The IPO Communications Manager Liezel Vermeulen welcomed everyone to the webinar. We are absolutely thrilled to be having our 3rd Short Film Webinar. This is something that was developed in response to queries that have we have been receiving from the end of last year. We are very grateful to see that that the NFVF is doing a lot of support to short-film makers and we have just seen an amazing announcement in the last two days with a long list of short-films that are being created with their support.
The Silwerskerm Fees is a space that has traditionally been wonderful for short-films and this year we have seen some brilliant award winners. We invited the two film teams, ‘Leemtes en Leegheid’ and ‘My Beskermer’, to share their journey with us, to inspire us and give us some insights into their process. Thank you very much to David Fransciscus and Diana Mills Smith and to Gabriella Blumberg and Jordy Sank.
Liezel: If I could maybe turn to Diana and David first, we would love to hear a little bit about the genesis of the project. Maybe you could give us a bit of insight into the fact that two of you worked on the script together, what was your inspiration, what was the process and how did you work with the team at Silwerskerm.
Diana: Hi everyone, I am Diana, I am the director and co-writer on ‘My Beskermer’. It is interesting to think about because we started this project in 2020, I think it was. We were not sure when the actual project was going to happen, it was just thinking about ideas, what we kind of wanted to see and our initial idea for the project was tackling a coming of age story in the wake of the apocalypse. We knew we wanted in to be sci-fi, we knew that we wanted it to be something that was ambitious and we also knew that we wanted it to serve not behind as a short-film but also a proof of concept that we could turn into a feature when it was done. That did not take away from making sure that it worked and it worked as a contained 20 minute story but it was really just thinking about a lot of ideas. We thought of the world of the characters and we had a very clear idea of the main character. Who she was, which was this young girl Tink. Thinking about a 10 year old and we knew that she was going to be the perspective of the world. And we just had a lot of fun thinking about all the ideas that we could do in that world.
The ideas that did not make it into the short-film, we would be able to explore those in the feature and kind of set those pieces. It was a lot of fun, both David and I are very passionate about genre, his dog being named Indiana Jones Jnr should tell you something. It was another thing we knew that we wanted to include, Indie into the actual story. It was really a passion project to the most extent that it could be, I think we really had a lot of fun on it.
David: Yes, Diana actually had the idea for the story and we have been collaborators before but being aware of this opportunity from Silwerskerm we thought we have to do something so Diana had the idea for a story from there we collaborated further and wrote together. There is a third part of our team, part of both our teams both myself and Diana and Gabriella and Jordy, Rick Joaquim our DP. Rick is such a special person to both of us, he really just kept egging us on to get something going and he should be here as well. He has been such a key component of the entire process for both our teams I am sure. We all decided to do something together and the story that came out I think we very proud of and Silwerskerm specifically is such a great platform for us and coming film makers, it is a great place to get some airtime. A lot of the projects are going to be screened on Showmax and I think they are on DSTV Now already and the festival itself is such a great event and place to meet other people and come together and do things together. We had such a great opportunity through Silwerskerm.
So the two of you have worked together for quite a long time and have an existing sort of short-hand. I know the same is true for you Gabriella and Jordy. Did you also see this as an opportunity that came up with KykNet and Silwerskerm, and you responded to that or was this a meeting of opportunity and an idea you had knocking around? Can you tell us a little bit about how this all came about for you and what the process was in terms of your scripting.
Jordy: How the project really came about was that Gabriella and I worked in a documentary feature called “I Am Here” which centered on a remarkable 98 year old Holocaust survivor called Ella Blumenthal. When we worked on that project together, Ella has this incredible life story and one of the things that struck us while working on the project is Ella was married for many years and her partner passed away and we saw this woman who had been through so much and she was so affected by losing her life partner and it really just got us to think about what we would do if the people we love, after being with them and loving them for over 50 or more years, what happens when they no longer with us. How is it to deal with that and what do you actually do and that really was the genesis of the idea that led to ‘Leemtes en Leegheid’ and it was sort of a meeting of coming up with that idea off the back of the documentary and also as David said the only reason we really submitted to Silwerskermers was Rick Joachim whom we also collaborated with on the documentary, was like we really have to submit. We did and the channel really resonated with the story.
