Brussels-based production company Hamlet didn’t name itself after the Shakespeare play or the brand of cigars. It named itself after the group of houses that’s smaller than a village, signalling the community mindset that it aims to foster. But despite the scale of this mental image, the company works with a worldwide scope.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with founding partners and executive producers Jason Felstead (pictured left) and Ruben Goots (right) to reflect on their globally-minded approach to commercial filmmaking.
LBB> Why are you so keen to make sure you think globally as a production company?
Ruben> It has probably something to do with being born and living in Belgium. Living in the heart of Europe on the crossroads of Germanic and Roman civilization gives us a sixth sense for understanding and working with different cultures. We have no choice but to think globally, and to be honest, what is better than working with the best creative talent in the world?
Jason> We went for a global roster from the start and created a global traction of talent and projects. Our intention when starting the company was very much to deliver jobs to our directors from countries outside of the big advertising countries. USA, UK, France and Germany (we opened in Germany since then).
Belgium is such a small market and we have managed to secure a lot of trusted relationships, especially in the east, which has given us access to bigger productions, the best talent and best-in-class creative partners.
LBB> How do you make sure you're doing that?
Ruben> By not thinking locally. We are working in a creative industry where borders don’t exist. Borders promote a silo/box way of thinking and are limiting to great ideas and creativity. I understand people are searching for campaigns which reflect their local habits and cultures, but I have no respect for people who think that borders will enhance growth and development. Unfortunately, this is happening more often now. If you can think and act across borders, you will be rewarded with good talent and work.
Jason> By maintaining high quality to anything we get involved in. It’s a very personal asset for each individual I’d assume, but to me, producing a job that needs to go to the next level is of importance. Actually vital on a professional scale. It’s a fight. A good one we can all enjoy if well served. We don’t accept a script unless we see potential. This goes from bread and butter productions to award winning campaigns. If we feel there is potential to grow the director, to develop the company reel or to build a new relationship long term we will engage. If we go in for the money only, we don’t take it on. It’s already an exhausting job we all do, you want to put your attention and energy into work that can speak for itself and therefore allow for the company to expand globally. Good work is talked about, good work is looked at, good work is remembered. Our talent deliver that, and we as a production company needs to make sure they can deliver this as well.
LBB> Can you explain the mentality of Belgium as a nation and how it gives Hamlet an advantage in this sense?
Jason> I mentioned before that Belgium is such a small country. It almost has an identity issue due to the language barrier, which has allowed us to globalise our way of thinking. To many the local culture isn’t something they can relate to, so Belgium has grown into a kind of ‘people’s culture’. Belgium is an interesting hub of mixed races and cultures from all around the world. This has given us a great sense of style and self motivation to the arts and crafts. We’re a curious culture. Hamlet is a little like that.
LBB> How does your roster of directors affect this outlook?
Ruben> We represent directors from all continents. This was a clear ambition from the start of Hamlet. Our Hamlet is populated with creative craftsmen experimenting with form, structure and cutting edge technology from all over the world. It is making our Hamlet unique and exceptional.
Jason> Massively, we love each individual talent on our roster, even if we sometimes have our moments. We have our egos, we have our demands and expectations but the Hamlet roster is the reason behind the company's success. Of course with the help of some amazing producers and trusted agencies but the combination of these elements is what has been giving us a great deal of exposure and good work.
LBB> What are the different ways in which this affects the way you work?
Ruben> Understanding and accepting the differences. Differences in languages, differences in cultures, differences in work ethics, and many more. If you are not able to accept these differences, an international collaboration will end very quickly.
Jason> Ruben and I are partners for this reason, we understand the importance of looking further than our borders and have adapted to our international network.
LBB> Can you talk about some campaigns that demonstrate your global influence and reach?
Ruben> We have been working with agencies and clients from Japan to the US. A few months ago, we produced a global campaign for Samsonite. Not only did the client, agency and production/directors came from different parts of the world, we also wanted to give the film a global look and opted for shooting on two different continents at the same time, South America and Asia, while the agency was based in Europe and client’s headquarters in the US. It really was a challenge to work in these different time zones, especially as our poor line producer didn’t see her bed very much!
Jason> We worked on a Lexus campaign with Ian Pons Jewell a while back for Japanese agency Dentsu. Produced by a Belgian company, shot in South Africa with a Spanish / English director and I can’t recall the rest of the nationalities, but it was a lot! This big mixture of culture can from time to time generate some instances of ‘lost in translation’, but if dealt with in the right way, the whole collaboration becomes an absolute pleasure and is one of the main reasons why we dedicate so much energy into what we do. Working with a global network of creative people is very enriching and fulfilling. It has given me an amazing sense of respect for the cultures around me as well as keeping the energy to keep going.