Interview with Jan Hendrik Verstraten, Writer, Director and Co-Producer of “I AM HENRY”

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Queenanneboleyn.com recently learned of an exciting new independent short film project focusing on the moments after the death of King Henry VIII. ‘I Am Henry’, a short 20 minute movie produced by Flying Dutchman Films will release to general audiences in 2016.  Writer, Director and Co-Producer of the this exciting new project is Jan Hendrik Verstraten. Jan Hendrik, along with his Flying Dutchman Films partner Massimo Barbato, has a commendable philosophy regarding the magic of independent film making.

“We believe values – as the core of all good stories – can lay the foundations for personal and social transformation. When stories are deeply grounded in values, they can communicate a vision. So we weave values into every story, combined with strong emotional themes that inspire audiences to think differently about themselves and the world around them.”

Queenanneboleyn.com recently caught up with Jan Hendrik Verstraten to discuss ‘I Am Henry’. After enjoying the intriguing movie trailer that will leave you wanting more, learn just that about this exciting short film highlighting King Henry VIII, Queen Anne Boleyn and Queen Catherine of Aragon.

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Video Credit: Flying Dutchman Films
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Jan Henrick Verstraten Flying Dutchman Films
Jan Hendrik Verstraten
Flying Dutchman Films

1. Your independent short film is an introspective look at the conscience of King Henry VIII? What gave you the idea for this intriguing movie plot?

When I set out to write the screenplay, it wasn’t my plan for it to be about this famous Tudor monarch. All I envisioned was a middle-aged man in an empty white room. While I sat down behind the computer, and felt this man’s presence. I started to realise it was King Henry VIII, that he just had died, and that he had not fully grasped yet what that meant.

A strange concept perhaps, but from then onwards I got really excited, started my research and looked deeper into his life.

The voices of Anne Boleyn, and Catherine of Aragon came alive quite easily, as if they were eager to share their experience and grief, especially what they felt when they were alive, and how Henry had tragically impacted their lives. It was the King himself who initially struggled to find his own voice, as if over the years, he had become lost, as a result of his misdeeds.

The characters are widely known, and I quickly realised that this was an advantage. There is no need to introduce them as most of the audience already knows about them, and Anne Boleyn, in particular, has a huge following worldwide. All of these elements were very helpful in making this short.

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King Henry VIII Artist: Lucas Horenbout
King Henry VIII
Artist: Lucas Horenbout

2. It is my understanding that ‘I Am Henry’ explores King Henry VIII finding himself in purgatory after his death. Beyond his learning that his questions regarding the existence of purgatory are answered, what gave you the idea to hang him in limbo this way? 

The truth is it just developed that way. Of course as a writer I could see the dramatic benefit of this approach. It’s fascinating to be able to hear Anne tell us what she felt while she was in the tower, and how it was to walk towards the scaffolding and her tragic death.

In a lot of my writing, I have a strong interest in the feelings of the characters, but I am also curious about the forces in life that cannot be seen, and the things in life and beyond that we merely can sense or can only speculate about.

Death, and the possibility of life after death, intrigues most people as much as life does, and I feel as a writer drawn to explore it, and venture into the unknown.

Each one of us will die one day, and it raises fundamental questions: ‘How will I feel? Nothing? Is there a God? What’s the ongoing journey that awaits us?’

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Queen Anne Boleyn in the Tower of London (Artist: Edouard Cibot)
Queen Anne Boleyn in the Tower of London
(Artist: Edouard Cibot)

3. Your movie co-stars Queen Anne Boleyn, with Queen Catherine of Aragon also making an appearance. With a monarch reign so colorful and rich of possibilities, why did you find Anne Boleyn’s story so compelling?

The story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn is without doubt one of the most fascinating love stories in English history. It’s full of drama, intrigue and suspense.  Their relationship changed everything. Not only did it end the 24 year old marriage of the king with Catherine of Aragon, it made England break with Rome and the Catholic church.

Their love story ended in an equally dramatic way with Anne unable to produce a male heir, and being beheaded.

In my view it was the defining period of Henry’s reign during which he changed from a very popular king into a tyrant.

Anne as a character is certainly fascinating. Who was she really? Did she plot to win the king’s affection? Or was she a victim herself?

The irony of all this is the fact that Anne’s daughter Elizabeth I became England’s most successful monarch.

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Fleur Keith
Fleur Keith

4. This is Fleur Keith’s second performance as Queen Anne Boleyn. Previously star of ‘Henry and Anne, The Lovers Who Changed History’, Fleur certainly has experience with the role. I am always amazed by the quality of acting in many independent short films. How do you go about casting a short fil such as this? Is this Fleur’s first role in an independent short film? Does she have a strong interest in the life of Queen Anne Boleyn, or is the casting completely coincidental? 

