The Work That Made Me in association withLBB

The Work That Made Me: Tobias Pekelharing

Production Company
London, UK
The Odelay Films director on the influence of David Fincher, Robert M. Pirsig and his military education
Whilst working as a pilot at Transavia Airlines Tobias Pekelharing picked up his old hobby of photography and began chronicling his travels. After developing his interest further, he became a director of photography, shooting numerous commercials. Now as a director he focuses on captivating cinematography, visual storytelling with clever transitions. Much of his work centres around natural performances, emotive storytelling and light-hearted humour. 

To compliment his beautiful cinematic aesthetic, Tobias loves to immerse himself in the musical scores and works closely with the actors to achieve authentic moments for natural performances. This approach has led to him working with many high profile brands, winning a Cannes Lion for his film for LG, along with a Gold in creative branding at PIAF for Moyee Coffee.

LBB> The ad from my childhood that stays with me… 

Tobias> Centraal Beheer, a Dutch insurance company, has had a long record of making fantastic ads and as a teenager in the 90’s, I would rejoice when one of them appeared during the commercial break. They were like little movies among the other ads, and the scripts for some of them were simply brilliant. I believe this is where my love for script writing, storytelling and creating an atmosphere in film was born. One of my favourites is the bank robbery, directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. 

LBB> What made me want to get into the industry… 

Tobias> As a cinematographer I worked with some great directors, but I often encountered a lack of decisiveness that was, let’s say, challenging. Coming from a military education and an airline pilot job, decisiveness was crucial to my way of thinking and working. I believe things generally work well when there is a clear vision, both on set and in pre and post production.

So I enjoyed taking on more and more jobs as a directing cinematographer, which in turn led to jobs that required a complete focus on directing. This allowed me to leave the cinematography to my former camera assistant/focus puller, who became my cinematographer in the process (Floris van der Lee). 

My career changes have always been a natural process like that, going from the military to the airlines and via photography to cinematographer to director. 

LBB> The creative work that I keep revisiting… 

Tobias> I believe it all starts with a good script, and to me it doesn’t get much better than David Fincher‘s Se7en. Of course the acting is incredible and the quality of all aspects of the film is top notch, but it wouldn't have been such a masterpiece without the basis of the great script. The same goes for ads. You can have all the famous faces in the world available to you, but if the creative is thin, the ad will be too. 

LBB> My first professional project… 

Tobias> It was for the telecom company Ben in 2015 with my Dutch production company Holy Fools. The idea was for a young man to be moving one way while the world around him was moving in another. At the end of the spot he would take off with a parachute and fly away. Production suggested shooting that sequence against a green screen at a small airfield.

However, I suggested that we should try to shoot it for real. After presenting my initial treatment on the Friday I spent the weekend finding the right shots from existing footage and editing them together to visualise shooting the scene for real. On the Monday morning we emailed my thoughts to the agency and soon after I received news that I’d won my first big pitch.

We somehow got permission from the city of Rotterdam to put an airplane with skydivers in a holding pattern over Hotel New York, where we would shoot the scene. On our radio cue one of the skydivers would jump out and land on an incredibly difficult spot in front of the camera. It felt like a military operation and the edit came together like clockwork. 

LBB> The piece of work that made me so angry that I vowed to never make anything like *that*…

Tobias> To be brutally honest there’s a lot of stuff that I vow never to make, but fortunately it doesn’t make me particularly angry. Some folks DID make that, paid their bills and are perhaps quite proud of it, so good for them. I often remind myself that the spot they created might actually sell the advertised product like hot cakes, so who am I to judge? I’ll respectfully pass when that brief lands on my desk though. 

LBB> The piece of work that still makes me jealous… 

Tobias> Easy one: Cadbury - Fence. The script, the quality of the work and the apparent simplicity of it all are simply outstanding.

LBB> The creative project that changed my career… 

Tobias> The TV ad I shot for Hudson’s Bay. Briefs like this are few and far between and to get the trust and freedom from the creatives (Julio Alvares & Cesar Garcia) and the agency (TBWA\NEBOKO) to make something like this was delightful. The original creative was to have mannequins from all over the city converging on the Hudson’s Bay store at night to go shopping. I suggested making the script a bit more intimate, with only two mannequins romantically dancing at night.

We shot the whole thing in a single night with two top-level dancers from the Netherlands Dance Theatre (Marne van Opstal and Chloe Albaret). 

LBB> The work that I’m proudest of… 

Tobias> It’s probably my work for Leffe beer. As simple as the scripts are, I think their quality lies in how I envisioned them. Each film manages to capture the exact atmosphere we were after. While researching for my treatment I was looking for a specific type of music and eventually found this particular song, so I used it in the pitch. It was actually used in the final films.

This was not a big budget job by any means, but we managed to deliver quality. (For more on quality, I recommend Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig if you haven’t read it already). 

LBB> I was involved in this and it makes me cringe… 

Tobias> A recent pitch for a large telecom company for a very short online video came with a very specific brief. It contained a large list of demands on how the treatment should be written and asked which famous international DP would be hired to shoot it. Needless to say the budget hardly allowed for any DP at all, and the end result was an absolute blob (but at least it wasn’t me who directed it!) 

LBB> The recent project I was involved in that excited me the most… 

Tobias> This was for the Dutch Railways (NS) which features all of their own staff in the lead roles. It was challenging of course, but they did such a great job and it was a lot of fun having an entire train to ourselves as we travelled around the country. The camera transitions I devised ended up working really well and made the whole thing as smooth as the train ride itself. 
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