Interview with Nick Jongerius – director of THE WINDMILL
NICK JONGERIUS: Thank you very much! Really appreciate the attention and hopefully I’ve answered your questions to your satisfaction.
F: Besides the climax of 1931’s Frankenstein, I can’t think of a windmill being an important set piece in a horror film. You’ve built an entire film around one. Why?
NJ: Hahaha. There is a small part for a windmill in Sleepy Hollow, but I guess you are right. I think windmills have followed me my whole life. I was born on a street called the Saw Windmill street, which was near an old creepy windmill. Where I live now there are a lot of windmills too. They kind of creep me out, because they stand tall in the field and have no windows. If a swinging blade hits you, you will likely die. I really liked the idea of this thing that creeps me to be the arena for my feature debut.
F: The Windmill successfully blends classic tropes of slasher films, “The Twilight Zone,” and traditional ghost stories and legends. I feel like the “dark and stormy night” style of storytelling is in short supply these days, so what inspired you to bring it back?
NJ: Thanks. I hear what you are saying and I agree. Chris Mitchell (screenwriter) and I really love the old Amicus movies and Agatha Christie. These stories in which strangers get stuck with one another and once the shit hits they realize they have something in common. In that sense this film is definitely a throwback to these old movies. I like characters who are outspoken and differ from each other. It gives tension in a group and the horror elements change the dynamics constantly. The film is also an homage to old Grimm Fairytales. I really like horror films with lots of fantasy elements in them. For me realistic horror is hard to watch (and to make). I like the work of Guillermo del Toro or Tim Burton where you know the horror is contained in this unrealistic but interesting world.
F: This is the first English language film that you’ve directed (the rest were Dutch). Why did you choose to work in English for The Windmill?
NJ: It is really hard to make a horror film in the Netherlands. There is just not enough interest in them. People here tend to dislike horror films set in their own language. It might have something to do with the fact that we as Dutch are really down to earth and not too superstitious about ghosts, fantasy or anything of the sort. We produced Frankenstein’s Army and saw the potential of getting interesting concepts made in English, which opens up the world as your market.
F: You’ve assembled an outstanding cast in The Windmill. This isn’t necessarily true of most slashers, and I really appreciate the push back against the dumbing down of the genre that you and filmmakers like you are making by taking the process seriously. When so many production companies see horror film projects as a means to a quick ROI, why is good casting so important?
NJ: Well, I really appreciate it. I worked really hard on getting the cast right. I spend a lot of my time on set with the actors. It was key for me that the performances were at their highest level. I had such an amazing cast who gave so much and brought so much to the table. It’s really hard for actors to play in a horror film. So much is created afterwards in sound design, editing, etc. An actor really needs to trust a director on a project like this. In the casting process I really went for performance above anything. I also assembled the team like a football coach. It needed to be a team. Individual performance is nothing if you as an actor are not a team player. Acting is about reacting, and you can only do that if your fellow actor is willing to help you during a scene. We talked a lot and had extensive talks as a group and me with the actors individually.
F: Do you believe in the devil, and if so what sort of deal would you like to make with him?
NJ: I’m a big fan of Stephen King and I learned though his books that you should never make deals with shady people. It will always backfire.
F: What three adjectives would the cast and crew of The Windmill use to describe you?
NJ: Oofff. That’s a good one. I guess a lot was probably done behind my back 😉 but I would say: demanding, intense and a little strange.
F: What would you love to find laying around on a movie set?
NJ: A suitcase filled with non-traceable money.
F: What onset disaster has ever happened to you?
NJ: On this film every kill scene was an onset disaster. I got a lot of grey hairs from making them. This was because we had everything against us… remote locations, everything needed to be in-camera and it was all set at night. In the end I love every scene and I think our SFX team Rob’s Prop Shop did an amazing job.
F: What are the most important qualities in a screenplay?
NJ: All the clichés… great characters, interesting story arcs, but the most important thing I guess is that you as a director have to fall in love with it. You have to be willing to defend it ’til the death.
F: Remakes of horror and sci-fi films are big business and often draw a whole new generation to classic stories. If you were asked to direct a remake of a horror or sci-fi film, which would you choose and why?
NJ: Scanners. I just love that movie and think that with the right approach it could have potential for a remake. There are so many story elements in it that could click with a future audience.
F: What is your most memorable experience working in TV or film?
NJ: Apart from this film I worked on a Dutch youth drama series where an adopted girl on high school hears that she needs to leave the country because of regulations. We follow her on her last days at school and eventually she leaves. It was based on a true story and the episodes got immense response. It was heartbreaking and one of the things I’m still very proud of.
F: What’s the strangest project that you’ve ever worked on?
NJ: I did a commercial for a pizza brand where we literally took a whole day of shooting for two shots of people driving a car. The script was bad, the client was constantly on our case and it rained the entire day while it needed to be sunny. It was not a good day.
F: What’s the funniest advice your filmmaking mentor ever gave you?
NJ: I wish I met a funny filmmaking mentor. They are all so serious here in Holland!
Thank you so much to Nick Jongerius for answering all of our questions! You can read my review of The Windmill here.