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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.

INTERVIEW: Akin Omotoso on his film 'Man on Ground'

Akin Omotoso is a Nigerian-born actor, writer and director. While probably best known for his role as Khaya Motene in the SABC 1 soapie, Generations, Omotoso's passion has always been writing and directing. So much so that Omotoso used money from his acting to fund his first short films: The Kiss of Milk, The Nightwalkers and The Caretaker.

Akin's first feature film, God is African, prompted him to direct the short films Rifle Road, Gathering the Scattered Cousins and the documentary, Wole Soyinka: Child of the Forest. His second feature film, Man on Ground, is an important drama based on the xenophobic attacks in South Africa in 2008.

Man on Ground is based on true events... could you elaborate?

Man on Ground is based on the xenophobic riots that broke out in South Africa in May 2008. Ernesto Nhamuave was burnt alive and that image came to signify the horror of the riots. His picture inspired us to make the film. There had been tensions before but this was the first time there was a concentrated violent attack. The riots were condemned and there was a lot of outpouring of support for the displaced victims. There have been lots of artistic responses to the violence and our film is a continuation of that dialogue between artist and society.

Xenophobia is a central theme in Man on Ground - how did you research the topic?

We commissioned research into the attacks and a few months later we got a stack of papers, books, interviews, comments, analysis on the riots. Those documents were the foundation of the film script. It was important to get all sides of the story and the research was crucial. It gave us insight into what was happening on the ground, it provided us with our tagline "tell them we are from here". One of the victims was asked what he would tell his attackers if he could talk to them and he say,"tell them we are from here". Here, being planet earth.

Tell us about the culmination of the script... how long did it take you to write?

The script took three years to write. We went through the research, investigating different narrative options till we settled on the version that became the shooting script. One thing that was always clear was the idea of quest and thriller. Someone would be missing and the film would be a journey to discover what happened.

What was it like directing Hakeem Kae-Kazim?

Hakeem is an absolute pleasure to direct. We worked together on my first feature film God is African ten years ago so it was good to reunite for my second film. He is a great actor. Hakeem and Fabian Adeoye Lojede, he plays Femi in Man on Ground, collaborated heavily on the script of Man on Ground and they are producers so the relationship goes beyond director/actor... it's collaborative. And just to add on the cast was wonderful and their work was recognized at the Monaco International Charity Film Fest where the cast won Best Ensemble.

What were some of the toughest challenges you encountered during filming?

We made a choice to go with crowd funding for the film. This meant writing to friends and friends of friends for the funding. We did it this way to reflect the ethos of the film, which is ultimately people working together, so the funding of the film was in line with the themes of the film. However, one of our funders didn't respond with the amount that was promised which left us in a hole and meant that we would have to stop the shoot.

Those few days were tough, as we had started shooting and the idea of shutting down was heartbreaking. We kept going on blind faith, don't try this at home folks!, but fortunately for us an angle in the form of ChrisDon Productions came to our rescue and we were able to complete the shoot. That was the toughest time.

What would you like audiences to take away from Man on Ground?

I hope they enjoy the cinematic experience of the film. We wanted to make a visceral film and I think, judging from the responses thus far please God, we succeeded.

You've done your fair share of acting, writing and directing... where do you feel most comfortable?

Love them all but if I had to choose: directing. Love the idea of a team coming together and making a project.

What are your thoughts on the emergence of Jollywood?

I think it's great. There are tons of stories to tell and the more structures created to tell the stories, the better.

Do you have any film projects currently in development?

I'm busy working on my next script at the moment. Watch this space!

Man on Ground is a bold and exacting portrayal of rising xenophobia in South Africa. Omotoso casts the story of Femi, a young Nigerian man played by Fabian Adeoye Lojede living in the African refugee tenements of Johannesburg who disappears against the backdrop of animosity against immigrants flaring into violent rioting. In the pan of a single night, his brother (Ade) played by Hakeem Kae-Kazim, on a short visit from London, tries to elucidate the mystery.

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