Gabriella: Firstly, shout out to Esther who is our editor and is also on the call. So it is nice to have our team here. I think also as Diana mentioned it was a much longer process than normal for Silwerskerm, usually you pitch and quite quickly you move through the stages until you are selected and you are shooting. Whereas because of lockdowns, possible dates get moving, shooting dates get moving. Jordy and Terrence had already written the script but it gave us a lot of time to hone into the script which we took advantage of, we did some readings of the script via Zoom with actors to see which lines were working and what was not working. I think also because it was during Covid where there was so much unfortunately grief and loss and isolation, the themes of the films actually became more relevant than just a story of an 80 year old woman who has lost her husband. It became something universal. I think we also honed a lot on that because the times were changing while kind of writing the final draft.
So far those of us who are not familiar with the process with KykNet and the competition, and how it moved towards creating a film, particularly for Silwerskerm. Could you give us a little bit of background as to what the opportunity was and just kind of sketch how that all played out?
Gabriella: Every year they open a call for projects and there are a few specifications. Last year and actually the call this year again has not set a time limit so it is anything under 30minutes. Whereas in previous years they had certain time categories. So the first round you give a 300 word kind of synopsis story concept. And then if you get selected from that stage you get selected into a video pitch stage, after the video pitch stage is the kind of script stage. So you go through a few rounds and once you have actually been selected as an official project you then get mentors attached who will help you with production queries. This whole process is facilitated by ‘Idea Candy’ and their phenomenal team there. They also help with the process of doing butter deals with equipment houses, help with the casting process but the whole short-film is commissioned by KykNet, Silwerskerm and Idea Candy so at the end of the day the film is owned by them, they are the distributor.
David how did you hear about the opportunity? Was it through Rick?
David: I have been participating or at least attending Silwerskerm for the last couple of years and I have been aware of the projects. I think we had helped some other projects past my company Protagonist with post-production and there are a few of these things that happen in Cape Town, like 48hours is another one that comes to mind. A project that Diana and I have collaborated on before but think this one is really a special opportunity because of just the reach that you get with the film that you have produced and also the support like Gabriella was saying. I think that mentors, the pairing of the mentors specifically is something that is really valuable. We were paired with Christiaan Olwagen who directed one of my favorite South African films Kanarie and he was very helpful in helping us tailor our film down to the specific market. I think all four of us here are not really Afrikaans film makers so there is a bit of an education in terms of converting and translating the film into Afrikaans. Having someone like that is really helpful in many different ways, he had been with us for a year plus from conception until exhibition, so Christiaan was very helpful all through the process.
Something else that occurred to me is that we both made, both our team and Jordy and Gabriella as well, have made films that seem to appeal to the market and that really tells me that film is a universal language, the dialogue is not as important as the story because stories can be translated and work in a variety of different languages so I think we were both able to use this platform and make some great films with the help of those mentors.
I noticed that none of you are Afrikaans first language speakers but on the other hand as you are saying film language is universal, it does not really matter what language you working in. Could any of you maybe give us insight as to how it worked on a practical level.
David: To just to talk to that as well to continue, practically I think the biggest thing is both translating the script from English to Afrikaans because we first wrote it in English, with that process you just need somebody that is going to be able to help you ensure that the language flows naturally and then the second largest component for us was the actual production. Making sure that the actors do not come off as sounding silly if they are not Afrikaans speakers. We had Shamila Miller who is the older sister who plays Karie and she is not a Afrikaans speaker or first language Afrikaans speaker. The only Afrikaans actor we had was the young girl Jasmine.
Diana: I was just going to say that one of the other components to the conceptual side of dialogue is us not wanting it to sound like posh Afrikaans. It would not have served the characters if we had done just a direct translation of what we had written (English into Afrikaans) there could have been a lot of mischaracterizations and even culture. I think that Jasmine was such an amazing talented actress and she would often say that ‘this does not sound like something I would say, can I tweak it’ and that was so wonderful cause she was really collaborative and intelligent on that side. And also like David was saying not only dialect language coach but also nitpicking on what is being said. Maybe it might be said like that as an adult but not as a kid and making sure that it feels authentic more than just a really clean language translation that was something that was very important to us.
