We last spoke with Director Thessa Meijer for her tragicomic short The Walking Fish, a wonderful film which boasted the unconventional story of a sea-creature who pursues a dream of becoming human. Meijer takes on an equally brilliant and bonkers concept with her follow-up short Heat (Hitte). Set in an ice cream shop during an extreme heatwave in the Netherlands, when our protagonist, played by Pop Artist Famke Lousie, walks in for refreshment her rising temperate is met with an equally accelerating anxiety due to the shop’s dreamy assistant which leads to a messy reaction. Heat is a delectable blend of multiple genres; comedy, body horror, romance all of which Meijer expertly navigates to create something which, despite its madness, feels incredibly cohesive. Meijer returns to Directors Notes to speak about the conceptual birth of her short, along with a deep dive into its pastel colour palette and superbly slimy practical effects.
You last spoke to us about The Walking Fish, how has your journey with Heat differed from the one you experienced with that film and your previous work?
Hello, so nice to be back here on DN! Making Heat was a very different experience, since my previous shorts were all shot quite intuitively with a minimalistic and organic approach in light and camera setups, and they also took a lot of time to write. I really had to dig out those stories and often wrote five completely different screenplays before being able to funnel down what the core was. With Heat it was really the opposite: it was written and produced very quickly, but the scene blocking and technical approach had to be very precisely planned before the shoot.
What was the starting point for Heat as a concept?
The summer before we shot Heat, we experienced an extreme heatwave in The Netherlands. I wanted to do something with that and got an idea about climate change that included nightmarish scenes with melting people. My ideas often start around such an image and then grow, but in this case it did not get much further. It lingered a bit because the topic is so complex. When I was commissioned by Dutch platform Cineville to create my “dream scene”, the image of those melting people reappeared. Now that the pressure of a long and more serious storyline was gone, I could think more freely. Climate change as a theme disappeared a bit into the background, as is unfortunately often the case. I started brainstorming around those melting people, and that brought me to moments where I felt like I could melt myself; moments where I felt shy or socially anxious. That’s how the characters and the world of the ice cream shop started taking shape. I then teamed up with my good friend and Producer Julia Rombout from July Film, and we found an amazing team to bring it all together.
Heat is arguably a comedy, romance and even a horror film? How challenging was it to balance those genres in a single piece?
And imagine that at first, on top of those three genres, it was planned to be a hip-hop musical as well! I’m glad we had to give up on that one though since the current music made by Ella van der Woude really contributes a lot to the “comedy/romance/horror” mix. A friend described Heat as “cottoncandy horror”, and that is a genre term I’ve been using since. Together with the sound design of Regard Ibrahim, Ella’s composition made it possible to move from a warm and sweet flavor to a creepy horror mood, and back. Daniël Kolf, the ice cream vendor, is amazing in balancing the shivering and charming behaviour of his character, while Famke Louise adds a quirky and cute touch.
I just love what it does to a scene to have actual physical special props and effects while shooting.
Given that blend of genres, have you found that the film has resonated more with certain audiences?
The film has done well, especially in the “midnight sections” of festivals and platforms. It’s such a short bite-sized story, it can be squeezed in anywhere. Famke Louise is a well-known pop artist and influencer in The Netherlands and Heat was her acting debut, so we also reached a young Dutch audience that isn’t so used to watching short films. Not all of them connected with it – but it was great to hear their muddled reactions too.
Could you walk us through the visual effects required for Heat? Who did you work with and what did you set out to achieve together?
The visual effects were a very close collaboration between Special Effects and Special MU Rob Hillenbrink, VFX Supervisor Thaumar Rep, Director of Photography Boas van Milligen Bielke and myself. The budget was limited, so first we had to narrow down the most essential story beats and steps of the “melting process”; did we really need to see that finger fall off? And how does the character melt; like a plastic Barbie doll, like a scoop of milky ice cream or more like a snowman, or like an actual human being of flesh and blood? We wanted to do as much as possible in-camera, so with practical effects where possible and using CGI mainly for polishing and to achieve what is scientifically impossible.
I just love what it does to a scene to have actual physical special props and effects while shooting, both on set and in the final results. It is so much fun and really makes the actors and audience connect with the body horror on a sensory level. At one point during the shoot, Famke was gone. Turned out she was around the corner, scaring people with her creepy face prosthetics, one of her eyes halfway on her cheek.
Similarly, Heat boasts a really pulpy pastel palette, what made you want to colour the film this way?
The colour palette of the film makes it possible to tell a very cruel story, but because of the soft aesthetics, it becomes so tasty that you might want to take a bite of the victim yourself. Floor Knaapen, our production designer, and I wanted the film to look poppy and edible, but we made sure the bright colours and pinks were balanced by deeper tones such as brown and darker green.
Because of the soft aesthetics, it becomes so tasty that you might want to take a bite of the victim yourself.
It was a while ago when you mentioned it to us but how is the Volcano Girl feature coming along?
It is going well, thank you! I had the opportunity to work on the script in the Cinéfondation Residence by the Cannes Film Festival, which was a great experience. During my stay there, I discovered that the message and symbolism overruled the story and characters – so I did a lot of character study and scene writing, adding more of my personal experience as well. Since we don’t have any volcanoes in the Netherlands, I went on an inspiration and research trip on the Icelandic volcano island Heimaey, where I have been reworking the first draft. Being there under the gaze of an actual volcano, walking around just like my main character Viccy would do and speaking with people about the Eldfell eruption of 1973, added a lot to my writing and world-building. It has been such an incredible journey already and I’m super grateful for that. Production company HALAL and I are aiming to shoot the film in the summer of 2023.
And, lastly, what else are you working on?
The last time I spoke with DN, I also mentioned that I was working on “a young adult horror short inspired by a strange sea creature…” I am still working on that, but the strange sea creature is actually growing into a “cottoncandy horror” TV series called Tuna. Developing a series is so different from a short or a feature film, but I’m adding many new writing tools to my toolbox and it is all super exciting.
Heat is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.