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In the Netherlands, the day after Pentecost is a national holiday, therefore Highlite will be closed on 6 June.
Pushing creativity at Matthijs Gaat Door!

Pushing creativity at Matthijs Gaat Door!

Shortly after ending ‘De Wereld Draait Door’ in 2020 and hosting almost 15 years of Dutch talk show legacy, Matthijs van Nieuwkerk and his team started to work on a new TV show. Their dream was to create a Saturday night entertainment show, with a big band, lots of music, culture, and interesting stories, brought to your screen from a golden Art Deco-style decor, with the elegance and atmosphere of a visit to a theatre. Matthijs himself gathered an all-star team of editors, while Jeroen van Geffen was recruited by producing party Medialane. Jeroen has worked at De Wereld Draait Door as a Lighting Engineer during the last five seasons, when he was an upcoming Light Designer for Chain B.V., a major player in the Dutch broadcast and event industry. Together with his mentoring LD, Tom Jacobs, he took care of all lighting design for the new concept, starting season one. Even though the originally proposed theatrical theme didn’t make it, Matthijs Gaat Door has already aired its third season in a different but striking setting. We visited Jeroen at the studio for a tour around the set and to catch a glimpse of the creative process.

Just two months before the load-in of the first season, a full lockdown due to Covid struck, and the format of Matthijs Gaat Door was changed completely. While our beloved cultural sector had to close its doors, the team of Matthijs Gaat Door didn’t want to open a big theatre for their show, out of respect for all those who became stuck at home. The golden glitter and glamour had to make room for a totally different setting, which now is inseparable from the show. Inspired by a cover photo from Times Magazine, a large scaffolding was built, as a reference to the people who are rebuilding the world during the pandemic. In this scaffolding, two of the show’s biggest features are found – the Sven Hammond Big Band and a massive LED screen.

We talked to Jeroen van Geffen, Lighting Designer of Matthijs Gaat Door.

-              What does the lighting design of the show “Matthijs Gaat Door” means to you? Especially considering the original decor idea didn’t make it because of the situation we found ourselves in in 2020/2021.

“The raw decor of steel and video proved itself to be a true creative dream, a canvas that can be turned around every single moment. It has already proven its possibilities many times during the last three seasons. But besides the raw construction and the screens, there’s no further decor to be found in the 800-m² black box studio. This challenge became a large part of the lighting design, which not only had to be functional, but also became a large aspect of the total feel of the show. Normally, you would see a physical set which you light up and add show lights to, to make it stand out, but now the show lights also had to function as the set itself.”

-              What can you tell us about the setup? Which fixture became the eye-candy in your designs?

“Besides a large rig of moving lights, which both work as show lighting as well as static lights around the studio, the basic elements such as the scaffolding and everyone in and around them, are brought to life with simple, static fixtures. The most important players in that aspect are 84 Showtec Spectral M800 Q4 LED lights, which are used to light up every single pipe in the scaffolding. With the Spectrals we can paint the entire construction in every colour we want. That means that we can make it stand out from the massive video screens as an object of its own, or we can blend it perfectly with the background, so it diffuses into the canvas as if it is a part of it.

To give the scaffolding an extra dimension I placed 120 Showtec Octostrip MKII strategically around the structure. The Octostrips are a very simple but effective and affordable tool to give it just a little extra. I use them on the sides of the diagonal pipes to mimic the feeling of light reflecting on the pipes, but also to light up musicians in the scaffolding in places where other fixtures just wouldn’t fit. By removing the frost filter, we can see the LEDs directly. Now they work even better on camera and can truly be a big feature in the set!”

-              National and international acts such as Stromae, José James, Selah Sue, André van Duin, Froukje, and many others have visited the show already, but the show doesn’t seem to have found its creative roof yet. What are the dynamics of the creative process? How do you prepare each show?

“The team behind this production has cooperated for many years now. Most of us have worked together on De Wereld Draait Door already, and we are still building onwards on all the experiences that we’ve all gained on that show. Matthijs Gaat Door is known for its big musical acts and video clip-like recordings. These ideas start at the editorial office, just a few days before the actual recording. A small but experienced team of editors and creatives around Matthijs, led by Igor Misev, develops new ideas and items for each recording and they pass their thoughts on to me and the rest of the production team to make them become a reality.

When the editors have worked out their concept, I usually contact Jessica van Amerongen, our music supervisor, and Pim Brassien, the creative director, to dive further into the details of the performances. From that point on, Thijs Bul, the animator, and I start working on the visual part of the act. The four of us work closely together on the look and feel of every performance to set the right atmosphere. We know exactly what we can expect from each other in terms of technical and creative skills, and how to use each other’s strengths as well. When, for example, one of us has a ‘writers block’, the others always find a solution or different approach within minutes, and that’s how we always bring out the best in each other!”

-              That sounds like a great team effort where everything comes together as a whole. We can imagine that, like in many other productions, problems and challenges can arise. How do you approach these as a team?