I am almost tempted to just say to you Diana and David that there is a saying in the industry and that is ‘do not work with kids and animals’ and yet here we are.The choice of Jasmine was so key and really Indi the dog added so much to the film, can you maybe just talk us a little through your casting strategy?
Diana: We obviously wrote the characters before we did the casting. Maybe the character of Karie, she kind of feels like a couple of different incarnations of the character, trying to figure that out we were very clear on the young girl and I had a very clear idea of who she was supposed to be. The older sister character, was always kind of loosely tied. She was actually someone that we felt Shamila could play the character really well and reaching out to her and finding out she was keen and available was wonderful but we knew that it was going to be super important that we could find somebody who could play the girl on the story. I think David had taken helm of searching and coping, so I will let him talk about that process. But just to say that when we found Jasmine, she was straight out of the story, she was literally the character that we had written. Even the kind of storyboarding and sketch ideas that we had done of her, there was a level of mature acting that you do not usually see from kids but in some ways it was sometimes easier just asking her to be herself.
David: So when we were going through casting we looked at all of the kids that were available and we could not find the actress that could play young Tink there just was not anyone available or anyone that existed. So we decided to broaden our search to acting schools, to these unconventional places. Usually we just go to the casting agent or an actor’s agent and ask them if they have anyone that fits the profile, then you get a tape. We were not able to find anyone and so eventually I reached out to some extras agencies, I remember finding success doing that in the past and we found Jasmine at one of these extras agencies, she did a tape and as soon as we both saw it we knew that she was the one. We set up a meeting with her, she came to meet us at Greenpoint Park in Cape Town and we took her to the dog park with Indie and Diana was working with her blocking, started going through some of the character moments and it all just fit together.
Diana: She was excited; I think she probably showed us the entire script. We had basically given two scenes so they could try and rehearse and give us for a tape. I think she did the entire film out of at least everything she had off the script. She was so keen to give and give. She was really excited and that kind of energy is contagious. Having a really positive feeling and experiencing it every day on set was wonderful.
David: She came from Hermanus so she ended up having to drive a lot and I think eventually we just pat her up in a hotel for the duration of the shoot. We were so happy to have found he and she had not worked on a short-film or any kind of production before outside of extras work which is just coming for a day and leaving. Sometimes I would look at her on set and she would be falling asleep, she just was not used to the hours and demand but definitely she has a bright future. We are hoping to finish this work with pre-production and fundraising for the feature that we are busy working on at the moment so that we can get her back and she looks similar enough to her character in the short-film but that is a story for another day.
Lydia Botha is really the lynchpin of Jordy and Gabriella’s film. Could you talk us through a little bit through the process of finding Magdalene, Hendrik and of cause Lionel, such truly outstanding actors?
Jordy: I think one of the things we realized after we wrote the script is that it calls for very experienced actors and it deals with a topic and performances that are raw and intimate. When we were chatting to KykNet and Idea Candy on who to cast, they played a pivotal role in helping us find these veterans to use because otherwise we were worried that the story would have fallen flat. I think Gabriella can talk a little bit more about the casting process but really finding Lydia Botha for the main role was like discovering a diamond, once we knew that she was attached to the role.
And having seen her previous body of work, we were really confident and also she was just so passionate about the project. I had multiple phone calls with her before we even met in person. Just with her advice on the story and the characters and how she loved it. She thought it was very relevant meeting in person at the wardrobe call and doing rehearsals was, you know, I learned so much as a film maker just from being in the same room as her. As Ivan and the entire cast it was just a phenomenal ensemble.
Gabriella: When Lydia had agreed we were still trying to cast Magdalene’s husband and then when we saw that Lydia’s husband, Johan Botha was available, we really just could not be luckier because really he is a phenomenal actor and the gravitas that he brings is a quite remarkable but seeing the two of them on screen together with characters and a situation that was really raw and emotional. They came onto set obviously so comfortable with each other husband and wife. Seeing that then play out in the characters and them bringing their relationship and highlighting the emotions, it really was just a privilege to be there and they spoke to us afterwards Johan said to Jordy how there was a look in Lydias’ eye that he had never seen before acting together.
