, so even though my company focuses on youth content, bold investigative documentaries and true story fiction, it's still very much a mixed bag. But what connects all the projects is a clear added value in terms of the storytelling and the message it carries toward our audiences - the tagline of my company is 'Stories with purpose' - and also the fact I'm heavily involved in the development of all projects, together with the core team of writers and directors.
Can you tell us a bit about the projects you're currently working on?
Exit Tales, directed by Maria Cadenas, is an animated short series for youth audiences that fuses imagination and reality. It is based on the stories of six children fleeing their homes in Venezuela, Afghanistan, Syria, Guatemala, Ukraine and South Sudan in order to survive.
The Last Frontier by Quentin Noirfalisse and Friedrich Moser is a documentary about the new race for mineral resources in the deep sea and in outer space. Entrepreneurs say it will save us from climate change. Those against say it may destroy the world.
Jasper's Butterflies by Johan Vandevelde is a fiction film about two young teens confronted with their budding homosexuality, their first love, the ensuing prejudice and bullying by the people around them.
What are currently the good and bad circumstances for production opportunities, broadcasters and festivals for documentaries?
I choose to focus more on investigative documentaries as there's a good global market for it and I have a proven track record there. When it comes to films like Under The Surface, it's very hard to finance them. There's more competition, sure, but also a lot of film funds and broadcasters are too focused on local content. For example, Under the Surface is a universal story and it reminds me in a way of Ne me quitte pas, which was really hard to finance but had a lot of success once released.
It doesn't help the content creators to hear that funders can only come in when the film is almost finished. We need the money in production, and we shouldn't be asked to defer our fees, it's not sustainable for filmmakers. There's still great support and new initiatives, like the Ket & Doc programme of VAF, Ketnet and JEF, a development and funding scheme for five youth docs a year. But this year, we released Yaren and the Sun on NYTimes Op-Docs, so it's great that these stories can cross boundaries and age groups.
Streamers, broadcasters, funders, sales and distributors have to keep supporting diverse voices and diverse storytelling about globally relevant stories. They shouldn't only bet on true crime and eccentric or high-drama stories and underestimate their own audiences. Festivals are still doing a great job in that field.
What do you expect from your participation in Producers on the Move?
That's easy: to establish new connections who can help me co-fund, sell and distribute my projects.
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