Because her parents warned her she would never be able to make a living in a creative field, Gwen enrolled in a nursing programme. But when a promotional video posted on the Facebook page of the BNNVARA Academy rekindled her creative spirit, she decided to sign up, and was accepted. She currently works as a camera journalist for the TV show Spuiten & Slikken, which airs on Dutch public television. And her media career is only just getting started...
‘When I was 16 years old and had just finished school, I had to think about what I was going to do, what opportunities were out there for me, and what kind of careers I was interested in. I had applied to the Media College, having been interested in design from a young age, preferably the audiovisual end of things. I wound up being accepted, but my parents felt I should also enrol in a “real” course, as they didn’t think it was possible to earn a living in a creative field.’
Gwen therefore chose nursing over the media course, even though she had no interest in pursuing a career in that field. She did complete her training and graduated – after having had to take time out due to nervous exhaustion – and ended up finding work in the healthcare industry. But she soon lost all motivation (which she now describes as a ‘blessing’), and when her then boyfriend persuaded her to make a video for him in her spare time, it got her creative juices flowing again.
‘I wanted to do something I felt passionate about! After working in the healthcare field for two years, I realised it wasn’t really for me, and I actually felt very unhappy. I applied to Utrecht School of the Arts and was admitted to their preparatory programme. Before I started the course, my best friend and I were watching TV and happened to see a promotional video for BNNVARA Academy. I got all excited, found out what opportunities were available at BNNVARA, and decided to go for it. So I applied through the Academy site for a position as a camera journalist at 101Barz, BNNVARA’s online hip-hop platform. I thought to myself: how great is that?’
With zero experience and no portfolio of her own to show, Gwen was nevertheless invited to audition at the Academy, for a position as a camera journalist at 101Barz.
‘For our audition, they gave us an assignment: they wanted us to think of an idea for a limited series or documentary for 101Barz. I came up with the idea of making a documentary about female rappers. Virtually all Dutch rappers are male. Where are the women? They’re absolutely out there, so why aren’t they on people’s radar? That was the topic I picked for my documentary. I had to create a few visuals for the audition, so I got a group of friends to help me out and we cobbled something together. The people at 101Barz liked it, so I got a call back and was offered a position as a trainee. Our assignment was to interview a performer. Great idea, only “my” performer did not show up at the appointed time. I then discussed the option with my editor to interview Rotjoch (creator and host of the hip-hop programme 101 Barz – Ed.), but I wanted to use my own style. I wanted to focus on the content and use multiple cameras – my approach was a little different from everybody else’s. Without preparation and without a plan, I had to set everything up in just one day. I couldn’t have been happier with the outcome; it made me very proud. Fortunately, the people at 101Barz liked it as well. Although my interviewing skills were a little rough around the edges and the editing a bit choppy, it showed potential. They loved the subject matter and the idea, and I was hired! I was finally free to follow my passion!’
People are fascinating
‘You know, my training as a nurse and the two years I spent working in that field did pay off in the end. I learned a lot by focusing on people and listening to their stories. It was my love of human-interest stories that motivated me to enrol in the Academy. In fact, that human-interest stuff also comes in handy in my work as a camera journalist. I’m learning all the technical things on the job: how to improve my editing, how to work out the best shots to use, and when to use them. But it is that interest in the story behind the person, that deeper layer, that makes the work even more fun for me. Those are the kinds of skills you don’t pick up from a book, not even at the Academy. So all those years of nursing did come in handy in the end... ha ha.’
‘So my big break was finally here. I had to work very hard for little money, but at last I got to do what I love. In early November, Rotjoch contacted me about a new project. He told me the rapper Scarface had just been signed by the Wilde Westen record label and that he wanted me to make a documentary about him.’
Gwen had never even heard of Scarface, and after doing some research she found out he used to be an up-and-coming rapper. Just as his star was rising, he disappeared from the scene overnight – it turned out he was seriously ill.
