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INTERVIEW: Quinton Lavery on 'Casting Me...'

 

Quinton Lavery is quickly making a name for himself as a director, locally and abroad. His award-winning short films, Freedom Days and Barren were both selected for numerous film festivals and he's directed music videos for Lark, Unit R, Tait, The Ragdolls, Hey Mister, 7th Son and Van Coke Kartel.

We caught up with Lavery to find out more about writing and directing his first feature film, Casting Me... a dark indie comedy starring Paul Snodgrass.

How much freedom did you have in making your first feature film?

Seeing as we made the film independently and with our own money we had complete freedom in doing whatever we wanted. We did set ourselves parameters though, so the film wouldn’t come out completely over the top and a mess. *laughs*

When did you start writing the script?

I started writing the script about a month or so before we started shooting. Everything happened quite quickly with the film. I wrote the 95 pages in about three separate sittings of about 8 hours each. I think the reason why it came out so quickly was because I really wrote what I knew and the rest came pretty naturally after that. Once the cast and crew got involved the script changed a bit and I wrote another 2 drafts in 2 weeks while doing pre-production based on feedback from everyone.

Did you write characters with actors in mind?

I wrote Paul, Roxy and Raph’s characters with them in mind. Jonathan came up a bit late into pre-production because another actor couldn’t do it, but I was extremely happy with what he did and can’t think of anyone else playing that character.

Is 'Casting Me...' semi-biographical?

It kind of is, I mean I’m a Casting Director during the day. I based it on some biographical things but just pushed them much further and tried to take it away from me a little. But I think Paul might agree that his character is kind of a mix between me and him. We shot the film in my flat and at the casting studio where I work and the cinematographer in the film is my actual cinematographer who shot the film... little things like that.

Why did you choose to shoot in black and white?

Darren Wertheim, my cinematographer and business partner at Chasing Migada and I really like black and white films and how beautiful they can be, so we really tried to do something a bit different. Not a lot of films are shot in black and white anymore. It also came down to budgetary reasons, seeing as we only had six or seven lights to light the film with.

What was it like directing Paul Snodgrass?

Paul was great! I couldn’t have asked for a better leading man than him. He really brought a lot not only to his character but also to the film. The funniest thing about hearing from people after watching the film is how surprised at what a good actor Paul is, not a lot of people know that he was an actor before becoming a comedian.

I really see him doing more acting after this and showing people that he’s not just a funny character actor. He can be a leading man and carry a whole film. It was also great having him on set because between takes he would keep everyone laughing and help keep the energy up over the 21 shooting days.

Did you encounter any major setbacks during this production?

The shoot went pretty smoothly. The main challenge for the film was scheduling the shoot around so many people's lives, as everyone was working for free so we had to be accommodating. Our producer Joerg Mika must have done the schedule about 14 times by the end of the shoot. Other than that our only outside location, which was at the base of Table Mountain where the cable car is, was done at night in the freezing Cape winter and there are actually a lot of cars driving around there at night, so that was a little tricky.

Shooting on a shoestring budget forces you to get creative... did you discover any shortcuts?

We shot the film on two Canon 7D’s which essentially are stills cameras that shoot Full HD. People use them a lot nowadays to shoot music videos, commercials and indie films. We shot with two of them, one owned by Darren and the other one we borrowed. They do have their limitations but we felt we got a good image out of them.

We did have a few tricks with gear. Rental companies are very quiet during winter and will give you great rates. We also needed two extra lenses for the shoot and it was going to be far too costly to rent them for 21 days, so we found someone to sell them to us at cost with 30 days to pay. We then shot the film in 21 days and sold the lenses for the same price we paid for them.

Which directors have had the greatest impact on you?

I’m a huge fan of Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Stanley Kubrick, Michel Gondry and Kevin Smith to name a few. I really think Martin Scorsese helped pave the way for independent films in the '70s and a lot of indie filmmakers owe a lot to him today.

Tell us about Chasing Migada...

Darren and I started Chasing Migada Productions after graduating from film school. Our first big break was doing Lark’s live DVD A Dagger and a Feather in our first year. Since then we have continued to do music videos and corporate videos before making Casting Me… last year. Since then we have done the last two Van Coke Kartel music videos and are hoping to do commercials in the future.

