JWT Amsterdam take us behind the scenes on the Rijksmuseum’s Night Watch recreation
Last week Dutch shoppers in the province of Brabant came face to face with an Old Master. As the Rijksmuseum prepared to open its doors after a ten-year, €375m revamp, sponsors ING turned to JWT Amsterdam for help celebrating the return of the epic collection of paintings. Creative team Rik Eysink Smeets and Nick van Beijnen turned to Rembrandt for inspiration and brought his famous ‘The Night Watch’ to life in a flash mob designed to turn mallrats into museum-goers. Laura Swinton caught up with Rik and Nick to find out more.
LBB> When the client came to you, what was the original brief like and how did you reach the flash mob idea?
R & N> For ten years, The Rijksmuseum (State Museum) was closed for renovation. Being the main sponsor, ING asked us to tell The Netherlands that the museum would reopen. Since all of the great works were to return to the museum after such a long period of absence, it seemed logical to do this literally. We took the most famous painting of all, Rembrandt's Night Watch, and let it ‘return’.
LBB> In terms of art direction, did the fact that you were working on such an iconic painting create any added pressures?
R & N> Yes and no. It made the assignment very simple: try to get as close to the original painting as possible. But it's easy to make it look like a silly masquerade. It's quite hard to get all the outfits, weapons and positions in the painting just right.
LBB> What was the research and design process like?
R & N> There's a great BBC documentary called 'Night Watch'. This helped us a lot discovering everything there is to know about the painting. It has been the most enjoyable research project for us because we got to learn a lot about the country and city we live in. The men of the Night Watch actually had their quarters a two-minute walk away from our office.
LBB> Unlike most flash mob events, there's a real sense of narrative - how did you go about developing the main story and the 'back stories' for the various characters in the painting?
R&N> We found that if the characters were to return, they'd be doing ‘Night Watch-things’. The Night Watch was a militia. This gave us the very useable hook for the thief-chase storyline. There's a lot known about the painting and the individual characters. For instance, with the little girl chasing the chicken; the chicken leg was the emblem of the militia, the little girl represents Rembrandt's mistress.
LBB> There's also a lot of action packed into the event, with lots of swashbuckling stunts! How did you balance the need to be bold and daring with the more pragmatic issues of working in a busy shopping centre?
R&N> This was one of the greatest surprises for us too. Apparently it is possible to do stunts in the middle of an uncontrolled crowd. We worked with Europe's best stunt team (De Beukelaer) and all the people flying and running around are trained stuntmen. The stunt team also secured safety. For instance, the spearmen made sure nobody used the staircase where our thief would be jumping into.
LBB> Who directed and choreographed the event and what did they bring to the finished piece?
R & N> This was a combined effort of director Coen Stroeve and stunt co-ordinator Willem de Beukelaer. We wrote most of the storyline, but after that some very important decisions were made. For instance, we chose not to shoot this as a film, but as a TV show. It meant we were very flexible. Co-ordinating ten cameras, 27 extras, eight stuntmen, six horses and two falcons, all in a four minute run, required an epic effort from both of them.
LBB> What is your favourite memory from the day of the shoot? What was the response like from shoppers?
R & N> We had rehearsed for two days, but there were so many variables (animals, extras, the frame mechanism) that we weren't sure it would all go well. Sitting behind the screens after we first heard "action" was very tense, so the relief was great when the frame dropped and we heard a massive applause coming from the shopping mall.