“I visited America for the first time when I was around 25 years old, I did one of those trips through California. One of the places we visited was Universal Studios, where we did the famous Studio Tour. It was F-A-N-T-A-S-T-I-C!”
Now, around 21 years later, we meet Director Roel Reine at a cozy restaurant called Granville in Studio City located down the road from Universal. Where he was once a tourist, you could now find the Dutch director working there quite often. Before landing in Los Angeles he directed popular TV shows in the Netherlands such as Wie is de Mol and SamSam. In 1999, Reine won a prestigious Dutch film award known as the ‘Gouden Kalf’ for his movie ‘The Delivery.’ Shortly after, he moved to the U.S. where he has worked on a plethora of films including: Death Race 2/3, The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption, Dead in Tombstone, The Man with the Iron Fists 2, SEAL Team 8: Behind Enemy Lines, Hard Target 2 (upcoming) and many more. He recently celebrated the theatrical release of his epic film Admiral in U.S. theaters. The film has also recently been sold to Netflix USA.
When the young republic of The Netherlands is attacked by England, France and Germany and the country itself is on the brink of civil war, only one man can lead the county’s strongest weapon, the Dutch fleet: Michiel de Ruyter.
In America, Roel, introduces himself to his international film crew as Roel – “pronounced as Rule, like, Rule the World”. He certainly does with his latest film, Admiral, however the Dutch filmmaker seems remarkably humble and down to earth. He does not like that know-it-all attitude and seems to follow his dream without thinking too much of rules and obligations . His guidance to success in Hollywood? “Sometimes directors come here with an attitude that they know everything better, while their producers have already made over hundreds of movies… Come on! The people here know what they are talking about. Know your place. Adapt. It’s a great environment when you do.”
When did you first visit the United States? What was the moment you thought, ”I’m gonna pack my bags and settle in Los Angeles?”
I always wanted to go to the United States. So, Iike I mentioned before, I visited the U.S. as a tourist and loved it. Later on, I came here on and off to work in film. My feature, The Delivery, who won the Gouden Kalf, got distributed by Lionsgate, and that opened a lot of doors for me. One day I had a coffee with fellow Dutch director Paul Verhoeven and he told me ”You’ve got to move here”. When you’re not around, you don’t count. So I followed his advice, I got an agent, and told him I want to make every film that crosses my path. The agent didn’t think that was a good idea. Some directors wait years for that one perfect moment, the right fit, the film they’ve always wanted make, and all that bullshit. That wasn’t my vision. In other words: I got a better agent and made as many films possible! I am a firm believer of the 10,000 hours theory*. I need to meet those hours before I can consider myself as a good director. Even though I passed that mark a long time ago, I still learn every day. I still like to try out new cameras, drones, gadgets, etc.
*In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field.
From where does your passion for action movies come?
The first time I saw Star Wars I was mesmerized, but I was only 7 years old at that time. When Blade Runner came out I was a little older and immediately knew that I wanted to make these type of movies. It was directed by Ridley Scott. What an amazing film! I studied his films a lot, and still do. He is excellent at staging.
Admiral was a success in Holland, why an international release?
First of all, I always wanted to make a film about the ‘Golden Age’, and when I saw the script of Admiral I was immediately interested. We hired an extra writer and together with producer Klaas de Jong we worked for years to make this film happen. I wanted to make an epic movie. I want people, especially students , to still watch this in 20 years when they want to know something about Dutch history and the Golden age. The international release is just something you try. So far the people have really loved it!
What sources of inspiration did you use for the film?
I took my crew to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. This was very inspirational for all of us.
I’m also the Director of Photography for the film and I wanted to use a lot of natural light, just like the famous painters Vermeer and Rembrandt did in the 17th century. Also, sometimes I was somewhere at a random location and I saw a beautiful house, for example, I took a picture and used it to create an inspiration book. I gave all my actors one – it contained inspirational photos, references to scenes from old movies, and a backstory for each character.
Did you feel a little bit like Rembrandt during the shoot?
Roel laughs. ”At least I wanted it to feel real to the people, also the actors. I wanted to give them an area. That’s my goal as a director anyway, to create a space that brings the best out of the actors. They need an environment they can react to. The reactions you have to create is what makes the story come to life, which is one of the reasons I told everyone I absolutely didn’t want to use green screen. We set up scenes that recreated real paintings in high detail. Actually, a lot of shots start as a still painting frame, and then we started to bring it alive.”
Do you have anything in common with Michiel de Ruyter?
Michiel de Ruyter was an admiral, a captain. They’re away from home a lot. The same goes for me, because I can’t always see my wife and kids as much as I want. Sometimes I’m in Thailand to shoot a movie for three months. I’ll come back home for a while and then I have to leave again for my next project.
Michiel de Ruyter was considered as normal guy, someone who was among his own people. Are you like that? Is that even possible in ‘crazy’ Hollywood?
As I mentioned before, I was also the Director of Photography and because of that I operate really close to my actors. I always want to create a good atmosphere on set. I love to talk to all my crew members, from Frank Lammers (plays the role of Michiel de Ruyter) to the extras. This makes it a great experience for everyone. In Hollywood you can get a penalty if you talk with extras in between scenes – according to the rules, talking to an extra means they should get paid more because they are more special in comparison to the other extras – but I don’t really care, I talk to whoever I want!
Is Admiral a typical Roel Reine film?
”A ‘Roel film’ is a film with a good balance between a good story, drama, emotion and action. All together this must give the audience a tremendous theatrical experience.”
Roel is known as a very efficient director. He delivers a lot of shots in a short amount of time. ”Most directors use two cameras on set, I use four of them.” Some of them fly, some of them are buried in the ground, or a whole crane needs to built in order to operate them. While we’re shooting dialogue, the stunt scene is already being prepared at the same time. People who worked with me for a long time call this crazy shot the ‘Roel shot’. I deliver shots in a very efficient way. Hundred shots a day, so let’s say you need 20 days of production, that makes 2000 shots per movie. Which the Studios really like.”
That’s how Reine could make the film with a budget of 8 million dollars look like an expensive Hollywood movie. ”Admiral is my most personal movie, it has everything that I would consider as a Roel film” he adds.
What was a nice unexpected surprise during the shoot?
The extras. We had 5000 extras! They were all amazing! They brought passion to the set and knowledge too. We had some former mariners, who taught me how mariners marched back in those days. Every extra was put in a costume, and the make up was very well done.
What is the difference between the Dutch and the American film culture?
Dutch people tend to keep ideas to themselves. They’re afraid it will be stolen, here in the U.S. people share their ideas, collaborate, help each other make the idea even better. In film, casting is very important. Type casting. In Holland they’re skeptical about this, but it works. Everyone in Hollywood does it. The actor will bring talent, skills and knowledge. You just have to give them this arena to react to!
The Dutch who make the step to the U.S. should adapt, learn, and then at the right moment go for it! The sky is the limit! The Dutch see a lot of obstacles on the road and want to keep everything as normal as possible. Just go for it!