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INTERVIEW: Wayne Thornley on 'Adventures in Zambezia'

Wayne Thornley never imagined his first motion picture role would be in the director's chair. The young South African director amazed producers with Adventures in Zambezia, a feature-length animated film, made on a fraction of the budget of animated contemporaries like Rio and Legend of the Guardians, which is scheduled to open nationwide, 28 December.

Selected as one of Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans, Thornley has only just begun his journey. We were lucky enough to catch up with the man to find out more about the genesis of Adventures of Zambezia and how he got there.

Tell us how you got started in animation?

I worked as an actor for about seven years while I tried to break into live action directing. After seeing the reaction that some animation pitches received at the Sithengi Film Market I realized that animation might be the pathway for me to get into directing.

There was some exciting stuff happening in Cape Town and it seemed to me that animation had the potential to have a more global reach than many of our local live action films had managed. I formed a small company with two partners and we made a short promo for a TV show I wanted to make. That promo started getting me directing work in the local animation industry. That’s how I met the guys at Triggerfish and, actually, almost all my directing work prior to Zambezia was with Triggerfish.

What animated movies inspired you as a kid?

On TV, Robotech was my all time favourite as a kid, probably Thundercats and He-Man were close runners-up. I think it was those shows’ ability to transport me to an utterly alien, thrilling place that had me glued to the screen. As for movies, I loved An American Tail, The Great Mouse Detective and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Later on I was totally captivated by Beauty and The Beast and Aladdin.

Do you have any role models in the world of animation?

I feel like I only really became aware of who was making animated films quite late and that awareness arrived around the time Pixar burst onto the scene. All of the Pixar directors have added something amazing to world animation. My animation collection is dominated by Pixar movies.

How did you get involved in Zambezia?

I was working with Triggerfish on various smaller projects and the partnership was working pretty well. One day they offered me the job and I jumped at the chance… and into the deep end.

The film features Jeff Goldblum, Abigail Breslin, Richard E. Grant and Samuel L. Jackson... how did that work?

Jeff, Abigail and Samuel were recorded after the movie was completed, when it was felt that we needed some star power on the film, to give ourselves the best possible chance of success. Jeff and Samuel were recorded in LA and Abigail was recorded in New York as I recall. Richard was actually recorded early on and he stayed.

How South African is the production?

Every second of animation, every rendered frame and every note of the score are proudly South African. Some of the “gloss” on the film is American; the great voice talent and the incredible sound done at Skywalker, but underneath that, this film couldn’t be more South African. It was made on a farm in the suburbs of Cape Town!

Has the film been integrated into any local product or merchandise campaigns?

The Triggerfish team is working closely with Nu Metro Films (local distributors) on making the release a great success in SA – we’ll be going out on over 90 screens, in 3D and 2D, on 28th December. And soon you’ll be seeing some merchandising in Woolworths, Edgars, Jet and Ackermans as well as some fun Adventures in Zambezia mugs in Shoprite Checkers.

Rio and Legend of the Guardians were also 3D animated features about birds... did the release of these films have any bearing on Zambezia?

Only that we were envious of their monster budgets.

Zambezia took several years from idea to completion, what would you say you’ve learnt from the experience?

The answer to THAT question would fill a memoir. In short, though, I learned that there’s no easy, pain-free way to gain experience. I learned that the only way to succeed is to risk gut-wrenching failure. I also learned that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

What would you like audiences to take away from Zambezia?

A full box of popcorn, because they were too involved in the movie to eat anything!

South Africa has produced several animated feature film productions in the last few years, are we poised to become the next big “anination”?

The animation world is definitely divided into leagues, based largely on budget and marketing clout. I’d say we’re poised to become top contenders in our league.

What advice would you offer aspiring animation directors?

Never stop being a student of your craft. Learn how to lead. If you can’t lead people, you’re not a director; you’re just a creative person.

Do you have any new projects on the horizon?