Are you busy with any new projects you'd like to share?

We have two PSA’s we have wanted to do for a while as well as a few music videos. We hope to make another feature film next year, which will either be a horror film or another little indie comedy. We really believe that more South African filmmakers should be making low or no budget little indie films of all genres. That’s how you grow and industry.

 
INTERVIEW: Luke Tyler on 'Dark Tide'


Luke Tyler is an up-and-coming South African actor, whose credits include: Chronicle, Dredd 3D, Sleeper's Wake and now Dark Tide, a thriller starring Halle Berry about a shark-diving expedition set in Simon's Town, South Africa. Spling caught up with Luke to find out more about Dark Tide, what it was like sharing the screen with Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry and to get a behind-the-scenes take on the filming process.

How did you get involved with the production?

I auditioned against what seemed like an army of other talented actors my age just before the 2010 soccer World Cup. Naturally, production was put on hold for the duration of the cup which was nerve racking, but shortly afterwards I got a call saying that I’d landed the role. I was ecstatic!

Is it just a coincidence that you share your character's name?

No, the characters name was originally “Nate Brady” but Halle’s character is named “Kate” and the director thought it sounded a bit odd, Nate & Kate... So after some consideration he decided Luke had a nice ring to it.

Tell us a bit more about your character... how well do you relate?

Luke Brady is one of 7 children that his father, William, has with various estranged ex-wives all over the world. He’s a mild mannered, aspiring photographer who agrees to go on the trip to try and spend some time with his workaholic father. I actually struggled initially to relate to my character. He’s a lot quieter than I am and I tend to be WAY more opinionated, so before any improvised scenes I’d have to remind myself of his social standing and introversion. But I grew to love him, he's sensible.

There's plenty of high seas and underwater footage, did you receive any specialised training?

Yes, prior to filming all the actors were given basic scuba-diving training which was a lot fun! When it came to the rough weather scenes though, those were mostly real storms in which case your training was HOLD ON TIGHT!

What was the most challenging aspect of your role?

For me it was my real-life aversion to boats. I now know that I get terribly seasick and much prefer being in the water than on it. It became a bit of an on-set joke and was eventually written into the script though, so often in the film when I look nauseous I really was!

What are your impressions of starring alongside Oscar-winning actress, Halle Berry?

Halle taught me so much. This was the first big feature I’d ever done and she was incredibly supportive, full of guidance and a laugh a minute - I don’t think many people know that about her, she’s very funny! I also got to see what a shining example of professionalism looks like. Hurt, sick or just having a bad day, Halle never missed a cue. If this set was anything to go by, that Oscar was well deserved!

How did she enjoy her time in South Africa?

She loved it – the film was originally to be set on an island near America and only shot here but when Halle and John Stockwell saw Cape Town the film's location was immediately changed to be set in Simon's Town.

The greater part of the film takes place on the boat, what was the feeling like on set?

Filming on a boat or at sea is an incredibly difficult task. You’re dealing with the elements, and in Cape Town those can change very quickly, so every department had to be ready to change scenes at a moments notice. There was never a dull moment to say the least!

Did you experience any cabin fever?

Not really. We were often too busy or just in awe of what we were doing, which made every day a new adventure.

What was it like working with John Stockwell?

What a privilege! John knew what he wanted and how to get it when it came to filming, so that allowed me to relax and trust his direction. On the other hand he pushed me out of my comfort zone a lot, which was always a little scary but I also realised that no one changed the world by being safe.

He's directed Blue Crush and Into the Blue... what do you think inspired him to direct Dark Tide?

He loves the ocean and all its mysteries, and to him one of the oceans biggest mysteries are Great White sharks. They die when in captivity and so we know very little about them and I think that’s one of the big factors that drew him to the script.

How much room was there to ad-lib the script?

John is a very passionate director and likes an emphasis on realism, so he would often say “Screw the script, just talk! Go! Action!” which was jarring to me at first, but after I realised the sense of freedom there is in guerrilla style shooting it became spontaneous and I really love some of the unscripted moments we got from it.