It was a privilege to see that chemistry and then to have Ivan Abrahams play Lionel was just very refreshing because the character was written hoping to bring a bit of light to the role, but it lived light to the script. Someone who was the character must be more fresh and in touch with the world and Ivan just brought that completely. Sometimes when we did the reading of the scripts, some of the lines may have fallen flat but with him he brought them to life like when they were speaking about the fish, the size of the fish, just the way he says things makes one smile so to have the three of them together was privilege to work with them.
Can you talk us through from a directors perspective your process into terms of creating that world with your collaborators. How did you communicate the vision that you had particularly from a visual perspective working with Rick.
Jordy: I think Rick was very pivotal in the look and the feel of the film, not only with what the shot on set but even just coming onboard for the grade and advising on the grade. We wanted to go for a very muted pallet for the grade and that sort of contrast to end of the film where she is in the sea and sort of felt like a moment where there is a bit of color and life to it, where she was walking into the ocean. Rick was very pivotal in that and also Rick is so phenomenal with regards to camera and angles and shortlisting and storyboarding and finding the heart and emotion of the scene. You go into a scene wanting to showcase a certain thing even if it is just two people sitting on a bench and talking through that with him and finding out what the heart of that scene is. He is really able to hone in onto that advice ‘let’s not do the shot in this way let us change it to be a bit more close-up’
And there would be more with the characters. He is just so phenomenal at pin pointing those moments and driving the story forward in that way but also with our color palette, our film is very much surrounding the symbol and the themes of the sea. She is always looking out to this ocean and does not have the courage to leave her flat and to get there. Working with Adi Van Zyl our production designer, firstly I should just say that we had a very blank canvas of her flat, like a completely empty flat, she brought in every single prop, bed, couch everything that you see in the film she brought in completely. So we were able to create from scratch. It had a very very South African Ouma and Oupa’s house, that of sort of feel. We also wanted to bring in those colors, the walls for instance are quite green and reminiscent of water and Lionel’s flat, his walls are very bright because he is a lot more of an optimistic person in contrast to Magdalene so those were just some of the things we really wanted to hone in on and use production design and cinematography to give the film a unique and interesting look.
Diana: When we wrote the script, the first draft was like ‘don’t think about the budget, don’t think about a lot, just write what your heart feels’ and kind of go back. That was kind of the idea, just very dangerous because you fall in love with a lot of those ideas and then you have to think about how to actually cut out in order to achieve this. And what do you kind of hold on to and say come rain or sunshine we are going to make this work. I think there were a lot of ideas that I immediately thought of what it was going to take to pull these things off and honestly one of them was time. So the fact that we had that luxury that is usually not given to Silwerskerm projects, we knew that we could start developing things like there and then now. I have a background in storyboarding so I went ahead and storyboarded the entire film, and I collaborate in the writing process but also with Rick and the VFX artists and Rocco our art director.
While we were still developing things I was ambitious, the kind of things you wanted to do but giving everyone a very clear kind of plan that you possibly could is what helped us achieve it and there were a lot of things that came with executing the visuals. There is VFX in the film; I think people kind of remember it for that but honestly I think what really sells the visuals and look is the location and there was a lot of location scouting that we did. That was the most important part for me, making sure that the places existed and then adapting the script once we kind of secured the location. I remember the idea of the scraps, we were not really sure where we were going to be able to film that until the last two weeks of prep and I wound up just storyboarding two different kinds of versions of how that scene would play out. If we got the one location it would be this story and if we got a different location it would be a different story. Kind of having that as a safety not really helped and honestly the only reason I think we were able to do that is because we had time. I had not met Rocco and I am so glad that David introduced me to him because he was incredible what he was able to down with the sisters’ workshop that was originally just a garage that was emptied out on a farm and I think he even came on under budget, it was a dream scenario of what you could expect.
Obviously working with Rick basically from day one and even earlier just thinking about the kind of projects we would like to tackle one day. We had a very clear cinematic language that we wanted to practice with and try. So I think the things that I am most proud of is the kind of sense of scale that you get even when you only kind of dealing with just moments and the locations the way it was lensed and the framing really lends itself to it being part of a larger world and I think that really captivates the audience and makes them think ‘what is around the corner, what’s behind the wall, there is a door there’ those kind of things are exciting. I think for audiences and the way that Rick both teased those things as well as just controlled light just to make sure you do not miss the story. I do not think there is really that many places where you lose focus, it is not like you have this ADHD experience where you getting torn all these different places. It is teasing the bigger world but it is also about insuring that the lighting, the blocking, frame all tells a very clear story. I am really proud of Rick and Rocco especially.
