Ralf v/d Veerdonk is 36 years old and based in the Netherlands. He runs his own film production company called Veerdonk Visuals. When he graduated from film school he immediately started his own film production company. That's now over a decade ago. It actually took off like a rocket and he never looked back.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Inspiration can come from anywhere, really. When I’m running or driving a long distance in the car is when the best creative ideas come up in my mind. But also watching other filmmakers’ work on Vimeo can be very inspiring.
Any common themes that run through your art?
Not any particular themes but I have a certain camera operating style. Which is a certain subtle cinematic camera movement. That can be a dolly shot on a slider, a steady cam or gimbal shot or a drone shot. It needs to be as silky smooth as possible as I dislike a deliberate ‘dirty handheld’ camera operating style. The speed and composition of that camera movement is very important to me. It needs to be perfect.
What compels you to share and create?
The feedback I get from people all around the world especially on my travel, lifestyle and hospitality content is amazing. It motivates me to create more content when people enjoy my work.
What are you hoping to accomplish?
To be honest, I accomplished far more than I would ever thought possible. I’ve been hired for assignments on the most remote and luxurious places on earth. From exquisite private island resorts in the Maldives, cast-away resorts in Fiji and the Cook Islands, fabulous overwater villa resorts with gorgeous lagoons in Tahiti and Bora Bora, Marlon Brando’s private dream atoll with a private airline that flies their exclusive guests in, to filming in submarines, on exclusive yachts in the Caribbean, and one of the world’s most exclusive ski resorts in Lech, Austria. But also tv commercials for national television in the Netherlands, interesting assignments for the Dutch government, multinational companies like Epson and Asus (to name a few) and many other national and international clients. It never gets dull!
What is your creative process like?
That varies a lot. For some clients I create an entire concept, script and shot list in pre-production with filming on location and the entire post-production afterwards. A full-service agency. And for other clients I only do the camera operating for instance. It varies all the time. You have to be flexible and multidisciplinary. However if I can develop a communication strategy concept and outline each individual scene with a storyboard and scriptwriting, that’s when the creative juices really start flowing. Working that creative concept out in collaboration with a client and then seeing it all coming together as we progress when the camera rolls, is always a fantastic process.
What filmmakers inspire you most?
Not many in particular to be quite honest. However I do like most of the work from Mark Toia, an Australian filmmaker. I’m also always in awe by the BBC World documentaries like Planet Earth series, especially considering the amount of work and patience they need to bring to the table in order to end up with the required footage of specific animal behaviour. I always enjoy the ‘behind the lens’ parts at the end of each episode where you can see a little bit of the struggles they went through. Just astonishing!
What equipment and editing software do you use?
I started out with Canon camera bodies and lenses. But as Canon was/is pretty conservative and slow with innovating technical features like sensor resolution, RAW video codecs and high frame rates to their cameras, I switched to Sony that was shaking things up in 2015. With the use of a Metabones Speedbooster I was able to use all of my Canon glass which worked well for me. I often used a Atomos Shogun Inferno to record 4K RAW externally. But just recently I switched back to Canon as they upped their game with the Canon C200. Being able to shoot RAW internally in 4K is just amazing, along with the perfect Dual Pixel autofocus really helps my workflow as a one-man-band filmmaker. The footage just looks so extremely pleasing and cinematic to my eye. I was instantly in love with it. When I started to colorgrade the Canon C200 footage for the first time, I realized how much I missed the Canon colour science during my Sony era, so to speak. I mainly use lovely Canon Compact-Servo Cinema Zoom lenses that create stunning visuals. For editing I use Apple’s Final Cut Pro X. During my film school days I had to use Adobe’s Premiere and I was always so happy when I could switch to Final Cut 7 in those days. Now with FCPX editing is just a breeze as everything works so intuitive. I can’t imagine switching to any other NLE software.
Do find yourself shooting a mix of stills and video?
When I’m filming on location for an interesting assignment then I often shoot stills on the side for sure. But my core business and main focus is always film.
Similarities between photography and video?
The similarities between photography and video is often a good composition and telling a story with that composition. In post-production, the colour correcting and grading is also a similarity of course. But film goes way beyond photography in terms of complexity if you would ask me. I mean, film is 24, 25 or whatever frame rate you use, per second. That creates a lot more possibilities. Not mentioning the role of audio, which is also a huge addition to the entire experience of a viewer. You can really stimulate the senses with carefully crafted music and subtle sound effects.
What advice do you have for visual storytellers?
Well, just go out and shoot! Mess up, learn from it and try again. Watch other filmmakers that are out of your league (at this moment) and try to nail down what it is that makes their work stand out. Other than that, there are no shortcuts or hacks, you need to put in the work to develop yourself and work your way up. Eventually you will develop your own set of skills style that sets your work apart.
