Inspirational women in the film industry — Part 1: Interview with Barbara Dejonghe
Today, we are introducing our newest blog series “Inspirational women in the film industry”.
With this series we aim to motivate, inspire, and empower our female readers by sharing the success stories of women in the film industry who probably had the same questions, had to deal with the same issues and struggles, but who, with a lot of patience, hard work and passion, achieved to stand up in this male-dominated business.
You can look forward to inspiring interviews and exciting stories from females in this branch, sharing their secrets of success, their professional and personal challenges as well as learnings and words of advice.
For our first blog story, we had the pleasure of talking to Barbara Dejonghe, who is, besides being a mother of three, a successful business owner and creative director. She runs Clementine, a Belgian all-round audiovisual agency, producing branded content and corporate communication.
As a female business owner and filmmaker, what were some of the biggest challenges and lessons learned so far?
Starting this business with my sister was a big challenge for sure. We were two young women, new in the film industry. I was a freelance director and had just finished film school, whereas my sister had gathered work experience in the corporate world. We both had something to bring to the table, and our complementary skill set was a plus, but nobody knew us.
Gaining clients' trust to work with us – without a corporate portfolio – was not an easy thing. When we started in 2011, video wasn’t as big as it is now. There were fewer players on the online video market – it was still an early stage – Facebook hadn’t even launched video ads. When the demand for online videos increased from 2014 onwards, we took our chance and developed an attractive online video offer, which helped us grow our business.
However – two young females, without a network in the film industry, starting a video production house – raised some eyebrows. And from what I know, all our direct competitors were run by men. The biggest challenge was convincing clients that we could do it. Once we managed to convince a client that we were able to do the job and to tell a good story, we put all our energy into the project and delivered more than promised. With the goal to get some renown names for our portfolio, we often underpromised, over delivered. It was just the two of us, doing everything. Luckily multitasking is a skill we manage, and in the end we built our credibility.
The biggest lesson I learned throughout these years is that you need to believe in yourself and stick to the quality standard you set for yourself. If you want to produce high end video, you need to stay true to this. In the early days, I sometimes think we both were too focused on our weaknesses and were almost too humble. I find that typically female. As females, we often underestimate ourselves. Sometimes we lacked confidence and even lost belief in our own ideas. But over the years, we kept raising the bar, delivering more and better projects, and in doing that we grew more confident.
Another lesson I take from the early days is that the key is to have the right people around you. We are incredibly grateful for getting some excellent freelancers to work with us from the start. They were surprised by our ambition, but they were happy to jump on board. That definitely gave us a boost to continue.
What do you think are the major foreseeable challenges and opportunities for women in this male-dominated industry? And what strategies or advice do you have to help women obtain more prominent roles?
The challenge for women in this industry is to get big corporations to believe in them and that they can handle it. It’s not because a company is a male-dominated industry (such as construction, energy, production…) or because there are more men at the top of the corporation, that a woman wouldn’t understand how to tell their story or can think business.
When you enter a client meeting where five grey men wearing a suit look at you with a straight face, it's easy to start wondering ...okay what am I doing here... I've repeatedly felt tiny in meetings like that.
In the beginning, me and my sister weren’t strong in pitching our proposals. We often felt too insecure or even intimidated – an attitude that killed some kick ass ideas. Throw some perm on your attitude is a song we should have played more. :) More women can use a bit of positive arrogance. Women are great communicators, and we should be proud of that.
I find it difficult to share one-off tips and tricks on how to obtain a more prominent role. What works for me, might not work for someone else. But building self-confidence definitely is a first step – and one I think, many women could benefit from. I think you should never be too impressed by the size of a company or the big expectations. Just fake it, and then make it. :)
On a film set, it is important to have the right people with the right skills – male or female. It never really bothered me – let alone intimidated me – that the majority of our technical crew is male. I’m a person who needs people around me who are professional but also, who don’t forget to be nice. A good vibe on set is the key. There’s no need to let ego’s running around. Just be nice to work with – male or female is not the issue. I like to work with diverse crews. But of course, bring on the female DOP’s and directors!
Since work-life balance is particularly difficult and challenging for mothers in terms of having to work on projects, having to be on sets and sometimes even on shootings abroad: How did/do you handle being a mother and a successful business owner and creative director? Do you have any advice for our readers on this topic?