These are very ambitious films; were there perhaps one or two to challenges that you really had to encounter as the producer that maybe gave you a sleepless night or two?
Gabriella: So firstly while there was quite a long process of the script writing, when we actually got the dates to shoot we did not get so much time before the shoot because lockdown kept on changing. It was quite difficult especially with short-films, when you bringing crew on board, it is very difficult to bring your HODs on board when you don’t have shoot dates. A lot of pre-production can only be done when you have dates. So as soon as we got the dates, we went full into it, I think one of the challenges is because it is a short-film and it’s quite a small budget, finding the right apartment to film in was difficult. As Jordy mentioned we had a bit of a blank slate, I think one the main reasons for that was because we were filming during Covid. We could not go to granny and say can we please have 30 people come into your space for a few days. So we were very lucky for someone to say to us that we can use their apartment but then we had to bring everything in. Using the apartment to stage both Magdalens’ and Lionel’s flat, making them look like two different spaces even though it was actually just one apartment was quite difficult.
Not only bringing props in but actually on a practical level because we actually shot in every single room in that apartment. We were constantly moving the make-up room or where all the wardrobe or equipment was stored or even where the monitor was. Most of the scheduling of the day had to be made on the move. One of the most important shots which is of Magdalene looking out the window was not possible from the apartment we got. So we decided to use visual effects for that. The film was 27 minutes; we shot it in 3 days so it took time to set up VXF shots. As I am sure David can speak a lot more to the timing of the VFX shot, but it was something that we had to consider. I think one of the biggest challenges but also I suppose success’s was working with Idea Candy. It really helped us connect with companies that would butter deals with us. Most of our equipment was from Panavision and Panalux we had better deals for our vans, Covid Officer and catering. I think there was a lot more kind of legal work that we tried to push through quite quickly before the shoot. More than anything, this speaks to how people would get on board if they believe in your vision and work. We built amazing relationships with prop-artists, the rentals for Annie’s wardrobe was really quite a unique experience. I think those were my challenges.
David: The biggest challenge for us naturally was the budget. I remember it as something that we frequently came back to. One of the things I emphasized to myself was that never again will I make a sci-fi on a short budget because it is very expensive. The amount of locations that you have to shoot, we had all sorts of props and weapons. We also had a unit of about between 30 to 40 people which ended up shooting for 5 days. It was initially planned for four days then we ended up having a bad weather day so we had to come back and do another day at the end. All of this obviously requires a lot of money or favors, Diana called in all her favors, she has good relationships with the weapons’ people and arts department. What was his name Diana? Who made the swords for us?
Diana: The swords were made at the last minute. We had an issue with the swords, the ones made by the arts department kept on breaking. So I actually reached out to an art director that had worked on ‘Monster Hunter’, he then built all their stunt weapons that we could work with. The only way we had that was me calling and asking “please we need some kind of sword”, he made 5 arm casts and 3 different versions of it within two days, and it was incredible. To just pull it off was crazy.
David: We had literally everybody calling in their favors, Diana with her frequent collaborators on other action forms; the stunts team for instance, came and didn’t want anything in return besides just being part of the production. Rocco, our production designer was very helpful also everybody who bent backwards and made sure that we put our best foot forward. This is not something you can do again. I think it’s something you can only do once and you’ve got to find a way to pay those people back. Whether it’s through doing feature/future work or delivering a good product which I think we did, everybody was very happy with the work that we produced. Favors are difficult to quantify however; in terms of the budget we got, we maxed out at about R158,000 just under R160,000 from Silwerskerm.
There was some more cash that I put in from Protagonist and that was also another challenge that I also considered, had I been a smaller company or someone that did not have any capital, a lot of scenes we did and challenges we faced would not have been possible to overcome. We were also grateful to be in that position to be able to pull all this off but definitely finances kept me awake sometimes I even started smoking again during the production, that’s the world we’re in. We just have to make sure we are a little bit more reasonable with the budget and feature adaptation. We still going to call in all the favors again but at least we now know what we are in for and how to better prepare. It was a very educational experience of trying to get it all done. I think both Diana and I are shoot for the stars, hit the tree tops kind of people, Rick as well so there is not really a producer on set. We all just kind of want to create the best thing we can and so we end up facing the consequences afterwards. We extremely proud of the final product and we definitely learned a lot of lessons that we will take with us for the rest of our careers.