When composing a shot, what are you looking for?
Balance. Balanced compositions are strong and appealing to the eye. Sometimes these are tight shots with shallow depth of field, other times wide dolly shots with subtle movement. But I always try to find balance in my compositions.
What do you find yourself enjoying most these days?
During these strange days of social distancing, I’m enjoying my custom made screensaver with the full takes of my own best shots around the world. It blows my mind every time I see my own footage to realize that I was there. But I’m also working on the concepts of a few local passion projects that I’m going to do as soon as the whole situation has normalized. Looking forward to that!
Any place that is high on your to-explore-list? Why?
I’ve been to every single continent except South America. So I’d like to explore Brazil and Patagonia in particular. But I’d also like to visit Lofoten in Norway as it is so remote and looking so peaceful. I know that it’s been filmed and photographed already by so many people but I’d like to capture it in my own perspective.
Destinations where you would not revisit? Why?
I’m pretty sure I won’t return to Shanghai and Beijng in China anymore. Interesting city’s to explore but the people over there are so unaware of their surroundings and not hospitable. That was a cultural shock for me but that's just my experience.
What is the next adventure for you?
Good question. Could be Lech in Austria again for a summer image film for the same renowned hotel as I produced a winter image film for, but we’ll have to see how things will develop the comings weeks and months. It’s a serious crisis we’re all in at the moment and I’m afraid we’re not out of the woods for a long time.
What are your 5 most favourite travel destinations?
Bora Bora and Moorea in French Polynesia are definitely topping my list.
Both islands are extremely lush and beautiful and have the well-known Polynesian overwater bungalows with Bora Bora being more exclusive at the top end of luxury. Bora Bora truly is the ultimate tropical island where dreams are made of. Just picture perfect and considered by many as the most beautiful tropical island on earth. The soaring volcanic mountain peaks, the pristine turquoise lagoon full of tropical fish and of course the luxurious overwater bungalows look even more spectacular in real life than in the pictures.
But it’s a tiny island and that’s where Moorea comes into play. Moorea is one of the most scenically striking islands in French Polynesia. It has even more dramatic volcanic mountain peaks, is also blessed with a blue lagoon and there are more land-based activities in Moorea. So you can get more active here.
I’ve been to French Polynesia three times now and I really like the mystical Polynesian culture with it’s traditional music, dance, art, language and friendly people. Spending several days for filming in the Brando Suite on Bora Bora was probably one of the highlights.
I think most people are familiar with the Maldives. But it is a nation of small islands encircled by the most perfect coral reefs in the Indian Ocean. The soft white sand, swaying palm trees and exquisite resorts make you feel like living in a dream. I’ve been flown in on 4 different Maldivian island resorts by now and it’s always a privilege to go there. Especially by seaplane which is a spectacular experience! I remember arriving on the airport in Male for the second time and how cool it was to see my footage of my first visit on several tv screens on the national airport.
Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town is one of the greatest city’s I’ve ever visited. I’m not too fond of visiting cities in general but Cape Town is truly something special. On one side the ocean with awesome great white sharks swimming in it and on the other side the majestic Table Mountain. In between a vibrant and modern city with a European feel to it. It just has a fantastic vibe somehow. There are also more than enough game reserves in the neighbourhood to check out the big five. I never forget hearing the local Afrikaans that sounds like pre-historic Dutch. It’s so funny for Dutch people to hear and read that language. I really enjoyed my time over there!
Last but not least, the Alps.
Whether it’s the renowned Arlberg in Austria, the iconic Matterhorn in Switzerland, the Dolomites of Italy or Mont Blanc in France, the imposing mountains and beautiful lakes of the Alps are simply out of this world. Although it’s relatively close to the Netherlands, it’s really one of my favourite places to travel to. There are so incredibly many gorgeous places over there. But for me the most picturesque place is Val di Funes (or Villnöß in German) in Southern Tyrol in the rugged Italian Dolomites.
That valley looks just straight out of a fairytale! I can’t describe it any differently.
What’s the best decision you have ever made?
Well many decisions have led to where I am today. But I think the best decision is one I take very often. Just be open for everything that comes your way. Whether it was starting at film school or taking up assignments where I didn’t had a clue how it would end. I just started and it worked out all the time. And it often led to even more interesting opportunities along the way.
What’s your favourite part of your work?
There are so many aspects that I like. Doing something that I love on a daily basis. Being able to turn my hobby into my profession. Traveling to great places all over the world, creating fantastic imagery where I could only dream of several years ago. Meeting the most fantastic people everywhere from all walks of life and cultures. Having an inside look at so many companies and learning a lot from the people that work at all these companies. Being my own boss and therefore being able to spend loads of family time with my wife and three boys as well. I’m perfectly happy and could’t ask for anything more, really!