I’m working on a script at the moment and when it’s done we’ll see what happens. I’m aiming to be back in the director’s chair as soon I can, but I have an ever-growing drawer full of film ideas, so there’s always going to be something to keep me busy.

INTERVIEW: Angelique Pretorius on 'Stilte'

Angelique Pretorius is a star-in-the-making. The talented and picture perfect actress plays the lead in Stilte (Movie Review), Darrell Roodt's latest film, an Afrikaans coming-of-age drama.

We caught up with Angelique to find out more about Stilte, her starring role and the challenges of playing such a demanding character. Stilte opens nationwide on 12 October.

What is ‘Stilte’ about?

Stilte is about a popular South African singer who seems to have it all, until she's hit by the unthinkable tragedy of witnessing the murder of both her parents in an armed robbery. In an attempt to shut out the world, she enters into complete silence.

She goes to stay with her aunt and uncle on a farm in the Karoo and, with the help of a young dominee, goes on a powerful healing journey. She finally rediscovers her voice as well as the bigger picture in which her tragedy took place.

What attracted you to the project?

While reading the script of Stilte I was completely captivated. The protagonist’s journey unfolds in a powerful way as she finds her way through a maze of emotions, with moments of terror and playful bliss.

Antoinette is such a wonderfully complex character, I was delighted at the challenge of playing her – I mean this is what actors like myself dream of. And with Darrell Roodt as the screenwriter and director I knew this movie would be something magical.

You worked with Darrell Roodt on the movie ‘Winnie’, did you have to audition for this part?

I did have to read for the part, but the fact that Darrell wrote the screenplay with me in mind - which of course was a great honour - made my chances of landing the role quite high.

How did you prepare for the role?

My preparation for this role involved doing research on post-traumatic stress, which helped me to understand Antoinette’s healing process. I also drew from the personal loss of my younger brother a few years ago and related the complex range of emotions I felt then to this character’s experience.

You described it as ‘demanding’... why?

Wow, yes! It was demanding in all aspects of the performance. Physically, it was challenging due to the fact that I had to do things like run up and down a mountain with a crutch and neck brace. Emotionally, I was required to dig deep and deliver a consistently sincere performance take after take.

Environmentally, I was faced with either 45 degree heat in full sunlight or ever-changing clouds that made continuity a real challenge – not to mention extremely dry and dusty air and lots of thorns digging into my feet! *laughs* But if I was asked if I would do it again – ABSOLUTELY!

How did your own religious outlook impact your performance?

My personal spiritual beliefs were very compatible with the message in this film. I have always maintained that adversaries in life are placed in our paths to teach us lessons and that one’s spirituality matures in times of pain, but only if one takes that approach.

What was it like being directed by Darrell Roodt?

Darrell is one-of-a-kind. His enthusiasm and passion lifted the whole set, from jumping up and down in excitement over a beautiful shot to giving someone a pat on the back for doing a good job. I thought he found a good balance between giving actors the freedom to make creative choices, while gently steering them in the right direction. He also has a great sense of humour, which instantly lightened the mood after a heavy scene.

How did you find sharing the screen with Andre Frauenstein?

I loved it. Andre's a method actor who really gets stuck into his roles. He was a great source of support and wisdom, and made my work experience so much richer.

Stilte has a strong religious theme... did this echo behind-the-scenes?

Mmm… interesting question. I suppose it did in a way. We all stayed on a farm in the Redstone Hills and you would see cast members holding hands around the dinner table to say grace before digging into a well-deserved meal. There was also a great sense of equality and mutual respect both on and off set. Whether these things were induced by the type of movie being filmed or not, is hard to say.

What did you learn over the course of shooting ‘Stilte’?

How hard you work as the lead in a film! I seriously gained new respect for lead actors – it’s grueling stuff! As an actress I gained confidence in my ability to access the required emotions needed to pull off dramatic scenes regardless of the environment.

For example crying on demand can be quite daunting for an actor, especially when one has to do it a number of times. I also revisited my personal journey of spiritual growth that was triggered by my brother’s passing. Comparing then and now, I can appreciate just how far I’ve come.