I find it so fascinating David that you specifically speak about what I would want to call an ‘ecosystem of favors’. Would the films look similar if this was your first film ever? Or is this the kind of film that comes out of that career experience. 48hr in the case of Gabriella and Jordy, the amazing work you did on “I Am Here”, is this the kind of vision that you guys could have achieved if it was your first time around?
Diana: Definitely not, I have done a couple of short films before this that are genre based. I did a sci-fi one because I love that genre and when I did that I worked with two really amazing stunt performers and I wound up getting into the stunts industry just through knowing them. And then tackling a short film that was all about stunts and then 48hr was really kind of testing ground work with David and Rick. That was our first collaboration together; each one built the idea of us wanting a feature together. In a way all these projects feel like stepping stones, we had tried a genre then we’ve tried something a specific theme then we tried executing the stunt sequence. This project was kind of a collection of those other films; it could not have come about until we went through the process. It was an amalgamation of all of those projects. So I definitely do not think it would have existed without that, this in a way prepared us for a feature, it would have been harder for us to do a feature had we not done a project like this. There is so much risk and there are so many things we would need to figure out before tackling the kind of feature that we want to produce.
David: I just wanted to add to what Diana was saying about how important it is to do short films like these. We come from film school and we think we all ready to make a movie, thinking we the next big thing that was me ten years ago. I remember saying ‘we don’t have to do all these other things’ and it is so important to do these things because you learn about all the pitfalls and how to navigate these issues and the risk is so much lower. The stakes are manageable if something happens I assume kykNet would write-off the debt if something went wrong and there is something on the contract that deals with that. However; when you are on a feature and you have multiple investors then you make a mistake that is irreversible, that can kill your career before it has even begun. So I think it is really important to do things like this, so much so that I have made it part of our workflow at Protagonist.
The way that we make movies is by first doing proof of concepts and finding a scene in the feature to produce together because you do not know what you are going to get. Especially when you working with first time film makers and first time directors there are experiences that you cannot anticipate or plan for before experiencing them. I am happy that we chose to do it this way; it is bound to make for a better final project.
Jordy: To add on to the lovely points that Diana and David have made, I think making film is like going into battle. You really need to assemble a team or an army that are by your side and you are all a united front. I think working on smaller projects or other projects just to see how you work with other person which is so pivotal for a project. For us doing a documentary first and then finding the story through that and coming to this point really helped us. Most of the people in the team we worked on had a fantastic time working on the documentary, I think as a filmmaker or creative, before you do a sort of bigger short film, its great to start with making as many short films that you can to hone in on the kind of stories that you want to tell and what important themes you as the filmmaker want to express.
I think before applying to Silwerskerm, it would be great to firstly test it out with a few other people that you thinking of collaborating on the film with and maybe do some short films. The more short films the more you can hone in on your craft and figure out what kind of stories and themes you passionate on exploring.
Q & A from the floor:
Rick Bronkhorst: I have two questions. Regarding the budget, does KykNET base the grant on the budget that you presented to them?
Gabriella: The way that it works is that when you pitch the idea, they give you an estimate of the budget per page. Somewhere between R5,500 to R7,000 per page of your script. Textbook wise this is per minute of filming however it does not always work like that. The budgets were initially decided per script page and then there were check-ins with us where we would try get more money regardless of the cap.
Rick Bronkhorst: You guys did this through Covid, but what is the period that you estimated that they would normally give you to prepare? How long was the prep time?
Gabriella: People who pitch for this year are expected to have completed this by November this year. I could be wrong but I think that would mean video pitches happening now and being announced in June id imagine, beginning of script phase August and shooting in September and finished by November I think.
Thank you to everyone for joining us today and especially the filmmakers for their generosity and sharing so many insights. We invite filmmakers who are working on short films to contact firstname.lastname@example.org to be looped into future webinar correspondence.