July 21, 2014

NewsDoc Alum Loretta van derHorst: Go where you can get the most experience and responsibility

We caught up with alumna Loretta van derHorst (‘2011) who worked as a Line Producer on Huesos Que Hablan (Bones that Talk), a documentary for the Discovery Channel that was recently nominated for an Emmy under ‘Outstanding investigative journalism in Spanish.’

How did you end up working on Huesos Que Hablan?

I was working at Pacha Films, a production company in Peru that makes documentaries across Latin America. There had already been several documentaries about the femicides (murders of women) in Mexico, but never about the forensic scientists and crime scene investigators that actually deal with these crimes.

How did Discovery get involved?

Discovery showed interest in the forensic angle, so I had to find out everything about the history of the violence, the most recent cases and the researchers (possible characters) and write down an initial treatment, which Discovery then commissioned. I was then put on the project as the line producer, meaning I was in charge of the pre production and the production during filming.

What surprised or challenged you about being a line producer?

It was my first time producing such a big documentary and I was very keen to get it right right away. I was calling people in Mexico on a daily basis, for research and production. We couldn’t travel there before filming so I had to really have long conversations with people to get to know them and find out if they were a good character and if so, what we could film with them. I even had them Skype with me from their forensic lab. As I got closer to determining who were my favorite characters I noticed there were strong power struggles at play and jealousy between people over there, so I really had to be careful in order not to lose any characters. I took this lesson with me in future productions as well.

Do you have any advice for those looking to get into production?

Go where you can get the most experience and responsibility. At first I was looking in New York but ended up going to Peru, where I really got the field experience I wanted. Now I am freer with my choices of where to go next.

What’s your next project?

After 4.5 years abroad, I am now back in Amsterdam. During the two years I worked in Latin America I covered a lot of conflict, violence and corruption, and I realized there is much more to these issues than you see at first sight. That is why I will be doing a one year Masters here in Conflict Studies and Human Rights. After that I will likely go right back to journalism and making documentaries.

You can read more from Loretta about her production experience on her blog.