By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Wondrium’s In the Footsteps of Van Gogh showcases the master painter’s world. For this project, the company partnered with Pantheon Studios to bring Vincent van Gogh’s life onto the screen. Content developer Brandon Hopkins explains how.
As much as Wondrium’s new series In the Footsteps of Van Gogh is an art history course, it’s also a tour through various locations in Europe that played an important role in Vincent van Gogh’s life. For example, Van Gogh was inspired to paint The Starry Night while confined to an asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, just 12 miles south of Avignon, France. What did he see in the asylum grounds and landscapes beyond that brought his best-known masterpiece out of him?
Answering a question like this is no easy task. Brandon Hopkins, a producer who worked on In the Footsteps of Van Gogh, explained his experience developing the series with presenter Jean-Pierre Isbouts, Professor Emeritus at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara.
From Brabant to Auvers-sur-Oise
Any series about Van Gogh would detail his influence on other artists, and In the Footsteps of Van Gogh is no exception, but what makes it unique and bingeworthy?
“In addition to it being an art history course and a biography of Van Gogh, the series itself is also a travel series,” Hopkins said. “So, it’s not just a question of talking about Van Gogh and his art; it’s really going to the places where he lived, starting in the Brabant in Holland and then going to Belgium briefly and down into France. You get to not just see the art and hear the story of his life, [but] you actually get to go there, and it’s a pretty unique experience for anyone who’s interested in that art or that history.”
Many wonderful Van Gogh exhibits have popped up recently, including in Washington, D.C., but as Hopkins pointed out, they don’t really bring their audience to the locations that inspired the artist’s life and work. Wondrium’s new series does so with the help of presenter Jean-Pierre Isbouts.
“He’s a producer and director and writer—he’s this polymath in so many ways—he’s a historian, an art historian, a storyteller,” Hopkins said. “He can conceptualize a series like this and know what all the pieces are in a way that a lot of professors don’t think of. He really is thinking on all levels: visually, practically, narratively. So, he, as a creator, is great to work with because he’s fully invested and fully aware of everything he’s doing.”
A Unique Collaboration
Isbouts’s dual citizenship in the United States and Holland—and his relationships with many prominent Van Gogh organizations—enabled him to travel and film in exclusive locations during the pandemic. Due to the restrictions on Americans traveling to the EU at the time of filming, Wondrium’s normal production teams were unable to pack up their cameras and microphones and couldn’t head for Holland and France.
However, Isbouts and his company—Pantheon Studios—were able to do so; so, the series became a collaboration between the two companies.
“In this production, he’s got not just the pieces that he’s delivering to camera, but he’s got the voiceover actors coming in; he’s got the art that’s going to be onscreen, which is out of his own collection; he’s got music that he’s layered in,” Hopkins said. “It’s all period music like Debussy and Ravel. It’s just the multiplicity of different disciplines that he’s comfortable working in that […] goes beyond our typical in-studio product and beyond what a lot of presenters can do.”
Additionally, Hopkins said, Isbouts’s connections made it possible for a Wondrium production team to get exclusive access to The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., near Wondrium’s studio in Chantilly, VA, for a film shoot. Isbouts planned to interview Kimberly Jones, the curator of the 19th-century French collection at The National Gallery of Art, two hours before the gallery opened. Hopkins and a small crew arrived early, set up, and filmed the interview.
“We got to take the elevator that they bring the art up in—the freight elevator, in the back of the museum that you’re not usually allowed to go into,” he said. “We got to go through there and interview the curator and be in there with nobody else. It was an intimate little shoot that we got to do; and two hours later, we packed up and got out just as the crowds were starting to come in.”
In the Footsteps of Van Gogh is now available to stream on Wondrium.