Female Gaze: Maaike Carree

The blonde bombshell, the femme fatale, sirens of the silver screen. For 125 years, we have seen women on the cinema screen, but they were seldom in control behind the scenes. Luckily, things are finally changing. In this series of interviews, inspiring female filmmakers talk about their own work on the basis of film excerpts from other female makers. In this seventh interview, Maaike Carree talks about her field of production design, based on season four of Killing Eve, which was worked on by set decorator Casey Williams and production designer Lucienne Suren.

By Gina Miroula25 April 2022

“You're kind of a construction worker, but in miniature,” says Maaike Carree, sipping her cappuccino, musing about her work. “I have a big obsession with miniature sets.”

Maaike Carree in de zon op een bankje voor Eye Filmmuseum
Foto door Anna Meijer

She calls herself a multidisciplinary maker, has worked on the video clip Rumble (Mikey Burns and Ilias), an installation for the Cinedans festival, and collaborated on the One Night Stand Chimère (Kaweh Modiri, 2017). Many of her projects are characterized by slight absurdism, dry humor and experiment.

At a young age, Maaike went to the Hofplein Youth Theater in Rotterdam. She also watched a lot of Dutch television productions. “I was a real VPRO child, I wanted nothing more than to work at Villa Achterwerk. You know: Roos and her men, and Maaike.”

In 2021 she graduated from the HKU in Image and Media Technology. In addition to classic film, the courses focus on alternative use of images. “Because I find it difficult to choose, I studied for a long time. I prefer to do everything myself. My teachers once said: 'Maaike, you are not a specialist, but a generalist.'”

For her graduation film A dog that howls, Maaike built the complete set in miniature. The film was broadcasted by 3LAB on NPO3.

You have chosen season four of Killing Eve. What makes this series so special to you?

“The story is a fascinating game of cat and mouse between protagonist Villanelle, a psychopathic assassin (Jodie Comer), and British intelligence investigator Eve (Sandra Oh), who is teetering on the edge. You could call it love. It's an emotional rollercoaster for me. It makes you laugh and makes you sad, sometimes excited.”

The story is based on three books (Codename Villanelle) by British author Luke Jennings. Each season is written by a different female writer. The rest of the crew also consists almost exclusively of women. “The costumes in seasons two and four were designed by Charlotte Mitchell. Her outfits match every scene; they are like little paintings. In season two, Villanelle walks through the Rijksmuseum, looking at The Corpses of the De Witt brothers. Later, in the Red Light District, she has to kill someone. Standing in a brothel, she drags a guy in, hangs him and zips him open. She recreates the painting in her own way. She does all this in a sexy pig outfit made of pink plush. Clothes say so much about someone, even in my own films. It's just like the room someone lives in.”

During the production of season four, Killing Eve struggled with all kinds of Covid restrictions, travel proved impossible. A coastal town near London was converted into Havana. “In one specific scene, you see Jodie Comer (Villanelle) and co-star Fiona Shaw (Carolyn) on the beach together. The graffiti wall behind them looks almost Cuban, with all kinds of signs and flags.”

In another scene, you can see the safe house where Shaw's character is staying. “It is a large, high space in a beautiful location, but inside everything is almost dilapidated: the structure of the walls, the colours, the textures. Supposedly nothing has been done to the space for thirty years. I think it's very clever: consciously creating an eclectic mess in which the characters fit seamlessly." The scene was filmed in 360 degrees. “Several mirrors have been used. I find vistas in different directions fascinating. In my own film A dog that howls, I did the same with windows. In theater, there is only one viewing direction, in film you can build spaces in such a way that all sides and props are right.”

As a production designer, how do you prepare for a new project?

“It starts with the script: what are you reading? Where does it take place? What characters are there? I make personal associations, then look at the use of colour and which spaces suit the characters. I always do this in consultation with the director. Then I throw myself into research. What was used in a certain period? What was hip at the time? On Pinterest and Instagram you can create good folders to collect colour schemes and materials.”

“I love browsing thrift stores for projects.” She would prefer to have a warehouse full of cupboards, chairs and benches at her disposal. “I really am a Craigslist warrior, keep an eye on everything. Danish design is all the rage: mid-century furniture. Two years ago I found an absurdly expensive closet. The original was priceless, but I bought it for 130 euros. And then picked it up with a rented bus. That really gave me a kick.”

For your graduation film A dog that howls, you built a miniature concrete residential area. What gave you this idea?

