Nice2meet: Hans Heesterbeek, Video Portrait Producer


Could you please introduce yourself? 

My name is Hans Heesterbeek and I have been telling stories all my life. I was making plays at school, music and texts and lots of videos and TV programs. In the end, it always comes down to a story that touches people, in which emotion plays a role.

What is your background? What do you do?

From the late seventies and early eighties I have been working with video.

I started my career with an entrepreneurial boss, who saw the power of video at an early stage.  In that time we worked with open reel video recorders and with black and white cameras. We built a vidiwall ourselves before it was invented. We were doing this at the AutoRai, then one of the largest car fairs in the Benelux.

I was fascinated by technology and was following a study in electrical engineering. However, I got infected with the video virus and therefore left school and got a permanent job. It was a small company and I did everything: production, planning, camera, editing, light, sound, everything that had to do with the video, also sweeping and painting the studio.

In the mid-80s I ended up in London at a post-production company, which was creating digital effects, and that was very special at the time. Through that company I ended up at the BBC, where I received training as a director. Unfortunately, I could not stay there because of the unions and a green card. Therefore, I came back to the Netherlands, where I got a qualification in a film production, because I knew everything about video and hardly anything about film. In those days I was producing commercials and product programs for various advertising agencies on film and video. 

In 1986 I started my own company and it grew into a company with 12 permanent employees and a number of freelancers, with whom we frequently cooperated. We produced TV programs for all national broadcasters and many programs for national and international companies, company and product videos, general information, training, etc.

As internet became popular, the interest in video declined. Then we also started organizing events where we worked internationally for large brands.

Eventually, I wanted to make more substantive work. So I choose to make programs for and about people.

Could you please tell us more about your video portraits? How did you come into doing what you’re doing? What are you trying to achieve with this project?

Video portraits of people is a story they want to tell and documentaries about everything that keeps people busy and what you can experience. Stories! A video portrait is disarming, it touches, moves and it connects people through emotion. Everyone has a story!

Telling your story also allows you to share your vulnerability, to tell what moves you, what certain things have done to you, it is emotion, passion and sometimes anger and disappointment, or also joy. Everyone has a story, and it is up to you to make the choice to tell that story for whatever purpose. And I love to capture that story in images and sound.

It is my conviction that a well-made video portrait lets a viewer come across a story. I make portraits based on the personal conversation with the main character and/or the people around that person. Because sometimes it can also be a surprise for those for whom the portrait is intended. Video portraits are modern, authentic, truthful, personal images for all kinds of purposes.

Telling stories with images and sound touches and connects people. It makes people laugh and cry at the same time. Stories move you, one way or the other.

What do you think is the best part of your job? What makes you the most happy with it?

The best thing about my work is that I get to know people, that people entrust their story to me. To step into their lives, that I can “imagine” their story. It can sometimes be very simple that someone wants to celebrate a birthday and tell the person’s history with congratulations.

Sometimes I am with someone who knows that they will become demented and they would like to record their story for their family. And also for themselves, that when the time comes they can look at memories which bring them back for a moment. 

It may also be that we are with a person who has only a short time left and would like to save his story for the next of kin or perhaps share one last wish or wisdom.
I am grateful that I can capture these people with images and sound and with all kinds of photos, video fragments or additional images or interviews to make a beautiful story. Making portraits also makes friendships and that makes me humble and grateful.

Could you tell about one of the projects which was the most special to you?

There are several projects which are special to me. I will mention one. 

Annelies is a woman of 57 years. Her life and that of her family changed completely after an accident in which she suffered traumatic brain injury. I met her about 2.5 years ago in the care villa where she lived and I did some voluntary work there at the time.

It is the story of several people; Annelies, her family and Irene. 

Annelies wanted to return to society. She met Irene, who saw and gave her that what she needed was also able to give her the right guidance. Irene: “Look at people and then you see what they need, don’t just look at the disease and complete the procedure or protocol. Every person is different, needs different things and needs different care. Whenever possible, people with severe trauma will return to society in a functional, but especially happy way”.

Annelies now lives independently, works 3 days a week in a bookstore and is no longer dependent on benefits.

Below is a commentary from the Secretary General of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport after seeing the documentary, the portrait.

I find the documentary to be recommended for a variety of reasons. First, it is of course a heart-breaking, heart-warming, humorous and hopeful documentary. It puts a “condition” in the window that deserves more attention, including the impact on the family. It gives a nice picture of how important it is to be a healthcare provider, to have an overall picture of the situation, including the social context, in order to arrive at good professional considerations. It is a beautiful hymn to professionals in care and the importance of closeness and dare to colour outside the lines. With a powerful message not to settle in too quickly recovery is possible!

What is the biggest challenge you’re facing with your project?

The biggest challenge is selling a portrait. It is not a product that you ‘sell’. It must appeal to people to have faith in me as a maker. It is not a fast Instagram or Facebook movie. It is a document with a lot of personal value and people’s vulnerability. I can’t sell this either; I can only tell what it can mean for someone. It is a meaningful product.

In what way do you feel creative expression has changed your life?

Over the past 30 years I have seen many things through my work, met people. I have made all kinds of video and TV programs and I am most fortunate about programs that touch people and make a connection. It was very special to be there and to see and feel the stories. I can say that my profession has made me rich with beautiful people and experiences.

How do you see your project developing in the future?

The best thing is when people start to see the value of it, the value of stories and survival of those stories. You have something to say or you have something to be desired and I hope that people will trust me because I make it for them. I get to know many beautiful people with beautiful stories who want to have an honest portrait made for them. I wish everyone the best way to tell his or her story.