What's next for Angelique Pretorius?

Besides international fame and fortune? *laughs* I actually have three other films being released next year. They are the biopic Winnie with Jennifer Hudson and Terence Howard, in which I play one of Winnie’s friends; Lien se Lankstaanskoene in which I play a drama teacher who relishes directing the school play; and Fanie Fourie’s Labola, a romantic comedy by Bakgat director Henk Pretorius, in which I play the trophy wife of a pop singer sensation, played by Chris Chameleon.

Find out more about Angelique Pretorius and her Top Ten Movies...

INTERVIEW: Paul Snodgrass on 'Casting Me...'


Paul Snodgrass is a rising star whose talents extend to stand up comedy, acting and radio. While Snodgrass or 'Snoddie' is best known as a comedian, he also hosts The Bro Show on 2Oceansvibe Radio and now features as the lead in Casting Me..., a new film from the mind of Quinton Lavery. We caught up with the man to find out more about his starring role in the film.

How did 'Casting Me...' come to life?

The writer/director Quinton Lavery had been working on a script for a while, he’s also a Casting Director and had seen me come in a few times to cast, and thought I’d be right for the role and it’s flippen rad he did.

What's the film about?

Paul is a struggling filmmaker trying to sort out his life, he hasn't got down to writing a film script and his girlfriend has left him because he’s not getting off his arse, the film is about him getting his shit in gear again.

Did you have any acting experience before shooting commenced?

I studied drama at UCT and have some previous experience in theatre and film.

Which actors do you admire?

I think there are a few guys gunning for that “My generation’s Brando or De Niro”. I really like the choices Johnny Depp makes, I think Ryan Gosling is doing some amazing stuff and Tom Hardy is starting to knock on that door as well.

What was it like being directed by Quinton Lavery?

He gave me a lot of freedom, we became (and still are) really good mates. It helped that he got my sometimes crude, sometimes over the line humour, as it gave me space to fuck around in-between takes. It’s hard for me to focus for long periods of time... if I don’t let off steam I’ll explode.

Did you stick to the script letter-for-letter or was there room for improv?

This is where he was great again, he knew that I needed space to let me find the role and the words, so while there were very definite moments when he needed me to stick to script, he did give me leeway to find “beats” in the sense and rather stick to the important beats, rather than word-for-word scripting.

What was it like sharing the screen with Roxanne Prentice?

Roxy and I had known each other before the film, so that helped. We got on really well, which helped when we had to do the um... “naughtier” scenes. We really got to know each other and trust each other, she’s younger than me, but man I learnt a lot from her.

Does the film have any direct influences?

You’d have to ask Quinton, but it’s very clear that we were influenced by Kevin Smith’s Clerks. It’s in black and white and shot on a less than shoe-string budget of only R35 000 - that’s less than $6 000. It also takes its bow to films like The 40 Year Old Virgin and that genre of comedy.

You're best known as a comedian... was film a natural progression for you?

If you’d asked me a year ago, I would have said I’m a comedian/actor, but after this film I have caught the bug again, I’d like to become more of an actor/comedian. I got into comedy because I was studying drama, because I’m an actor. I’d forgotten that. And am so glad I’ve found it again.

Many comedians have become successful film stars, but awards are rare... why do you think there's such an imbalance in the industry?

Comedy is never seen as drama, and at the end of the day, it’s hard for a comedy to beat a gritty drama for an award. Even though many serious actors would readily admit comedy is harder than drama. It’s just the way the world is. But I do believe there should be categories for comedy, as the work, effort and time spent on getting comedy right is hard and long.

What's next for Paul Snodgrass?

I’m still on 2Oceansvibe radio between 6-8pm on Wednesdays. Still doing standup. And working away, hoping for that next break. *laughs* There are some things in that proverbial pipeline, but I prefer to chat about things when they’ve happened, rather than when they still only might happen.

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.

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