The Czar Amsterdam director on her ‘politically incorrect’ films, the joys of man-boobs and becoming an ‘outdoorsman’
Sophie Dros’ video for ‘Let the Tits Out’ by Dutch rap group De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig took seconds to become an LBB office favourite. If you’ve only seen the song title, we know what you’re thinking. And you can think again. It’s a bouncy wonder, much more ‘woke’ than the name might suggest.
Now represented by Czar Amsterdam for commercials and music videos, Sophie’s filmmaking roots grew from a love for documentaries, engaging with themes that were a mystery to her in an attempt to understand them. She did this most notably in her films ‘My Silicon Love’, about men who love sex dolls, and ‘Genderbende’, which explored the lives of gender non-binary people.
LBB’s Alex Reeves chatted to Sophie to find out more about her approach to her craft and where it comes from.
LBB> Where did you grow up? What was it like there?
Sophie> I grew up in Arnhem, a city in The Netherlands. There is a big art academy, so the art scene is quite active. Most of my friends have moved up to Amsterdam or London but we still go back there for New Year’s every year.
LBB> When did it first become clear that you wanted to make films?
Sophie> When I was a little girl, I made short films about my dolls on a VHS camera. They weren’t very good, however I proudly showed them to my classmates. I always was into film and art, but my application for the Film Academy came quite suddenly. Growing up, I (strangely) never got acquainted with such a thing as a film school. One month before the entry period closed, I directed two short films. I was sure that I had to apply again next year but to my surprise, I got in right away. I was extremely happy and amazed.
LBB> What do you most remember about your time at the Dutch Film Academy?
Sophie> My time at the Film Academy was great. My first year was all about figuring out what stories I wanted to tell as a (documentary) director – what message I thought the world needs to hear. This is the starting point of my slight obsession with minorities. People who are ‘odd’ in the public eye catch my interest. In the second year, I started to gather my crew – or film family if you like. I started to work with Boas van Milligen Bielke, who has been my DP ever since. I also met editor Erik ten Brinke. He and I still make the best team.
LBB> What motivated you to make 'My Silicone Love'? Is there anything about that film that you've taken on through your career?
Sophie> I’m fascinated about the power a filmmaker has. I noticed that a lot of films these days make people look like fools, make a political statement or emphasise the differences between humans. For me, I absolutely want to do it differently. Ever since I applied to the Film Academy, I wanted to make a film about sex dolls because I wanted to challenge myself. I chose a subject that people, myself included, have a prejudice against. The goal was to make that story universal. I wondered, ‘what do the sex doll owners and myself have in common?’. That is where the story gets relatable, understandable and interesting. I still ask myself questions like that in every film that I make. I want to show that people are not that different from one another. Respect and recognition are really important to me.
LBB> It says on your website that you like to make films about 'politically incorrect subjects'. What do you mean by that and why is it such a fascination?
Sophie> By politically incorrect themes I mean subjects that most people have prejudices against – subjects that don’t fit the norm so to speak. In my films I try to break that pre-judgement by showing that people, however strange their lifestyle or hobbies might appear, have the same needs and feelings as any other. I always have an opinion about everything and everyone. When making a film, series, documentary or music video, I have to challenge myself to start with a clean slate and make something that is relatable and understandable.
LBB> We at LBB absolutely loved your recent 'Let the Tits Out' video! How did that idea come about and what was the shoot like?
Sophie> When first hearing the title of the track, I said: “No. I’m not going to make a music video featuring naked girls in a studio or whatever.” But then I thought: “wait a minute, why do I only think about women’s breasts? Am I programmed like this? Tits are tits. Might as well be men’s tits.” It started off as a funny thing but while I was writing the treatment, I realised it was about way more than JUST a music video – it’s actually a statement. I wanted to celebrate body positivity; some of the men in this video have bigger boobs than I do. This video would have been censored immediately if it were BOOBS. Showing MOOBS however is okay? For me this video is fun and it's celebrating the diversity of bodies but also carries a bigger message about the difference (or maybe inequality?) between men and women.
LBB> What other projects that you've worked on are you most proud of and why?
Sophie> I’m most proud of my documentary Genderbende. This is my first feature-length documentary about five young people who don’t identify themselves as either male or female. I wanted this film to be positive and a celebration of diversity. The film just had its 30th international festival selection and has been in cinemas all over the world. I still receive messages from young people who write and say that this film changed the way how they looked at themselves or helped them to love themselves through a difficult gender struggle. That makes me really proud and happy.
LBB> What attracted you to Czar for representation? And what's it like working there?
Sophie> For me - with a documentary background - I thought it would be hard to direct commercials projects for brands/agencies/artists that are as honest as my documentaries. Czar Amsterdam guided me into the commercial world. Together we have found ways to make films that are as moving and touching as my non-commercial projects - that I still feel comfortable with. Together with Czar Amsterdam I made a mini-documentary series about Dutch artist Anouk
. I’m proud of how we managed to tell very personal and emotional stories while promoting a new album, which basically has a commercial goal. For me this is a whole new way of making films. Also, I feel I have entered a new professional league of production and film sets. Czar Amsterdam manages to get the most out of a production and the most out of me. I feel very welcome, they have included me into the family, even in their intense WhatsApp group with all directors, producers and everyone. It drives me crazy but keeps me informed.
LBB> How do you compare music video and commercial projects to documentaries and short films?
Sophie> The process is completely different, and that’s exactly what I like about it. In a documentary production I have all the freedom and time. As the director, you are in charge. When I first started to do commercials, I had to get used to the fact that I’m not the only one in charge. Especially the agency politics were new to me. Luckily, I had Czar Amsterdam guiding me through this process, otherwise there would have been flying chairs in the edit suite. Also, when you make a documentary you start from nothing. There are no guidelines. Commercials and music videos are different in that perspective. Another difference is the pace. Doing both keeps me alert and gives me an energy boost.
LBB> What do you do outside of work to cool off or recharge your batteries?
Sophie> My boyfriend and I recently got a PUPPY, which makes us outdoorsmen. I would have never guessed that I would enjoy walking in the park this much. It clears my head. Also, I try to do yoga but then I hang out with my friends and the whole healthy-outdoorsy-yogi lifestyle is on pause. Most of my friends are filmmakers or artists, so we share the same interests and passions, and the same crazy freelance lifestyle. Luckily the next morning the puppy wakes up and I’m an outdoorsy person again.
LBB> What have been your biggest filmmaking challenges in your career so far and how have you overcome them?
Sophie> I’m actually working on my biggest filmmaking challenge at the moment. It is a feature-length documentary called ‘King of the Cruise’. I cannot say much about it, but it is really, really, really challenging. I wish I could go forward in time and be at the premiere and talk about the difficulties of this project instead of being in the middle of this. But I guess the difficulties along the way makes me a better filmmaker – it’s the journey that counts… right?! Haha!
LBB> What tips would you give to somebody hoping to break into the directing world?
Sophie> Just keep on swimming. You only see people around you with success because nobody uploads posts about their failures online. But it is good to be open about problems (challenges), hopes and dreams, at least with your friends and other filmmakers. I encountered so many rejections and still do. For example, I just heard last week that a television network doesn’t want to support a short film I want to make. It can be heartbreaking but it’s a part of being a director. And remember, if you really want to make it in this industry and you have the skill or passion, there is always a way. Just keep swimming.