The quality of the actors we saw during the castings was incredible. We found Fleur Keith, an amazing Anne from among 150 applicants. We invited her for a call back together with 5 other candidates. Her performance was captivating, and we could not have found a better actress for the part.

This was Fleur’s second time playing Anne Boleyn. She first played her in 2011 in a play about Anne and her brother, George, which followed them from their teenage years, up until their deaths.

In ‘I Am Henry’, the focus is mainly on Anne’s downfall and all the factors which contributed to her death. As an actress Fleur’s perception of Henry did change because of this – she felt much more animosity towards Henry than she had done previously.

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Sebastian Street
Sebastian Street

5. Sebastian Street plays the role of King Henry VIII. Besides his exhaustive acting experience in independent films, why was he selected for this iconic role?

We were able to fill the other parts through a successful casting, but we were struggling to find a convincing Henry VIII. After much effort, I searched IMDB and other sites, and found a trailer starring Sebastian Street. He came across as a very versatile and strong actor to me, and he had just finished his Scorsese film ‘Tomorrow.’ I immediately thought he would make a great Henry.

I sent him the script right away and didn’t expect to hear back from him but to my surprise, he called me the very next morning. He had just returned from Cannes, where he was promoting his new feature. He told me he loved the script and was interested in being in the short. “When were we going to shoot it?”

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6. Do you plan to submit ‘I Am Henry’ for competition in any upcoming Film Festivals? If so, where can we expect the movie will be highlighted?

We definitely hope to show the film at film festivals in various countries, and will let you know asap when and where this is going to be.

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7. Jan Hendrik, what drove your interest to become an independent film writer, director and producer? What makes this cinematic genre so special?

My passion for independent film started in New York when I studied at the New School. I loved the 16 mm art of filmmaking, and was lucky enough to sell my first short to the PBS channel in New York, Channel Thirteen.

For the last few years I’ve focused on screenwriting in different genres here in London, where I set up Flying Dutchman Films. I’ve won numerous awards, but was unlucky when a big film deal fell through at the very last minute.

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Sebastian Street Picture Credit: Flying Dutchman Films
Sebastian Street as King Henry VIII
Picture Credit: Flying Dutchman Films

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8. Can you tell QAB members and browsers about your production company Flying Dutchman Films? 

Right now, I’m putting together a team to produce several shorts, interviews and hopefully a feature after that. I’m very clear about the kind of stories I want to tell and how they look visually. My interest is especially in what it means to be human.

With the quality of technology readily available to us now, I believe that the next decade is going to be a new golden age for independent filmmakers and for films with an individual voice and vision.”

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Jan Henrick Verstaten
Jan Hendrik Verstraten

9. You highlight on your website Flying Dutchman Films where your passion lies. “I want to bring great stories to the screen that take the audience on a journey out of their everyday life, and inspire their imagination.” Tell us more. 

Ultimately, I would love to find an audience for the film. We’ve started to build a following on Facebook, and so far the response has been amazing. A lot of people are fascinated by the Tudors. It was, after all, one of the most transformative periods in English history. Anne Boleyn also has many die-hard female fans, and we’ve established links with several fan sites to promote the film. Many people from the US have already been asking when they will be able to view ‘I Am Henry’ on TV, or download it from the Internet. This is very encouraging.

Although it’s a complete story in itself, I wrote ‘I Am Henry’ with a twist at the end. The audience is left wondering. What happens next? Most shorts are not commercial ventures, but this ending allows for the possibility of turning the short into a TV series of six episodes or a mini-series. The next episodes will take us further into the afterlife. Henry’s parents and brother will appear, but also elements of Dante’s Inferno will be woven into the story.

I’m currently also working on a another script, and have the first draft for a Greek tragedy based on a well-known character, Medea. I’m very clear about the kind of stories I want to tell and how they look visually. In the future, I’d love to be able to make a feature. I have several award-winning screenplays in development, including ‘Flood’ and ‘The Age of Aquarius.’  

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Sebastian Street Photo Credit: Flying Dutchman Films
Sebastian Street as King Henry VIII
Photo Credit: Flying Dutchman Films

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Join Queenanneboleyn.com in following the progress of the ‘I Am Henry’ impending 2016 release!!

Facbook: I Am Henry 

Twitter: @iamhenryfilm

Instagram: #iamhenryfilm

Website: Flying Dutchman Films

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Beth von Staats

is the owner and administrator of QueenAnneBoleyn.com. The author of "Thomas Cranmer in a Nutshell", Beth specializes in writing magazine articles, online historical articles, short stories, and flash fiction.

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