“The story is about a life that seems to have come to a standstill. About the isolated man. Not because of Covid, but because of a storm.” For the film, Maaike worked together with fellow students Stijn van Gorkum (direction) and Anna Reerts (production design).

During the lockdown they rented a studio in Utrecht. They worked there non-stop five days a week. The set was 2.5 by 5 meters containing 6.5 flat blocks of 1.10 meters high. “Stripping an entire street is cost-impossible for a student production. In our way, every paving stone, every tax bill got its own place.” Maaike calls the look of the whole concrete-brutal. “We placed nine households opposite each other. You can, as it were, slide the modular homes in and out.” Much was filmed from the back of the flats, through the houses.

They were inspired by news items, social realism and makers such as Roy Anderson. “We wanted to create an Edward Hopper-esque style, show the sadness of man in the set design: grey, drab, hopeless. We invented many aspects ourselves. Because how do you make a concrete structure in miniature?” This is how Maaike ended up in a world of hobby model train builders. “Gentlemen over eighty who loved it: a young girl visiting. 'Oh dear, let me explain to you,' they beamed, elaborating on power points and miniature 12-volt light.” And the herringbone floors? “They are all sponsored by the Coffee Company. At Utrecht Central Station, I slipped hands full of stirring sticks into my pockets.”

Geert and Anja are Maaike's favorite characters. “An elderly couple, quite vulgar. They have a house full of frankfurters, cat litter, bottles of ketchup and mayonnaise, they wear faded pajamas and curlers in their hair. Anja is the boss at home. The duo has no children, but they do have a lot of cats – some of which are presumably stuffed and set up around the corner.” The nicest reaction Maaike got was during an exhibition. “Two children looked through the windows, they were looking for the mini people. I said, 'They're all not at home.'”

How do you get a budget as a starting production designer?

“Entrepreneurship is fairly underexposed at the HKU. Most of all, you get pounded in: you're an artist. What you do not learn is how to stand on your own two feet and file tax returns as a self-employed person. We got nothing for our graduation film. We had to collect money ourselves. In that regard, you quickly learn how to write to funds and how to set up crowdfunding.”

CineCrowd, a crowdfunding platform for films used by many graduating film academy students, selected the film as a promising project. It provided the threesome with a nice starting amount, in addition to support from 3LAB and KRO-NCRV. Maaike recently heard from a former HKU teacher that a course in entrepreneurship has recently been added to the curriculum. “A very important progress.”

Do you see many opportunities in the feature film and series area within your field?

“I find it quite tricky to find my way around this. I don't have many films to my name yet. I do see a lot of unpaid internships, which I would like to do as a job. Something like that is just not realistic for two hundred euros a month. Yet it has to be, because your last production is your business card.”

“As a starting maker, there are a number of options,” says Maaike. “You can take a part-time job and then work on an unpaid production for a few months with the money saved. Or you offer yourself as a set dresser, working for a fee, but in a more framed role than as a production designer.”

“Within the film and television world, it is often about who-knows-who, people often stick around after internships. You really should get the chance to share your personality and enthusiasm. You come across as very different through an email than when you get the opportunity to get to know someone in real life.”

Which productions inspire you and why?

“Stories from a different era really appeal to me. Take The terrible eighties. Everything in that series is right. From the areas within the shared residence to the underpants.” Dirty Lines also appeals to Maaike. “For this series they have, as it were, put the RoXY nightclub back on the canal. On AT5 I saw an item in which the old owner came to have a look. He was suddenly thrown back into his own history.”

In addition, Maaike likes projects with a socially realistic slant. She calls Dunya and Desie. “Desie's house in Amsterdam North is really a place where Swarovski dolphins are on display. Or they have one of those sticky white leather sofas, that sticks to your bare sweaty legs in the summer.”

What kind of assignments do you hope to work on in the (near) future?

“Period films seem like a lot of fun to me. A lot of thinking and research is involved. It's not just about dressing existing spaces, but really creating a world. People are also quickly blamed if something has been done wrong, such as a watch that does not match the time frame.”

For a series like Killing Eve, Maaike would give up her home in the Netherlands. But she doesn't have to go to Hollywood. “That Dutch sobriety is deeply embedded in me. I'd rather work on a Spanish or Asian film. I would have loved to have worked on De Oost, which is a Dutch production. So yes, everyone should know: call me, especially for a foreign job. I think that would be fantastic, away for a few months.”