© Mirjam van der Linden
Martijn Winkler is a writer, director and producer for VERTOV, an Amsterdam based production company that creates audiovisual stories for the web, television and cinema screen. Martijn co-founded VERTOV in 2011, and has since been producing award-winning series. Martijn has been a WorkZoku member for 3 years at Zoku Amsterdam, creating some of his best work in our Social Spaces and has become a much loved member of the community!
What brought you to Amsterdam?
My studies at the University of Amsterdam and the Netherlands Film Academy. After graduating from both, I stayed here. For two reasons mainly: 1. In the Netherlands, the film industry is mostly set in and around Amsterdam. And 2. This is an amazing city, international, cultural, beautiful. I would not want to live anywhere else in the Netherlands.
What path has your career taken?
When I look back, the main driving force and connection in all my activities from preschooler until now, is telling stories. From writing books, to creating theater plays, to directing movies, and even performing as a magician: telling stories for an audience (not always attending out of free will, mind you, sorry mom) has always been my focus. I feel very lucky and humbled that I have been able to turn that into my profession. Working now from the production company I co-founded in 2011, VERTOV, and alongside many talented colleagues. No longer making films in my teens like ‘The Killer Guinea Pig’, out of lack of any real actors, but now creating innovative commercials, series & feature films, like my most recent drama series SWIPE – which won a prestigious Rose d’Or Award. (Fun fact: I wrote SWIPE at Zoku!) “Work” for me is both a profession and a calling, which helps me to push on when things get tough. To that end, and to better the position of directors in the Netherlands and in Europe, I have been heavily involved in the board of FERA, the European Directors Network, and was president of the Dutch Directors Guild for seven years. It prides me to think I can give back to the community of creators who have helped me when I started out, by representing them at legislative developments or negotiations with broadcasters.
What is your relationship with Zoku, and what are your thoughts?
I have been a Zoku member, working in the Social Spaces, for almost 3 years now. I remember the first time I came here, walking though the Greenhouse, feeling the vibe, meeting some of the lovely Sidekicks, I knew immediately and instinctively: this is the place where I want to write. And I have been coming here ever since to do just that: write screenplays for my drama series and films. For me it’s such a perfect place for that: writing can be difficult and very lonely, but at Zoku there is always something going on, people hanging out. That inspires me, and also motivates me, because everyone at Zoku is doing such amazing work, focused on such lovely projects. Of course, there’s also that lunch, which is something I look forward to as a treat, especially when I’m working on a difficult scene or dialogue. “Ok Martijn, finish writing this page, and then you can get your salad!” Often, that’s all the motivation I need!
What’s a life-changing song, film, event or book you’d like to recommend to others?
Film: I have many, many life-changing films, but let me mention just one here, which I first saw when I was 15 years old: Hiroshima Mon Amour by Alain Resnais, that totally opened my eyes to another kind of filmmaking: not just a story, not just entertainment, but an artwork that can exist only on a cinema screen.
Book: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison – Before reading this novel, I could never have imagined that literature could read like jazz music, could upset and compound the reader, could use language as a machine gun of thoughts. If you have any question at all if or how literature can be an essential instrument of social, cultural, racial change, then read this. It totally blew me away when I first read this when I was 18, and still does every time I reread it
What is your top tip for being productive while working from home?
Create a separate space for work in your home. However small, or temporary, a special space where you will work that day, ideally with some comfort and ergonomic options (like laptop higher up on a stand or pile of books). I made the huge error at the start of the lockdown, to just pull out the laptop on my couch in the living room and spend the day there. It was exhausting. Creating a separate space makes work a separate instance, from which you can walk away for a break, or leave behind at the end of the day. It focuses your attention and creates a divide between work and private life. However arbitrary that might seem, it is hugely important for your productivity and, frankly, your sanity. And it leaves your couch free for some relax-time.
What’s your current/newly discovered go-to product, service or app you would recommend to others?
Often my MacBook is filled with different windows from different applications that are running. This results in a cluttered look, and takes the focus away from the window on top that I am working in. I started using the app HazeOver: Distraction Dimmer, which automatically darkens everything around the main window you are working in, creating a great focus. It is very flexible – you can adjust the amount of darkening to your liking, or exempt certain applications – and runs perfectly in the background to really help you work better.
Which book/product have you gifted the most?
What I always give to my interns at the end of their internship, is the book Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. I love its fun design and main message that young people often struggle with: being creative (or even original) is not about creating something completely from scratch, it’s about standing on the shoulders of those who came before you, using other ideas, making them your own, and expanding upon them. Your voice is what’s original, the way you execute an idea is what makes something unique and special. The idea itself… steal it!
What is the most interesting/inspiring place you’ve been to or have visited and what was so special about it?
I guess that was Tokyo. It was my first visit there ever, and I was blown away by it. In part this had to do with my reason for the visit, I had won the prestigious Japan Prize for one of my films, which was handed to me by the emperor of Japan himself. But really, I mostly found Tokyo so special after walking around for a few days. I expected a huge city, crowded and hectic. Well, Tokyo certainly is huge and crowded, but what amazed me was its silence, its calm and quiet. Even during rush hour, the city has a zen feel about it. The urban landscape is also interspersed with huge parks, forests and temple complexes, offering total silence and an immersion in nature, while still in the middle of the city. Astonishing. I came back from Tokyo more relaxed than I left.
What is one piece of advice or tip in your field of work that you want to give to people?
Wait. Take time.
Time is such a valuable asset. Jumping to conclusions, or acting hastily is not only unnecessary – often not doing anything makes a problem go away all by itself –, but it can also do harm, obstructing a solution that would truly be meaningful. Using time to wrap your mind around something, to explore different avenues, to allow yourself to look at the bigger picture, to fantasize… time is the most valuable commodity we have, I think, and should be spent more often.
How do you manage to keep up your mental health/wellbeing while working from home during these times?
Well, I try to listen to my own advice about taking time. 😉 When in lockdown, I see so many social media posts from people being super productive, and doing amazing stuff, each day, all the time… it can be rather daunting and overwhelming. Like those posts telling me Shakespeare wrote his King Lear during the plague lockdown. If I don’t do something just as important, I have failed! To escape that stifling thought, I try to allow myself time to reflect, to think, to meander, to do nothing. Use the time to get close to yourself, and to your loved ones. After the lockdown started, it took me five weeks or so to truly feel somewhat productive working at home. That time was necessary for me, for my creative work, to adjust and those five weeks do not feel wasted at all. By the way, all those posts about Shakespeare writing King Lear during lockdown: probably not true, as it turns out. I guess Shakespeare was taking some well-deserved downtime too.