I have three kids (2, 6, 8), so my household can be very chaotic during busy times. I just juggle around and see how it flows. I don’t tend to stress about things that ‘could’ go wrong. Only when they do…
Working on corporate films does give you more freedom than working in the feature film or television industry. Corporate films are often short-term projects, with 1 or 2 shooting days, or days spread over time.
I have to admit that I wouldn't be able to be on set every day of the week. My husband and I both work full time. If I have a set day, it means I’m off early and back home late. We live close to both of our families and they help out very often. If I want to keep a healthy balance in my marriage and mom-life, I can’t be away on set all the time. I pick the projects to direct and do a lot of office work with flexible hours. We work with freelance directors as well. Our workload comes in waves, so I can take advantage of that and take some extra time off on quiet days.
Of course, the fact that I’m a co-owner of Clementine also means work never stops. There’s always a business to run. I am always running several projects at the time. Sometimes too many tabs are open in my head.
The biggest advice I have is don’t try to be perfect in every task. Pick your battles. If you’re really focused on work, you have to accept that things are a bit messy at home, or accept that others will deal with it for you. And if you need a break from work, hand over your work to the right person, trust them, or dare to say that you don’t have time. It’s not a crime. In the end it’s only work, right? If you fail at work, there’s always a chance to try again and reboot. An overstressed mom in the house is no good for anybody anyway.
Have you ever been treated differently because of your gender? Have you ever felt left behind, or maybe even benefited from being a woman?
It’s a simple fact that when you enter a meeting with a man next to you, almost everybody assumes he is the one to talk to. Me and my sister experienced this all the time.
When my sister moved to Switzerland (she’s still active in the business, but no longer as a manager for daily operations), we decided to get an extra partner on board. I needed someone to co-manage the daily business here in Belgium, as I’m on the creative and technical side of the job – and couldn't combine this with daily management, sales or administration. So now we run Clementine with the three of us. Since he joined, a lot of people assume he’s the CEO and owner. When they see us together, people just automatically think the male is the founder, owner and manager. Of course, our partner is not to blame for this, but the stereotype thinking we’ve experienced, is striking. It doesn't only happen in our business by the way.
Luckily, there’s also a flip side. There have been clients who trusted us with their productions, specifically because they wanted to support young females. We gained their sympathy because we were women, and brought a female – a different – perspective. They chose to work with us because we brought a refreshing story. In a way, our female perspective made us stand out from our competitors.
What are some personal traits that you admire the most in people?
Business-wise, I admire people who are good at making new connections. I think it’s key to grow your business and it also supports your personal growth. There are so many talented people around you, who you can learn from, who can push you forward, or can change your perspective. Trying to do it all by yourself is just a silly ambition.
I admire people who aren’t afraid to fail or take risks and just go for it. I could use some fearlessness from time to time.
But most of all, I admire and love to hang out with genuine people. I don’t connect well with people who are trying too hard to be someone else – except for good actors. :)
Throughout your career, who were your biggest inspirations? And what was/were the best work-related advice/s given to you?
There are too many great filmmakers and screenwriters… so I can feel inspired by any good movie, documentary, commercial or series I watch. I can really wander around on the web watching different kinds of audiovisual works that stun me.
Other female creators – both national and international – can inspire me in many ways. I love female-driven stories such as ‘The morning show’ or ‘Big little lies’. Watching that kind of series only makes me fall in love with the medium, again and again. I love being overwhelmed by great stories.
But for my work at Clementine, I also find inspiration in my daily life with my kids, husband or friends. Many of my friends are hard-working entrepreneurs (and moms), and getting together always gives me new stories, new insights, and so much positive energy.
The best advice that I received from the people close to me, like my sisters or friends, is to trust my ideas or vision. And to stop wasting energy on people who are costing energy. Some clients are not worth sleepless nights. Our credo is to work with people that lift you higher, and then follow Nike’s life advice: ‘just do it’.
How do you unplug yourself from work? Do you want to share any tips on how to refresh and cool-off after a stressful day or week at work?
To cool-off I try to get away from work and household. This can be with a glass of good wine, dinner, a good sports session, anything where I have no responsibility towards somebody for just an hour, a day or a weekend. Travelling also helps me to forget about work troubles. I love travelling, anywhere, so it really helps to escape to impressive nature or explore a new city. I need to break loose sometimes to keep my sanity!