NORTH: Groningen’s Own Student-Produced Television Series

It’s really energizing to see creative output coming from this northernmost city in the Netherlands that sometimes seems floating under-the-radar when it comes to moving-image fiction production. On the contrary, there’s an abundance of creative forces producing independent works that are worthy of attention and critical assessment. If not, at least deserved crucial support from the film/TV enthusiasts out here. North is an exemplary of this. An ambitious project of putting television series that centers on the international student life here in Groningen. So far there are two full length episodes that are waiting to be launched once the entirety of the season is produced. I hope we shall be able to witness this sooner rather than later. Here is the plotline as it’s described by the production house of the series, Stranger Things Have Happened. Below that is a short interview I made with the man behind this project, Thomas Mook.

North follows a group of international students in the city of Groningen as they struggle against the half Irish, half Scottish mob boss McSeamus, all the while trying to survive university, make friends, and experience all that student life has to offer. There’s laughter, there’s tears, there’s bad mustaches and Spanish lovers, there’s four leaf clovers and two faced liars. But most of all, there’s friendship and a shared international grudge against living in a city where no one can pronounce its name. [http://strangerthings.nl/north/]

 

First of all, as generic as this may sound in an interview, but do you mind telling me a little bit about yourself and your background?

I was born in Groningen, and I’ve been active in the theatre scene for about a decade. For the past four years, I’ve been involved with English theatre, specifically. In late 2009, I wrote and directed a play called “Our Father.” By then, I was a member of Stranger Things Have Happened and had established enough contacts to start a film project.

 

Could you explain to me what Stranger Things Have Happened is? Is this a production house that you run at the moment or more of a collective unit in producing moving image fiction in Groningen?

Stranger Things Have Happened functions as the production house for North, but it is generally a collective of people who write, direct and perform in the English theatre and improv comedy. It was founded in the summer of 2009 and has found success with its weekly and monthly improv comedy shows. This success was partly what has helped me attracted the right people to the series.


Now, how did this idea to produce North come about?  And why television series? Specifically for Groningen context, do you think Groningen is pretty quiet when it comes to projects such as this one?

I’ve always had a fascination for international students, and those who come to Groningen specifically. We’re seen by the west* as a kind of ‘outback’ – almost like a quiet frontier town. That, to me, was an interesting backdrop for a group of people from various cultural backgrounds. I felt that making a short film wouldn’t do the scope of the story justice, so a mini series was decided on. The only way you can pull off something as ambitious as ‘North’ is by surrounding yourself with the right people, and the USVA Film Collective and Stranger Things came together in a wonderful way.

[*Editor’s note: West as in Western region/cities of the Netherlands, in case for you international readers who are not familiar with this 🙂 ]

 

Could you elaborate how the process of the making of North unfolds? Technical details will be valuable here [e.g. is it shot in a single-camera system or two-camera? Film or all digital? And what software did you guys use for non-linear editing?

It’s a single-camera show, shot digitally and in High Definition. Technically, for a show of our budget, we were pretty blessed with dollies and cranes. Jeroen Meijer, our director of photography, is one of those wonderful film nuts who tinkers and builds his own equipments. He practically had a whole film studio in his suitcases. For post production, we had access to Final Cut Pro. Our music is put together on a Mac Pro workstation with Pro Tools. I prefer the whole workflow to be OS X based, but that’s a personal choice, and the team that works along with me feels the same way.

 

How much time did you guys need for pre-production, production to editing and finalizing the whole two episodes, and most importantly how will the series be launched? Is it going to be broadcast on local or regional television networks?

We started pre-production in January 2009, and filmed for two weeks in July. Post production and editing is scheduled to be completed this December. All in all, it took us one year to go from absolutely nothing to having two full length television episodes. I suspect that future episodes can be put together in a fraction of that timeframe, now that we have our team together and we’re a little bit more settled into the routine of doing television. We have contacts with a regional network, and the plan is to launch North on television, but since no contract has been signed yet I prefer not to comment. We’re also looking to expand and see if other local stations are interested, and if we can get coverage at film festivals.

 

As far as the narrative goes, what makes North interesting and different than any other student-theme fiction, be it a feature film or TV series for that matter? What kind of responses do you anticipate from the viewers? And if you are concerned at all if the show will be critically received?

The narrative frequently switches between comedy and more dramatic moments, and I like to think it does so successfully. It borrows a lot from typical Stranger Things humor, and intercuts with flashbacks, imaginary sequences, and the likes. North is a little strange in a good way, and I don’t think you can compare it with anything that’s on the market right now. It’s also shot beautifully – in an early meeting with my director of photography, we decided that the extra work that would go into making this a truly filmic experience would be worth it. We shoot digitally, but other than that I like to think we have a pretty classical style – depth of field adaptors, and so on. To realize we pulled that off with our budget on that time limit is pretty cool, and it’s a testimony to the talent of our film crew, most of which came from the USVA Film Collective. Obviously, I hope the series will be successful. I like to think the audience will come to identify with our characters and care for them even while they laugh with or at them: I think North has a lot of heart, and that’s infectious.

I guess for the last question, what is the next plan for North or Stranger Things Have Happened in general? Any more potential projects? And what do you have to see happening in Groningen as far as film or television culture is concerned?

Aside from our many improv comedy shows, we’ve had several theatre plays under our belt. This December, we’re performing “Osama The Hero” in the OUT Theatre, which is an existing play written by Dennis Kelly. As for North, we’re gearing up to acquire sponsors for our new episodes, which we’re looking to shoot next year. Any more information can be found on http://www.strangerthings.nl!

As for the film and television culture in Groningen, and this may be a very biased opinion, but keep a close watch on the student community. Groups like the USVA Film Collective are coming out with material that’s more original and daring than what you can often find on regional TV right now, and that’s a good thing. You can find screenings of these projects at Vera, Images or USVA. Hopefully they’re a sign of good things to come!

Thank you for doing the interview and success to Stranger Things Have Happened!

Thank you for the interview!

 

Interview by Ari Ernesto Purnama.

Photo credits: North/Stranger Things Have Happened.

 

[Check out their website as well as their North teaser below:

http://www.strangerthings.nl/north; http://www.facebook.com/northseries]


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