Dark Tide comes across as a cautionary tale... was there an effort to create greater shark awareness?

Definitely, there were a couple of top notch experts involved in the filming process who made sure everyone on set knew what we were dealing with. I certainly have a better appreciation for the misunderstood Great White and I hope that the film conveys enough to make the audience appreciate that too.

How do you think Dark Tide will be received by South African audiences?

So far the response has been really good from South Africans who have seen the film abroad, so I really hope that sentiment is carried through to local shores. Our film industry could use all the support we can get because we have some incredible achievements under our belt that tend to go unnoticed by locals.

Do you have any new projects on the horizon?

I have a couple of very cool options that are hanging in the balance at the moment, but Im reticent to jinx them by mentioning them too soon. All I'll say is, I could be related to Orlando Bloom right?

Are there any specific role(s) you'd love to tackle in the future?

[Laughs] My list is endless! There are so many amazing stories out there to be told, but lately I’ve been drawn back to historical events... so maybe a period piece?

 
INTERVIEW: David Whitehouse on 'Mad Buddies' VFX


David Whitehouse pursued a career in music while nurturing his love for animation in his spare time. He opened his own animation studio in 1994 with a vision of creating South Africa’s first long form animation. The company achieved this in 1997, producing 52 minutes of Superheroez, the first CGI television series created in South Africa.

David has gone on to win multiple awards in varying aspects of animation production. He has remained an active composer and writes music for both television and film, always believing that film, music and storytelling have the power to transform lives.

David Whitehouse is the Executive Producer of Loco VFX, a "new kid on the block" in the South African CG animation industry, which recently worked on Gray Hofmeyr and Leon Schuster's new film, Mad Buddies. We caught up with David to get a behind-the-scenes insight into what it was like working on the film and went into creating the video effects for Mad Buddies.

What scenes did you produce for Mad Buddies?

We produced just over 230 VFX shots in the six month period starting 1 November 2011. The VFX work involved everything from run-of-the-mill green screen composites and rig removals, all the way through to full CG creatures.

How much collaboration was there between you and the film-makers?

With the process of VFX being collaborative by its very nature, we worked with Gray Hofmeyr, the director, and Marc Baleiza, post production supervisor, on an almost-daily basis. Gray had a very clear idea of what each shot needed, and in the case of the CG creature shots, would often act a sequence out for us, contorting his face and body into positions a contortionist would be proud of. He also has an uncanny knack of pulling a scene right back, almost dialling it down and making it incredibly subtle and, through that subtlety, creating a powerful sequence.

How long did it take for you to create the effects from idea to finish?

The VFX process is iterative and tweaks to shots are an unavoidable reality. Often the shots that seem simplest on the written page have subtleties that need an incredible amount of attention to detail to ensure the visual effects are seamlessly worked into the shot. That was just a long way of saying that it depends on the shot. Sometimes a shot may only need half a day's work while others can literally stretch out over months.

What was the most challenging aspect of the production?

Definitely the ostrich sequence! It pushed boundaries further than we thought possible. Even with the extensive R&D we'd done ahead of time, we quickly discovered how remarkably complex a creature the ostrich is. They're just wired up in physiologically strange ways, so we often had to animate counter-intuitively to get his body to move in believable ways. There's a very good reason for real-life ostriches not being able to fly!

That reality made itself apparent on an almost daily basis!The CG control skeleton had complex, physiologically accurate muscle systems which made the muscles flex and slide underneath the skin, but sometimes the realities of an ostrich's physical limitations forced us to animate around them, aiming for aesthetically pleasing poses, as opposed to scientifically correct ones.

Apparently, you had to add the golf ball in post-production because they forgot to film it?

Well, not quite…using a CG ball gave Gray a lot more control over the ball's trajectory and speed. He wasn't completely happy with how the setup cut together and using CG ensured he had more options once the movie went into edit.

Tell us a bit more about Loco VFX...

The company was founded by George Webster and I early last year. We'd worked together on freelance contracts in the past and we'd always said that, should the right project present itself, we'd combine our strengths and open our own studio.

