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Bas Berkhout

Filmmaker and Director of Like Knows Like

Bas Berkhout is a Dutch filmmaker and director living and working in New York. In 2012 he started the viral documentary film series Like Knows Like, where he profiles the personal stories of famous Internet artists, creatives and bloggers. Using this style of filmmaking, he works with brands to help tell their story through film and photography. Bas shares how he was originally rejected from film school, how he started in film and how he has been able to blend his artistic practice with paid work.

Tell me a little bit about what you’re working on right now?

There's quite a few projects ongoing at the moment. Besides my ongoing independent work, I'm creating a lot of branded content with Vimeo and also directly with clients. One example is the InFrame video series that I'm working on with the team at Format. In addition, I'm also doing some directing and producing for a corporate organization where I help them create engaging internal video communications. There's a good mix of independent work and branded content that I do with clients around the US.

How did your video series Like Knows Like originally start?

So before I moved to the US, I lived in the Netherlands, I just moved here two and a half years ago. About five years before I moved, I did two 40-minute long documentaries. One of them won a lot of awards, which was great. Instead of creating more documentaries I decided to take on a lot more client work. That ended up growing into a company where I had hired freelance videographers and it got to the point where I was just basically managing them. I was making schedules, making sure videographers were where they need to be, and making sure video was being delivered to clients. At a certain point I found I was no longer being fulfilled creatively. So together with photographer Marije Kuiper, I decided to start Like Knows Like, as a creative outlet and a type of distraction. I had all of the skills to do the entire project myself, camera work, editing etc. I was excited to meet my fellow creatives and hear their "real" stories. I wanted to know and share what their lives looked like past their social media accounts. That project really opened my eyes.

The gap between my paid corporate work and the unpaid creative work through Like Knows Like was growing wider and wider. Around the same time some personal life events drove me to take a sabbatical. I had done a film on Tina Roth Eisenberg and she invited me to come to New York and take a desk at Studiomates. So I thought about it and made the move to New York. When that happened I made the decision to focus as much as possible on storytelling and documentary filmmaking. That's where the team at Format came in. They recognized Like Knows Like and reached out about doing a video series. So recently I turned Like Knows Like into a boutique agency, where I help brands connect with their audiences using storytelling.

You’ve developed this great style of video storytelling that’s created as branded content. I would love to know how you’re able to keep creative control and tell an authentic story in that type of work?

Well if I’m being completely honest, it depends on the money. If you're working with a lower budget you can ask the client for a lot of creative freedom. So, if there isn't a huge budget but you think it’s super interesting to work on, you can keep a lot of the creative control. In that scenario I can have the space to tell a story and create my vision. It’s about telling a compelling story.

There are other types of projects where the budget is much higher, and in that case, I need to deliver whatever it is the client wants. That being said, I like to work with clients who value my opinion. I like to have a dialogue and make sure that opinion comes across and I fight the good fight if I feel strongly about something. At the end of the day, if you sign a contract that is work for hire, you have to make the changes that they ask for.

What I try to do is make a lot of great independent work. People will see that and then I get hired for that type of work. It may get watered down a little in the process but initially, you were hired because they loved your work.

You’ve been doing filmmaking for 13 years, how did you get started in film?

I once hosted a national children’s TV show when I was eleven. Being around all those crewmembers I felt a sense of belonging. I wanted to be part of that world when I grew older. In college, I took a four-year multimedia program, it was quite broad, we focused on advertising, marketing, and many other related disciplines. I wanted to go to film school. I applied for multiple film schools and they all rejected me. I felt incredibly insecure about it. I hung out with a lot of artist friends who were in school for art and I always felt like I fell short because I didn’t have a proper education in art. Then I made this documentary, it was a completely independent piece and ended up winning a couple of awards. That made my insecurity of not having any film-related schooling go away.

Along the way, I tried many different rolls within film. From shooting, to editing, producing and directing. That’s what made me so multidisciplinary today.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you face in your work currently?

Before I moved to New York, I only cared about making clients happy. I was really providing video as a service for corporate clients. Now that I'm focusing on my artistic voice and being hired for that, it is much tougher when clients want to make a change. Especially if I feel very strongly about it. That's a big challenge. It is a balance to stay close to the art, but also be able to make money.

I need a lot of fulfillment now; I don't want to just work for the money anymore. If a project is well paid but I don't have a lot of fun, I'm not going to do it. I'll walk away from it. I can obviously only do that because I was able to save a little bit. When you're just starting out, you need to take on everything. For your experience, to get a financial buffer and make sure you're on the right path.

How do you balance the creative work that you’re doing with the admin and business-related work that you need to do as well?

There’s certainly a lot more formalities in the US. You need to sign contracts, negotiate, and there's a lot more parties involved. It is definitely very demanding what you need to do as a one-man band. It’s getting tougher, so I’m becoming more open to trusting other people to help me.

I’m so used to doing everything myself, it’s becoming more work but it’s still doable. I’d love to be able to focus on the creative part solely. That is definitely on the horizon, I’m not there yet, but I do feel I’m working towards that.

It can also be difficult to let others help you with your work. Letting go of control of certain things is a challenge itself.

What are the tools and equipment you’re using on a daily basis?

iPhone - I do a lot of work from my iPhone.

Email - I drag everything out of my inbox and into folders. What remains there I use as a to-do list. I’m very organized.

Premiere Pro - I use this program for video editing.

Lightroom - I use this program for photo editing.

Sony FS7 - This is the camera that I use mostly for film.

Canon 5D Mark III - The Canon is what I use for photography.

Are you naturally comfortable interviewing people on camera and working in that way, or was it something that you had to learn?

I feel like I have a lot to learn there still. I have been good at getting to the heart of people and showing their vulnerability and I think that really resonates with people. But I do still think that I have a long way to go in terms of continuing to ask deeper questions, more difficult questions. Being able to confront people or even be more empathetic - to really understand and go deeper.

In work like yours where you are very much a one-man band, it can be easy to become overwhelmed with everything that needs to get done. How do you avoid burning out?

I am super organized by nature, I take care of things immediately. Every morning I wake up around 6am and every day I make a list and work through it. Getting rid of stuff right away is how I keep everything moving. Once I'm in that flow, it feels comfortable to be really busy.

I'm almost the opposite where I feel depressed if I'm not doing things. I need to stay busy. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a wife who’s not incredibly stressed out by that behavior. I can get really intense and want to have control of every situation. Sometimes I need to chill the hell out.

The only moment that I came close to a burnout was when I wasn’t feeling fulfilled in my work.

I'm constantly chasing that feeling of fulfillment. That's why I'm doing a lot of short films, it's that sense of accomplishment every time one is done. If I do long format again and I’m working on a project for a year, I can start to feel like I’m losing touch with my audience and clients.

Why do you do what you do and what makes it so meaningful to you?

Storytelling is so important to me because I learn through connecting with a subject. I learn through interviewing, seeing someone’s world, and visiting places. That is the most beautiful thing about photography and filmmaking is that you see places, you learn about life, you learn about people and then indirectly, you learn about yourself. I’m always trying to get to the essence of life, what is the meaning, what is the purpose? I try to get those answers from the people I profile, and I learn a little bit more about myself and life every time.

Who would you want to see on Ways We Work?

Jimmy Marble

Jon Burgerman

Noah Kalina

Michael Scoggins

Scott David Laufer

Catalina Estrada

Thomas Medicus