Filmmaker Interview: Sam de Jong (Prins/Prince)

Sam de Jong’s feature film debut, Prince, tells the story of seventeen-year-old Ayoub, a boy with a lot on his plate: his father is a junkie, his mother is a lonely divorcé, and his sister is falling in with the wrong crowd.

Haunted by his father’s terrible reputation, Ayoub can’t get the attention of Laura, the most beautiful girl in the neighborhood. He does, however, gain the attention of Kalpa, an eccentric, purple Lamborghini-driving, psychotically violent local criminal. Falling in with Kalpa, Ayoub tries to enlarge his status (and wallet) enough to win Laura over but soon finds that his new life is far more than he bargained for.

Writer/Director Sam de Jong was born in Amsterdam and raised on the outskirts of the city. He graduated from the Dutch film school in 2012 with the short film Magnesium. Before graduating Sam directed documentaries, music videos, commercials and drama films and has continued to do so. Since Magnesium he made the short films Marc Jacobs and Malaguti Phantom before writing and directing his first feature Prince. His short work has been critically acclaimed and awarded around the world. He is currently writing his second feature and his first feature is about to be released after opening the generations program at the 2015 Berlinale.

Now, Prince is available in the US and On Demand via Vice & Filmbuff. Anticipating the US theatrical debut of this most original film, we spoke with Sam (from my new location in Amsterdam itself) about the Dutch capital’s filmmaking infrastructure, The juxtaposed aesthetics of Prince, a certain, sexy purple Lamborghini, and more.

What was the first aspect of, what would ultimately become, Prince that came to you? Was it a certain character, theme, look…?
The story originated from this young kid I used to know. It always fascinated me how he grew up. In contrast, I grew up pretty “safe” and he grew quite the opposite. By the age of 10 I saw how this life had affected him as a person. He was unable to dream. He had to fight to survive and be respected. I wanted to translate this drive of his into a feature film.

Does the narrative of the film coincide with your own experiences growing up in the Netherlands?
Well, the whole element of transformation does: being more affluent, earning respect, being cool, changing swagger… This was all part of my own life while I was growing up. Also, I grew up with divorced parents and I had a younger sibling who had a girlfriend before I did, which is also an element in the film. I had been working with many of these kids on short film’s before, so by now our stories are kind of mixed together.

How did you and your DP (Paul Özgür) approach the cinematographic look of the film? Did your strategy evolve between the time of conceptualization to post production?
The film starts pretty static and humanistic as we establish its status quo. Paul and I really wanted the hero’s emotional journey to be reflected stylistically. As he gradually loses control of his friends, situations and himself, and starts acting tough, the film stylistically transforms to show his inner world. It is around the time he buys the new shoes, where he now “walks the walk” sort to speak. At that point, we could have placed him into a film like Saturday Night Fever, as Kalpa’s world is hyper coked-out.

The neighbourhood we shot in is rather boring, but while we were filming a heatwave struck. Since we couldn’t get away we had to adapt, so the designer and DP came up with the Yellow/Blue scheme. We painted the doors and other areas in this color scheme.  To juxtapose, Kalpa’s neon world represents the temptations of capitalism by breaking this color scheme.

Why did you choose to include the purple Lamborghini? Was this a difficult prop to come by in Amsterdam?
I just dreamt it. The car was owned by a Lamborghini dealer who primarily sells to Russians. We found that Purple Lamborghinis are very rare. Only around 80 exist in the world.

The car was a big part of the budget but worth every penny. The dealer would drive the car to set in a trailer and preferred we push it with the engine turned off instead of drive it. It was not easy to move the car around this way so it slowed production down a bit.

As funding for film production is slightly different in Europe than in America, can you give us an idea as to how Prince was funded? Was it 100% through public funds or did you include private investors as well?
It was primarily funded by the Dutch Film Fund. Just as I decided I wanted to do a low budget film the fund came up with a new one for low budget films made by young filmmakers. This coincided nicely with this project.

We then pitched it to our friends at Vice. They really liked our approach and use of non-professional actors, especially with the diversity of ethnicities depicted.

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