Maarten Debulpaep

‘We try to show less doom and gloom, people are going through a rough enough time at the moment'

The Sound Vision of  Maarten Debulpaep

Sound Vision by SoundAware

The world we live in at the moment is quite difficult, with the pandemic and the measures taken to stop the spread of the virus. For everyone, regardless of their age, where they live or the industry they work in. Of all industries, the cultural one might have been hit the hardest. Where some sceptics talk about ‘those few gigs and festivals that were cancelled’, it actually affects millions of artists, actors, musicians, production - and other staff who’ve been out of work and income, all over the globe, for months. That’s why we thought it was time for an update, coming straight from the people in the industry. This episode of Sound vision: Maarten Debulpaep, COO & Head of Production of Zodiak Belgium.

Text Kylie Fletcher

Looking back on 2020

‘Despite the pandemic, I haven’t really had to stay (and work) at home. In the world of television, things have been kept going. We had and have a lot of programs in development, which meant it was necessary for me to be present at the office. At the start of the crisis, it surely was very difficult. Mid March to late May 2020, everything we were working on fell still. At the end of May, beginning of June, we started filming a fiction project and a few weeks later non-fiction. It wasn’t all as bad as we thought it would be. From April onwards, we started working on our own Covid precautions. As ‘early adopters, we outlined everything and tried to make all workplaces and processes as safe as possible. Together with our prevention advisor, we put together a document with our own precautions and rules people were (and are ) to work by, to guarantee everyone’s safety and make sure all would and could work together properly. In that phase there wasn't any testing yet, as they were not yet available, so we assumed everyone was sticking to the rules and measures set by the government. Luckily, we were spared a massive outbreak. We did have to cancel a foreign version of our programme ‘Huizenjagers’, but 3 of the foreign places we wanted to film were in lockdown, so we couldn't make this happen. In the meantime, more is possible and things are regulated much better. The precautions set to stop the spread of Covid are less strict within our industry now, you can’t record everyone with a mask on all the time. Still, it is harder to produce television in this day and age, during a pandemic. Most rules and regulations you read about in the papers or see on the news are aimed at the general public, your private life. You hardly hear or see anything related to the measures that need to be taken in a professional manner.’

No change in the type of program due to Covid

‘In our industry, we haven’t really thought about different concepts due to the crisis. We haven’t developed specific programs with the crisis in mind. We have however altered existing formats and programs. An example of this is a program in which we normally film scenes with three estate agents sitting in one car. With the current social distancing regulations, these people would be sitting too close to one another. In the country we wanted to shoot, this wasn’t allowed at the time, so we had to adjust the program slightly. Also, when filming fiction, we shoot with less extra’s. And most importantly: for every format or programme, we make a separate risk assessment and follow it.’

Weird, but true: things are going as well as they did before the crisis

‘As producer and creator, we always try to deliver the same quality. Especially now. We need to make sure our viewers don’t just get to see all doom and gloom. We really try to avoid showing too much negativity right now. We try to comfort our viewers: at home, they need to feel safe, kick their feet back and relax. We hope our programs distract them from the uncertain time we live in at the moment. We haven’t noticed any change in the selling of formats or programs. It’s as easy or difficult as it was before Covid. What we do notice is that broadcasters are thinking twice before purchasing a new format. The question ‘ is now the right time to purchase this (kind of) format’ comes by often. So this is certainly something we are confronted with. Also, something else, that has nothing to do with the crisis: there are more stations on Belgian television. On that matter we do notice there is a tighter budget: VTM now also has a 2,3 and 4. As a producer, this means you need to adjust your expectations.’


‘What we’ve learnt thanks to this crisis? You always try to keep the quality to a certain standard when creating programs. Doing the same thing often, but always a tad different. It is something that's very typical of our industry: going far with little. Causing people to stay glued to their television with great storytelling. As an industry, we are capable enough to do so. As we were ‘early adopters’ in making the workplace corona-proof, we did however notice that we eased on the corona-proof measures we put in place, fairly easy. That for us is something we’ve learnt: that it is better to stay consistent. In following up the corona ‘rules’, but also towards your partners and cooperations. Try to make something into a routine as soon as possible, into something tangible. Stick to your solid basis and don’t try to change it all the time. It causes disruption. This certainly is something we’ve learnt. People are having a hard time following up on what they are being told what they can and mostly can’t do by their government this past year. They need something to hold on to. In every line of our work you benefit from consistency.’

Storytelling top priority

‘If the battle of the viewer has changed? It is hard to say. I don’t think it is more or less of a struggle than before. Especially now with the arrival and competition of streaming companies. We’re actually happy that there are more broadcasters in the system. Storytelling is now in the top 5 of the most important functions globally. It is a necessity that we keep producing more and more content. We even find our Flemish content in the weirdest of places, in unexpected countries. That’s kind of amazing and special to see.’

Belgian music

‘One of the programs we make is called ‘Liefde voor muziek’ (Love for music) and I think that as a production company, this is our way of helping out the music industry; one of the hardest-hit industries during this pandemic. We’ve always realised the importance of using Belgian made music in our productions. So for us, there is no difference for us, we haven't started to use more ‘Belgian’ music than before, because we already did so. We always try to use as much ‘Belgian’ music as possible. When talking about the choice for certain music or genres, it surprises me that our industry mostly picks more rock and alternative, instead of pop, jazz and house, which is my preference. I do miss some creativity here. We have a lot of very good music being made in Belgium, yet some genres and tracks just come by too often. The choice for certain music in our productions doesn't rely on the preference of the editor; luckily it is mostly linked to the people who play a role in the program. With the program ‘Huizenjagers’ (‘House hunters), we often look at the lead character of an episode and base our music choice on them. Luckily, the choice in certain music has also changed over the past years and music with more vocals is something that finally is more accepted. A nice development. And last but not least, audio libraries are way better now, than they were in the past!’ 

M​aarten Debulpaep​ & Zodiak Belgium

Maarten Debulpaep
Maarten Debulpaep​ has been working at Zodiak Belgium since 2004. From 2014 onwards as COO, and since 2019 also as Head of Production at the Belgian production company (part of  The Banijay Group​). ​Zodiak Belgium​ makes innovative content for several different Belgian and international broadcasters. The company has made many hundreds of hours of television for broadcasters such as VRT, DPG Media and SBS Belgium. Zodiak develops formats and ideas in different segments, from fiction and non-fiction to entertainment and drama. Known productions made by Zodiak are programs such as Huizenjagers, Familie, Liefde Voor Muziek, De Buurtpolitie, So You Think You Can Dance and Blind Gekocht.

Keen to read more Sound Visions? Take a look here for our other interviews in this series.



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