Marit Weerheijm Talks Exploring Emotions, Connections & Collaborations

10 August 2023

Written by

Tom Loudon, LBB Online

Marit Weerheijm’s cinematic mind is remarkable. Catching up with LBB, the Sweetshop’s latest director signing delves into the art of emotionally resonant storytelling.

The Sweetshop

Marit Weerheijm's narrative prowess knows no bounds – from her ventures in the southern hemisphere to her exploration of human connections and emotions.

While Marit’s journey exemplifies the harmonious interplay between commercial innovation and authentic, heartfelt narratives, she still blends her distinct personal authenticity with a universal appeal across audiences.

Speaking to LBB’s Tom Loudon, Marit talks transcending borders, and what it means to be human.

LBB> Congratulations on signing with The Sweetshop for representation in Australia and New Zealand! What made you decide to expand your reach into the Southern Hemisphere, and what excites you the most about this new collaboration?

Marit> Thanks! I’m really excited! After signing with the Sweetshop in the US and UK, it now feels really good to expand that collaboration and start discovering new markets on the other side of the planet. The type of films I’d like to make are very universal - stories about humans - so it doesn’t matter where I make those films, and I see great work coming from New Zealand and Australia. I can’t wait to start working there and get a piece of the action. On a side note, I was supposed to travel around Australia for a month in 2020 - and then COVID happened - so this is my revenge.

LBB> How do you approach crafting such emotionally resonant narratives, and what do you hope to evoke in your audience with your work?

Marit> I believe in collaboration. I think you can only tell an emotionally gripping story that resonates with the audience when you’ve managed to capture your crew's - and your cast’s - attention first. Everyone in this business is in it because they feel inspired to create and tell stories, so it only makes sense to try to make everyone experience that same sense of inspiration while working on a project.

I try to do that by being very approachable, open to questions and ideas and just trying to create a fun and safe atmosphere. I love creating human stories about real people, where the audience can feel connected to the characters and their problems. Maybe they’ll feel heard and understood, or maybe they’ll understand another human being a little better after watching my work.

LBB> Your recent piece for CrossCountry Trains UK showcases your talent for storytelling with emotional depth. Can you share some insights into the creative process behind this project and how you brought the story to life?

Marit> The initial idea (from McCann) was very strong. A mother and daughter bonding over a football match to reminisce after their husband and father's passing. I immediately loved that idea. When I started working on it, I focused on the relationship between these two characters. I wanted their backgrounds to be clear to the actors, for them to be able to improvise on set. I added a little more tension in the beginning, where we see the daughter being a real teenager and the mum struggling to connect with her.

This helped with the arc of the story, where they are disconnected in the beginning and very close and connected in the end. After spending time with the actors, talking about the story, their relationship, and the emotional arc, I tried to give them as much ‘reality’ as possible. We shot during an actual football match (which was insane), and we did long takes to allow them to improvise. It was all shot with a very small and flexible crew, which always helps to keep the focus on the performance. The DP - Rachel Clarke - and I both loved to work in this guerilla-style way.

LBB> You mentioned that conversations with The Sweetshop felt relaxed and that they showed interest in both your work as a commercial director and your work in fiction. How important is it for you to have support for your artistic endeavours outside of the commercial realm?

Marit> It’s really important because it defines who I am as a filmmaker. I come from a fiction background, was schooled in directing fiction films, and will always be trying to balance working in both industries. But these worlds really complement each other. Making a feature is a very slow and sometimes frustrating process (and I’m still working on my first), but making an ad is like a race. Sometimes you need these high speed projects and sometimes you need to have time to slow down and work on a longer script.

My commercial work definitely benefits from my experience in directing actors from making short films etc. And my fiction work benefits from more experience on set, needing to make quick decisions, getting to know a lot of crew members and going abroad to be introduced to new industries. I do try to have one voice as a filmmaker, which means I want my ad work and my fiction work to both feel like my style, and not like it’s been made by two different directors. I think that’s why it was great that The Sweetshop supports me in making my fiction work. It means they understand my process and my aspirations.

LBB> How do you balance the universal appeal of your work with incorporating personal and authentic storytelling elements?

Marit> I’m convinced that you can only appeal to an audience by incorporating personal and authentic storytelling elements, if that makes sense.

Think about it - when someone in a film says something about their experience, and it’s very specific, maybe a bit strange and out of the box, and you recognize yourself in it, that blows your mind doesn’t it? The more authentic it gets, the more intimate your connection to the audience can be.

LBB> How do you approach portraying these nuances on screen, and what draws you to explore human emotions and connections in your work?

Marit> I think it’s all about the people you work with. Casting is extremely important. You can have your character all figured out on paper, but that person doesn’t exist. In the end, someone needs to embody that character and become the new version of what you’ve written. If you try to deny that, you’re ignoring great possibilities and might also be obstructing your own creative process.

I try to make an actor my accomplice in what I’m trying to achieve. If they feel safe to explore and make mistakes, they might give you more than you were even hoping for. It is difficult to say what draws me to explore human emotions and connections. I think a part of it is that it moves me when a big group of adults come together to have fun while creating something that was once in someone's head. When that story is about human emotions and connections, it’s kind of therapeutic as well.

I think it’s really a great way to spend your life, to be honest. Creatively exploring human beings while having fun doing it.

LBB> Can you share any specific challenges or memorable experiences you've encountered as a director and how they have shaped your artistic journey?

Marit> It’s a stupid answer, but I have many memorable experiences that have shaped me as a director. I think what has shaped me most are the people that I’ve worked with. For example Martijn Melis, the Dutch director of photography that I’ve graduated with. He has been my DP on many many projects and we’ve spent hours and hours talking about film and the industry.

It helps that he’s one of my dearest friends and used to live one minute away from my house. But also some of the people that I’ve met recently, like DP Rachel Clarke, who shot the Cross Country Trains ad with me. She had much more experience than I had, and she has taught me a lot. I think it’s these kinds of connections, spending nights at the pub discussing and analysing everything, that leave the biggest impression on my creative being.

LBB> How do you see this collaboration with The Sweetshop enhancing your creative vision and providing opportunities for further growth in your career?

Marit> I think they really understand the work I want to make. That means that they will have a good sense of the type of scripts that I’d like to work on. It can be really difficult to decide if a script is worth the race - sometimes it means dropping everything you had planned and refocusing on this new project - and I think The Sweetshop is a good partner in crime to make these kinds of decisions with.

LBB> Looking ahead, what are your aspirations and goals as a director, both in the commercial realm and in your work in fiction?

Marit> I like goals, I just don’t have them on this meta level. Right now, I’m happy to proceed working on my feature while making short sprints with my ad work. I’m looking forward to receiving great scripts; human stories, emotional storylines and room to creatively explore.