‘I spent two months working on that documentary. I was given free rein, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my colleagues, who assisted and supported me throughout. But I was given complete creative freedom: the shots, the setting, the direction, all of it. What could be more exciting than that? I wrapped up the documentary in January and put it online. Audiences loved it, and people at BNNVARA had seen it as well. So soon after, I had a meeting with the executive editor of Spuiten en Slikken. It turned out they were looking for a new camera journalist, and they wanted me for the job.’
Spuiten en Slikken
Gwen had no idea if this was a natural next step in her creative career. She liked the idea of a week-long training period, during which she would learn the ropes and experience what it’s like to work there. But as it happened, she hated the experience and wanted to quit after the first week. She was not accustomed to the high-pressure production process and the content was completely different than what she was used to.
‘I didn’t know where to begin and end, so after that first week I found myself talking to HR, together with my executive editor. I told them I was unhappy with the situation, that I didn’t understand how they worked or how the formats worked. I was ready to chuck it all in. That’s when they told me they’d deliberately thrown me in at the deep end to put me through my paces. But that simply doesn’t work for me, as that’s not the way I learn new things. I wasn’t pleased at all with my output that week, but it turns out they were satisfied, and even excited about my work. They saw opportunities there and wanted to keep me on. So I decided to take on the challenge, and I haven’t regretted it one bit.
We’re currently doing three formats for Spuiten en Slikken: the Sex Mobile, Emma’s Peep Show, and Drugs Lab. So we do around three uploads a week, all available exclusively online. I currently have two weeks off and just texted my colleagues to say that I miss them like crazy. To me, that’s a sign that I made the right choice.’
A day in Gwen’s life
‘Well, between shooting, preparation and editing, my days are pretty full-on – it’s all part of the job. But I’ve got used to the fast-paced environment and have managed to find my own rhythm. I usually assume a job will take one day to shoot and four days to edit – I spent most of my time at work editing. Since I want to be on top of things, I usually want to spend four days straight editing, just so I can keep my focus.’
‘We just created a new format called Jurre’s Date. We came up with it as a team, but they asked me to manage the design part: the graphics, location and settings. So that’s really becoming my “product” now. I love it! We will be uploading it soon, and I will start doing the second episode straight after. We already finished shooting it, and soon I’ll start editing it.’
‘I’ve been here for a year now and have no intention of leaving anytime soon – I’m very happy with the way things are going right now. I’ve managed to turn my hobby into my job. How great is that? Funnily enough, I used to do my hobby on the side when I was working as a nurse. Obviously, I don’t do that anymore; I’m not involved in video and design in my off time. My dream has always been to work for Disney, ever since I was a little girl. I now realise it’s not the most realistic ambition, since – for starters – I’m not that good at drawing. But I do find that I want to keep developing and make sure I don’t get stuck in a rut. I have a mission for the coming year: I saved up to buy one of those professional drawing tablets, and have made a deal with myself to do a small drawing every day. I just need to keep practising and learn how to create animations. Since I’ve been able to teach myself everything else, why couldn’t I do this? It’s completely new for me, but I simply want to see how much I can hone my skills in one year: without classes or training, and all by myself. I like to do my own thing that way.’
What makes her proud?
‘Well, I’m still very young, but I would choose my documentary about Scarface, because it’s what opened doors for me professionally. It helped me get my current job and launched my media career. I owe a debt of gratitude to so many people.’
Hilversum and beyond
‘I’m very happy at BNNVARA for now and still have a lot to learn here! I relocated to Hilversum to be closer to work. Hilversum may be a different type of city than Amsterdam or Utrecht, but I like it here. I don’t know what the future will bring, but in my line of business, Hilversum is really the place to be!’
Lessons from the maker
‘Having the gumption to do the things I want to still doesn’t come naturally to me.’ But I had the guts to enrol in the Academy and was not afraid to join the Spuiten en Slikken team. So whatever it is you want to do, don’t be afraid to do it.’