“The best example of our teamwork was during the performance of Stromae, just a few weeks ago. As soon as we heard that Stromae would like to visit our show to perform his new singles l’Enfer and Santé, we knew we had a big one coming up. Normally, we do our work in a very short time span. For the lighting, I come up with a concept and program everything one day before the recording, and every cue is fired by hand. But because this time we had a big artist in our show, the performances of Stromae were scripted by Jessica and Pim, together with his team. Unfortunately, my operator Benno tested positive for Covid six days before the Stromae show and two days later my test result came out positive. After a short call to the producers with that news, everyone started to think of technical solutions to keep me as close as possible to the team during the production with Stromae. I reached out to Pim and Jessica, we talked through the final version of the script, and I started to program both performances on my laptop at home.”

-              That sounds like a big challenge indeed. How did you overcome the technical side of it? What was the backbone of this setup?

“We run the show on an MA Lighting grandMA3 full-size desk in Mode3, and the entire studio is modelled in 3D in our show file, thanks to an MVR import from my Vectorworks drawings. By using the visualizer in the software on my laptop, I was able to program two full timecode tracks for Stromae’s performances without having a console at my disposal, but also without having seen any of the visuals, as they were still being created by Thijs and Pim on location in Almere. Purely relying on each other’s work and our trust in each other, we separately designed and programmed our parts.

During the rehearsal, everything was brought together. From that point on, Henk van Engen, our camera director, joined us with his crew and started adding his magic to the performance, then our team was at full throttle!”

-              And how did that work on the show day?

“I was still in quarantine, but I was joining the production from home via a stream with multiple camera feeds from the OBV (Outside Broadcast Van – ed.) at the studio. I even had a working intercom, so I could assist the production from within my living room and guide my backup crew, who were in the studio. While Stromae rehearsed his two songs, everything started to fall into place. Lighting, visuals, shots... With minor adjustments, everyone’s parts fitted perfectly together in the entire performance. The tension still was high, because we didn’t know yet what the team of Stromae would think of our efforts. After his rehearsals, Paul (Stromae) and his team reviewed the recorded performances in the OBV and he said the words “It’s perfect”, heard by everyone on the intercom including myself at home. That moment was already an amazing feeling, not even thinking about the tremendous amount of response we had after the actual broadcast, from the audience and from many of our colleagues from the field!”

-              What do you think was the key to that success?

“In every performance during the series the eye-candy factor is a huge part of the production. It’s not just about letting someone sing a song, we want to present a complete performance to our viewers. This season we strive to make a videoclip each episode, so we give it all we’ve got on the creative side to make every act stand out on its own each week. The styles and genres are very different every time, and that’s a creative challenge we put ourselves to again and again, but with lots of joy!

During Ruben Hein’s impersonation of the Billie Eilish hit song ‘Bad Guy’, the Showtec Octostrips took a big part of the visual show. But for Froukje’s ‘Ik wil dansen’ and the recent performance of Karsu bringing ‘Şimarik’, an additional lighting package was brought into the studio.

We already have a huge lighting rig with over 600 fixtures of all kinds and shapes, almost 200 classic moving head washes, a few other types of spots, beams, and hybrids, a Follow-Me remote followspot system, and so on. But with three to four performances each show and 10 shows in one season, we do want to make at least 30 different looks. In between all those big show guns, I like my ‘specials’ to be as basic as possible and make the performance with those. Even though half of the rig consists of moving lights, they usually keep their position in a performance. I’m more into beam-based effects than moving effects, and that immediately leaves space for static fixtures to take the main part on stage.”

-              Would you say that the key to success has been your pushing of creativity to make simple fixtures flourish?

“That success is a greater team effort, but those fixtures are the foundation on which we build. For you to get a feeling of how simple the eye candy can: the mirror balls for Froukje were Showgear, and the Showtec Sunstrips for Karsu are a very well-known effect. But just by giving them a different touch, in this case by replicating the effect into the visuals, or building a performance around those fixtures, I try to steal the show with them in a way we haven’t done before! Another example would be the train tracks during the performance of Guus Meeuwis, which were made with those same Octostrips again!”

-              What else would you consider an essential piece of a successful show?

“Everyone in the team pays a lot of attention to their own contribution, but also takes care of the others. Sometimes, we give each other some space to make someone’s idea shine in a performance. Or we hype one another, ramping someone’s creation to another level by adding a complementing feature to theirs. It doesn’t matter if that’s my lighting for example, or the visuals from Thijs, or the camera shots from Henk. Just by listening to all the ideas and giving each other the space and confidence to go all out, we all elevate our own part again! That also inspires the others in our team to think out of the box, like we did with Karsu. At the very end of the rehearsals, Thijs filmed my rig of Sunstrips with his phone, while I ran through all the cues that we’ve programmed for the song. He immediately edited the video, so that the strips would be multiplied on the screens all the way around the studio. That simple 10-minute action eventually made this performance have a unique look of its own. That’s the best teamwork!”

“Oh, and we’re having a lot of fun together doing it as well!”

It seems that a dedicated group of people, a pinch of uninhibited fantasy, and trust are what pushes this team and their designs beyond their own limits every week. And it proves that even with relatively simple products you can create a dazzling show worthy for big stars and TV.

Lighting Designer: Jeroen van Geffen, Chain B.V.

Operater: Benno van Merrienboer, Chain B.V.

Technical supplier: Bourgonje

Producer: MediaLane, BNNVARA

Camera Director: Henk van Engen