Limburg millionaire sold company to make movie dream come true

Harald Swinkels from Panningen (46) earned a fortune by selling the energy company NLE, which he and a friend had set up twelve years earlier. That capital he uses to make his dream come true: to start a film company. The first feature film will soon premiere.

Some entrepreneurs he knows from his past life and who are now crossing his path do not grasp it. They think he’s been through a kind of midlife crisis. For who would sell a successful business to start a new adventure with the profits? In the film world, of course …

Harald Swinkel can laugh at that. And then explains that there is nothing wrong with him. And that this – for the outside world – remarkable step in his career was planned decades ago. In fact, making movies is a dream he has loved since he was a little boy. “When I played with my middle brother at home in Panningen, there was always a Playmobil camera car. Movies have always fascinated me. I well remember the first time we went to the cinema and was completely hotel debotel. It was Star Wars, Return of the Jedi† I think I was about eight years old. I came out absolutely delighted. ”

What fascinates him about the cinema? “Film is an art form that arouses the strongest emotions in me. I can be touched by music or a beautiful painting, but it’s not as intense as with movies. This is where history, image and music meet. I can also love a movie that actually makes me feel awful as long as one is immersed in fantasy. It also gives a huge kick if you can come up with something yourself and then implement it. And it touches people. ”


When he is about eleven years old, he makes an agreement with his big brother Niels that he will later have to work in the film world, and that he himself will make a lot of money. With the intention of making a feature film together one day. Well, they are just in time, Swinkels concludes contentedly. Brother Niels has held a senior position at Universal Pictures in Los Angeles for years, and Harald has actually built up an entire fortune. For that money, he set up his own film company in Rotterdam: Exosphere entertainment.

During this year, the first production of his new company, under the title Disadvantage, premiere. A short film of thirty minutes, with important roles for the famous Danish actress Claes Bang, the Flemish actress Alwin Pulinckx and the Dutch actress Sally Harmsen. And preparations for the first full-length film are in full swing. It was to hit theaters sometime in 2024.


Swinkels receives us at his office on St. Jobsweg in Rotterdam. It’s like stepping into a restaurant. Right next to the entrance is a large bar with a wide selection of drinks, in the middle a kind of theater with chairs and large LCD screens.

It is a relic from the corona era, he explains. “We had Disadvantage wants to show at international film festivals. But these events were all canceled due to the pandemic. So we set up our own mini cinema here and invited guests from the film industry to come and see. In that way, we have created a bit of a festival atmosphere. ”

Read also: These are the very richest in Limburg

Behind the big screens are the offices, where Swinkels and his partner Caroline Bevaart write film scripts, and where he makes his agreements with co-production and distribution companies, actors and technicians. Swinkels and Bevaart know each other from Nederlandse Energie Maatschappij (NLE), where she was marketing manager. She, like him, proved to have a passion for telling stories.


Harald Swinkels was born in Tegelen and was a year old when his parents moved from Venlo to Panningen. He grew up in a family with three children. All the boys, of which he was the youngest. He looks back on a happy childhood, he says. “I grew up in a warm family. Was in primary school in Panningen-Zuid and was a fanatical football player in SV Panningen. ”

After primary school, he, like his two brothers, goes to the gym in Deurne in Brabant. He strives for a career in politics for a while, but ultimately chooses entrepreneurship. And thus follows in the footsteps of his father, who first runs an advertising agency in Venlo and later becomes the newspaper’s publisher. North Limburg on Sunday

Swinkels will study econometrics and economics in Rotterdam and during that study will start a publishing house with his friend Pieter Schoen. The two twenty-somethings score immediately with the book What will YOU become† The interviewers knew Dutch people like Youp van ‘t Hek, Emile Ratelband, Ivo Niehe, Monique van de Ven, Onno Ruding and DJ 100% Isis. Swinkels: “With our next business, we devised a software program that enabled graduates to apply in a virtual world. In no time, all the virtual spaces were sold to companies.”

film heart

In 2005, Swinkels and Schoen switched to the energy sector and founded the NLE. “The energy market was thrown open. Not that we knew about it, but we smelled opportunities. And it went well. After ten years, we had 800,000 connections, and 300 people worked for us. ”

But his film heart continues to beat. Swinkels himself begins to devise and direct the commercials for the NLE. To finally put the NLE up for sale (as a result, Swinkels was in Quote 500† He was triggered by his brother, he says. “At my wedding party, my ‘movie brother’ gave a speech. If I waited a long time, moving to the movie world would never happen, he said. It made me think. And when a suitable acquisition candidate applied for the NLE, the choice was made quickly. ”


Just before the start of the pandemic, Swinkels, who is married and lives with his wife and three children in a village near Rotterdam, Exosphere entertainment on. His approach differs from other filmmakers in the Netherlands, he explains. “Most people will not do anything else for twenty years to pay for their own film. They are forced to collect grants for this. The major disadvantage of this is that the donors demand influence. And it usually does not give a better film. We financed the short feature ourselves. For the first full-length film, which is now underway, we are also using our own capital to attract other investors. ”

What kind of movie can we expect from him? Mainly psychological thrillers, he says, because he himself is a big fan of them. Disadvantage is a first example of this, though according to Swinkel it’s more of a dark adventure. The main character is a cartoonist with an unattainable love, who receives a pencil with which he can shape his life. Reality and fantasy are intertwined.

Claes Bang in Harald Swinkels’ debut film.

Photo: Exosphere Entertainment


Swinkels is extremely happy that he managed to get the Danish actor Claes Bang for that film. “For his role in … he has The place, which received a Palme d’Or, won the European Film Award for Best Male Lead. And he stars in the popular Netflix series Dracula and – quite recently – The Norwegian by director Robert Eggers, whom I greatly admire. Bang was cut out for this role. But it took me nine months to get him to Amersfoort for two days where the recordings were. It’s not easy to catch big names as an unknown Dutch director. ”

The Limburger’s ambitions are great. He hopes for an international breakthrough and would like to make a blockbuster one day: “One must dare to dream big.” Will that movie with his brother Niels ever be made? “I dare not say that, but I hope so. I now have to make a name for myself in the film industry. ”

Leave a Comment