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On Location: Dutch director finds L.A. a fertile field

March 3, 2010 |  9:00 am

DutchSometimes it takes a foreigner to point out what the natives take for granted.

Just ask Hein Mevissen, director of commercials for John Doe Productions in Amsterdam.

Mevissen was hired by a Netherlands ad agency to direct a commercial for a Dutch horticultural association, De Nederlandse Tuinbouw, touting the global reach of Holland’s fruits and veggies. Apparently, Holland’s agriculture business has more to boast than just tulips.

But instead of filming the ad in northern Europe, where the commercial will be aired, Mevissen took a detour: He opted to film the bulk of the $500,000 commercial in the Los Angeles area.

Although the commercial’s star is a 40-foot beanstalk (the metaphor: Holland spreading its agricultural roots around the world) much of the commercial was shot with a California crew of about 40 people, along with 60 Los Angeles-area extras and English- and Dutch-speaking actors.

In one scene, producers converted Gigi’s Bakery and Cafe on West Temple Street into a Dutch cafe, selling healthy fruits instead of the greasy fried food typically found in Dutch snack bars. Downtown buildings were used to depict scenes set at a warehouse in Spain and a board meeting in South Korea that erupts into mayhem when the ubiquitous monster plant bursts up through their table. Even the sprawling Tejon Ranch 60 miles north of L.A. had a role, standing in for Tanzania in East Africa.

So why did Mevissen travel across the Atlantic and U.S. to film a Dutch commercial? After all, he might have saved money by shooting in Budapest, Hungary, or Hamburg, Germany, which are closer to Amsterdam and offer hefty tax breaks to boot. Although California has a new film incentive program, commercials aren’t covered by it.

The weak dollar, which makes filming here relatively cheaper, was a factor, Mevissen said. But so was the diversity of locations, good weather and experienced crews.

“I shot a few times in L.A., and it has the very best professionals here and the best crews in the world,” he said.

Nicholas Simon, the producer of the commercial, added: “Where else can you find the breadth of locations that you have here?”

Such testimonials are music to the ears of local film promoters, who are developing a plan to market the area's film industry. There has been an uptick in activity because the economy is improving and overall production is increasing, but the long-term trend has shown Los Angeles losing market share to other areas.

Southern California’s share of all commercial production fell to 48% in 2008 from 54% in 2007, with projects increasingly migrating to other states such as New Mexico, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, according to a recent report from the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers. Data for 2009 are not yet available.

For his part, Mevissen says he’s already planning to shoot his next commercial — his client won’t let him divulge what it is —  in Southern California.  “You can always go someplace cheaper, but I don’t think it’s always better,” he said. “When you shoot in L.A., everything goes really smooth.”

For Angelenos, such praise could only come from a foreigner.

-- Richard Verrier

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