Bert Hamelinck, the Belgian with six Oscar nominations
Bert Hamelinck is the very first Belgian to receive an Oscar nomination for best film. A conversation with the producer about daring to dream and letting go and the Flemish clay. ‘My sector needs a Bart Verhaeghe.’
It didn’t stop. We dreamed of one or two nominations. But six? Six!’ We are sitting with Bert Hamelinck (53) in the same office where the Caviar CEO followed the announcement of the Oscar nominations on his computer on Monday afternoon. Two days later, it still feels a bit unreal to be the first Belgian ever to be nominated for the main prize of best film. At the Oscars, that title goes to the producer and not to the director of the film. ‘In our sector that is a title of nobility. Oscar nominee, you are that for life. Everything that follows is extra. ‘
For those who have not yet seen the American film from the Belgian production house: ‘Sound of Metal’ can be viewed on the Amazon Prime streaming service and is beautiful. In the drama, the drug-addicted drummer of a metal band becomes deaf overnight. Trying to restore what cannot be restored, he trades his nomadic rock life for a stay in a shelter for drug addicts with a physical disability.
From the leather armchair that has lasted as long as his company – 25 years – and which he bought with his very first bank credit as an entrepreneur, Hamelinck explains why he fell in love with the script. ‘It is a story about something everyone inevitably experiences in their life: letting go. It is not in our nature to simply accept some things as they are. We don’t dare to confront ourselves. ‘
No matter how strong a film is, as a small title you are nothing without the unconditional support of a big machine.
Caviar has already made two well-received American films with ‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl’ and ‘The Rider’. But those titles could never lay claim to an Oscar. The fact that Hamelinck can now dream of this is due to more than just the film. “This would have been impossible without Amazon’s efforts,” he says. The webshop stepped on board a year and a half ago as a distributor and, according to the native Leuvenaar, already invested more in the promotion of ‘Sound of Metal’ than the approximately 6 million dollars Caviar needed to make the film. ‘No matter how strong a film is, as a small title you are nothing without the unconditional support of a big machine.’
The six nominations make ‘Sound of Metal’ more than an outsider on the award show. Hamelinck does not think the award for best film is in it. ‘We are not without a chance. Just think of what happened to the South Korean movie ‘Parasite’ last year. But they are all such good movies. What could possibly play against us is the spirit of the times in Hollywood: the producer is a 53-year-old white man. (smiles) For the rest, we score well on the inclusivity barometer, I think. The cast and crew were very diverse, there is even a transgender person in the film. ‘
The actor’s prize is certainly in it for the intense performance of the protagonist Riz Ahmed, a Brit with Pakistani roots. The award for best sound would also be deserved. The film creeps into his head through a magnificent sound experience and never lets go of his suffering as a deaf musician. “I don’t see who else would receive that prize.”
Integration in LA
Even if things don’t work out on April 25, Hamelinck has already written Belgian film history. Not bad for a drop-out from film school who always knew better in his first jobs on film sets. ‘I had set myself up for a life as a cameraman, but because I always saw about everything, I only became a producer.’
It was the beginning of Roses of Blue, which he founded with Frank Van Passel and a few other fellow students and mainly made commercials. In 2004 that company merged with another production house into Caviar. The Los Angeles office opened two years later. The expansion was not only intended to make Caviar stronger in the commercials market, but also to facilitate the crossover to film and television. ‘Sound of Metal’ is Caviar’s sixth American title and the last to accompany Hamelinck from the entertainment mecca of the world. He relocated to Los Angeles with his wife and two small children in 2013 and stayed there for nearly seven years. During that time, the office moved to a flashy building on Sunset Boulevard and US sales grew to 60 percent of the group total.
The family has been living in Antwerp for two years now. They returned when their oldest son went to high school. Hamelinck can now also be more for his two eldest children, who had not moved with them. In private, integration was difficult, he admits. ‘We missed our regular friends in Belgium. Los Angeles is a transaction city. If you no longer fit into someone’s network, then you no longer fit into each other’s lives. That applies to every aspect of daily life, be it work or friendships with the parents of your children’s school. ‘
Hamelinck also noticed that he was less needed in the office. ‘I thought it only logical that I would live where we wanted to expand our largest department. But after seven years, the office was up and running and everyone in Los Angeles who needed to know knew who Bert Hamelinck is. In today’s world it is less and less important where you live. Especially in my industry. The audiovisual sector is a traveling circus, you meet each other everywhere. ‘
Before the Oscar nominations, Caviar was already quite an established name in Hollywood. ‘Sound of Metal’ can create a flywheel effect in the film department of the group. Hamelinck expects an influx of projects from more established directors. ‘We are not Manchester City yet, but Ajax. So far we did people’s first or second films and then let others buy that talent away. Chloé Zhao, who made ‘The Rider’ for us, has now been nominated six times for ‘Nomadland’. She made the superhero movie ‘Eternals’ for Marvel. Hopefully, thanks to this recognition, one of our players will return to the old stable every now and then. ‘
I had set myself up for a life as a cameraman, but because I always saw about everything I only became a producer.
Perhaps it also radiates on the Flemish television department of the production house? Hamelinck believes that is possible. Caviar works abroad on English versions of the Flemish success series ‘Tabula Rasa’ and ‘Clan’. It also made American films and series for Netflix. ‘The next step must be: make series here in English or shoot with a Flemish team in America. Someone like Michaël Roskam who shoots a series for Apple in New Orleans: why should a Flemish production house not be able to do that? ‘
We won’t get there if we stick to language. ‘We can only survive by positioning ourselves in the world. The talent is there, a new generation is already waiting. In other small language areas more is possible. South Korea has an innovative audiovisual sector. The Danes show their talent both locally and on major projects in Hollywood. ‘
The budget of the Danish Film Institute is many times that of the Flemish Audiovisual Fund. ‘That has not only to do with money. The Danes are more based on their own qualities. We lack that guts and that ambition. Netflix and Disney + will never go away. But instead of going into a spasm, we should fight them on their own territory. We have the content and the people for it. We cannot compete with them alone without an investing government – which considers film and television just as important as biotechnology. ‘
No quantum leap, even without private investments. Hamelinck has been dreaming of a strategic partner for years to develop a large Belgian audiovisual group together. But interest in our country is limited, as has been shown in recent years. ‘If we want to be there in Europe or America, that is really necessary. Even the production houses of Sam Mendes and Clint Eastwood are part of a larger whole. I would like to support such a new group myself. But I cannot do that alone. Our audiovisual industry needs a Bart Verhaeghe: an investor with a vision that pulls us out of the Flemish clay. ‘
Bert Hamelinck is the founder and CEO of the Belgian production house Caviar, which has offices in Mechelen, Los Angeles, London and Paris.
Caviar makes films, TV series, music videos and commercials.
Group turnover in 2020: around 90 million euros.
Most famous titles: ‘Lovesick’, ‘The Rider’, ‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl’, ‘Clan’ and ‘Tabula Rasa’.
The sixth American film ‘Sound of Metal’ has been nominated for six Oscars, including best film and actor. A first for our country.