Stijn Verlinde is boarding a flight home to Belgium from a shoot in Las Vegas. “The one piece of advice I would give to anyone starting out is 'be dedicated'.” Stijn, who started out a few years ago with some basic gear has lived by that advice. He is constantly working and is revolutionizing dance music festival videos across the globe. His success is not elusive or down to luck – it’s the result of three very clear factors we can all apply.
The divide between serious amateur, to semi or full time professional can seem like a giant, sweeping canyon of a gap that needs to be bridged. Stijn represents a great example of someone who took that first tentative step with next to nothing.
“I started out with $2000 worth of gear, shooting in local night clubs in Antwerp in Belgium for minimal money”, he begins. Slowly, as the work and word got out, things grew. Bigger club and festival organizers started to notice his work.
“My videos got noticed by some organizers and the word kept spreading. I’ve climbed up the event and festival ladder from the smallest ones through to some of the biggest, like Tomorrowland.”
Last year, Tomorrowland in Belgium saw around 400,000 people attending. Tickets to these events often start at several hundred dollars and go up from there. It’s big business but competition can be fierce, not only amongst organizers but amongst the photo and video professionals working these events. Some organizers try to utilize photographers or videographers who want to just get access to the event, to produce material for free or at cut price rates.
Stijn is far from a commodity provider - what he produces is a premium product. He and his team at his production company Epic Cinema, are regularly booked to shoot some of the largest dance festivals in the world, creating his unique, highly cinematic “after movies”. These "highlight reels" are strong promotional tools and are a round up of key moments of the event that capture the energy and vibe of what took place.
They often become massive YouTube hits, amassing millions of views. The official 2013 Tomorrowland after movie has currently racked up more than 70 million hits on YouTube:
Importantly, they serve as a critical promotional tool for the festival organizers to sell tickets to the next event. The vibe, feeling and emotion Stijn creates in these reels are essential.
1). The Importance of Creating A Feeling - For Commercial Imperative
Stijn’s videos are emotional roller coaster rides. If you look closely at Stijn’s older work, you’ll see consistency in this style over the years. No matter what you think of the music at these events, his vision and creativity are hard to fault because it flows so well.
“My style follows the flow of a DJ set. You have an amount of “build ups” in their music sets, so what I try to do is match these moments in the edit. If I have footage of someone in the crowd going crazy on the build up, I’ll put them during the build up during the edit.”
This sounds straightforward but getting the rhythm and flow right can be incredibly challenging. “I see a lot of people mixing these timings and it just doesn't feel right”. This pacing and rhythm of matching the right type of footage to the music is about creating an emotion and feeling in the audience, and it’s critical for any type of video work you might be shooting that is set to music.
Stijn doesn’t shoot weddings, but we discussed the applicability of his approach. “If I were shooting a wedding, I’d be trying to capture the emotion of key moments. Starting with the big picture, the overview or establishing shot, and then closing in and narrowing down until you get to a tear coming down a mothers cheek, for example.”
Stijn’s ability to create feeling in his work by capturing everything from epic sweeping vistas of thousands of people to close up expressions makes us feel like we’re at the event. This “immersion” is crucial in the world of video now, as it directly helps sell the event to the next potential attendee who is watching.
Creating an strong emotional connection with your viewer, with a clear commercial imperative, will get you booked, regardless of what you shoot.
2). Commitment and Dedication
Stijn is demonstrates the dedication and sheer hard work needed to succeeding in a very competitive marketplace. While hard work is not a guarantee of rising up quickly by any means, without it you don't stand a chance to stand out. Even as we’re working on this article, he is proving the point, “Sorry if my answers aren’t making much sense" he mentions briefly, "it’s 3am here and I’m a bit tired”.
“I take what I do 100% seriously. I work to the point where at times, I literally can't walk anymore - this has actually happened a few times. I go around these events trying to cover everything, and every moment, with minimal down time, so I can be there when the good moments happen.”
This commitment is undoubtedly what explains a good part of his progression. These basic concepts of self motivation, dedication and unswerving work ethic are simple, yet often the hardest part to implement when making the switch to going full time.
Stijn reminds me he does this because he loves it, which helps keep him stay focused. “It’s not about a degree or what school you've been to. It’s not about whether it’s for paid work or just for fun. It’s about being dedicated. Dedication is the most important thing.”
3). Taking Calculated Risks
He may have started with only $2000 worth of equipment, but he now has closer to $200,000 of top end, professional grade gear.
This hasn’t come easy but he sees it as a reinvestment directly back into his business. “Don't be afraid to take risks. I took a big one buying my RED camera 4 years ago but it has really helped my career. I now have a RED Dragon, a Movi M10, and I’ve recently bought a DJI S1000 with a 5DIII.”
The gear he has bought into adds production value and enhances the cinematic quality of his pieces. He is clear though that his gear has been bought with methodical purpose in mind.
“Quality is really high on my wish list so I spend a lot on equipment. The RED allows me to shoot at 96 frames a second so I can have super slow motion at very high resolution. The 6K resolution allows me to play with digital zooms. Using a Glidecam and really practicing with it gives you a much higher production value. Now, my MoVI adds a whole new level to the feel of the production.”
His financial commitment has not only helped him grow the quality of his output, but has focused some of the biggest eyeballs in the industry on what he is doing. “RED just shot some behind the scenes of me for a piece they want to do”, he explains as we wrap up and he runs to board his flight.
Stijn’s work speaks for itself, but his continual focus back into investing in his business, his gear, his work and his own growth through sheer grit and determination, is inspiring. The path of where he has come from to where he is today should be a reminder to all of us that it’s not where you’re from, but where you’re at that matters most.
Special thanks to [Stijn Verlinde]