The son of a film producer, he worked as an assistant, photographer and projectionist from the age of 13. But he decided to study law "to rebel against my father".
"After four years, I realised filming was too important to me. But I didn't want to be 'the son of', so I opened my own production company with a few friends," he says. Specialising in short films, his experience at the company led Van Heijningen to Czar Films, a production company in Amsterdam, which shaped his approach to making ads.
"I realised I just didn't want to treat what I was doing simply like a commercial, but as a short movie with a story. And in most cases, it goes wrong and that's what makes the whole thing funny," he says.
Van Heijningen believes that energy should be put into creating characters. "People are interested in characters' adventures and this catches the attention for the message," he says.
He thinks characterisation was an important element of "the sculptor".
"When I was younger, I spent a lot of time in India and knew that the ad shouldn't look like Bollywood, but crowded and dusty, just like India.
What I added to a very good script was the protagonist shaking his head at the end; he thinks he looks really cute having reshaped his car."
His knowledge and love of the Far East form the basis of another spot.
The protagonist of the Delta Lloyd insurance ad is a young man who stays in bed rather taking part in a parade. When the "human puzzle" of the dictator's face is composed, his piece - the dictator's tooth - is missing, proving that with the insurance company one can take any risk. "It was necessary to have a serious language and it was also a really stylistic treat thanks to 3D," he says.
When it comes to spot advertising, Van Heijningen also likes to have fun. "Making it fun is my trademark," he admits. As ever, the director's own experiences have shaped his sense of comedy. "I'm really clumsy," he confesses with a smile.
- Matthijs Van Heijningen was talking to Stefania Medetti.