We'd been asked to quote on VFX work on a dinosaur movie which was in preproduction in LA and as we came out of the bidding process on that one, we were asked to quote on the VFX for 'Mad Buddies'. On the strength of a test we did (a shot similar to the frog shots in the movie), we were awarded the work.

What other films have you worked on in the past?

I've been doing animation and VFX for a long time but hadn't worked on a feature before "Mad Buddies". I'd always focussed on TV commercials, corporate graphics and 3D illustration but when the opportunity of starting up a new studio with George - on the back of a fantastic project like 'Mad Buddies' - presented itself, it was a no-brainer. George has worked on the latest instalment of the "Free Willy" franchise, the "Knight Rider" TV series and a Chinese feature entitled "Tang Shan", amongst others.

What other projects are you currently working on?

We've just come off two viral commercials for Ryobi which should be released any day now. Currently we're busy with some conceptual development work on a feature, and some technical R & D on another, as well as early stage development work on two in-house projects.

 
INTERVIEW: Hakeem Kae-Kazim on his role in 'Man on Ground'


Hakeem Kae-Kazim is a Nigerian-born actor, who is probably best known for his role as warlord and terrorist, Colonel Ike Dubaku in Season 7 of the TV series, 24 and the spin-off film, Redemption. Hakeem was raised in England and trained at the renowned Bristol Old Vic in the UK, only to be invited to join the Royal Shakespeare Company after graduation. Kae-Kazim has shared the stage with the likes of Brian Cox and Sir Ian McKellan at the National Theatre. His transition to British television saw him appearing in several leading roles including: Trial and Retribution, The Bill, Grange Hill, Ellington and the title role of Julius Caesar for the BBC.

Hakeem's international stardom was sparked by his portrayal of George Rutugunda in the Oscar-nominated film Hotel Rwanda. His performance led to roles in The Front Line, Pirates of the Caribbean III, Lost, The Fourth Kind and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. His role as Ade in Man on Ground sees him reuniting with director, Akin Omotoso, after their collaboration in God is African for this important South African drama based on the xenophobic attacks in 2008.

How did you prepare for your role as Ade?

Akin , Fabian and I started looking into doing this project just over 3 years ago so as we got deeper into the research it gave me a deeper understanding of where I should go with Ade.

What was the most challenging aspect of your performance?

It's always a challenge in making sure you get to the truth of the character and understanding where they are coming from, as human beings, creating the subtlety of the man inside.

What was it like working opposite Fabian Adeoye and Fana Mokoena?

It was a wonderful experience to work opposite two craftsmen and dedicated artists. Fana was also with me in Hotel Rwanda so it was great to get to work very closely with him on this project.

What are your impressions of Akin Omotoso?

Akin and I worked together previously on God Is African so it has been great getting to collaborate again very closely on this project. He is a truly gifted director that understands the language of film so working with him becomes an all encompassing artistic experience, which I thoroughly enjoy as one is pushed to go deeper... beyond language.

Xenophobia is a controversial topic in South Africa... were there any concerns about your involvement with 'Man on Ground'?

No not really.... I had lived in South Africa for 10 years and was lucky not to experience xenophobia in an obvious personal level but knew people that had, so wanted very much to highlight the issue... we came together precisely to address the issue of xenophobia through this project.

The South African and African film industry is maturing... what advice would you offer up-and-coming film-makers and actors?

It is important that we tell our stories in OUR way, but also that we learn the techniques of the industry, so as to enable us to make world class films. I would also call on investment Africa to look at film in Africa as a serious investment not only from a financial perspective, but also in the understanding of the importance of TELLING our stories and our history thus empowering the next generation to know where they have come from... what has been the African contribution. Rejoicing in the celebration on film of our African heroes and heroines, of our myths and legends in that way we will empower a whole generation to celebrate their "Africaness"!

Have you got any film projects in the pipeline at the moment?

I have two films about to come out. One is called Last Flight to Abuja, which is a part of the New Nigeria Cinema. The other is a film called Black November, which also stars Mickey Rourke and Kim Bassinger due out in the Autumn and I am off to Nigeria to do a part in the film Half of a Yellow Sun, which also stars Thandie Newton, Anika None Rose and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

 
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