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How Spling Became A Movie Critic...


Spling has been reviewing film since 2007, but what led him to want to become a movie critic? Check out Spling's Confessions of a Movie Critic podcast for a breezier version.

When kids are asked what they want to be when they're older... most will say something cool like astronaut, pirate or pro wrestler. I wasn't quite that young when I decided "movie critic" but it's a pretty far-fetched idea to think that you could say you "watch movies for a living". Now years into the dream job, I'd still love to say "I watch movies for a living".

Everyone seems to automatically think this is all it takes, but nowadays more than ever, there's no set financial model for a movie critic. Gone are the days when your affiliated publication would cover your contribution to the paper. With entertainment sections shrinking and syndication thriving, it's more about belting out content than delivering thoughtful opinion. Movie critics have to carve their own path or be subjected to a general entertainment job title like showbiz ninja.

Before it gets too depressing, it was probably Barry Ronge who inspired Spling to want to become a film critic. The famous bearded film critic and entertainment journalist featured on TV art and talk shows, radio and had his own magazine column. An iconic and easily recognisable public figure with a trademark waistcoat, he was prolific, respected and entertaining even if you didn't entirely agree with his estimation of films. His gift of the gab, the way he wrote reviews and his multi-pronged fame made him an influential figure.

Watching and pontificating about film seemed like a great idea to Spling, whose favourite subjects were Art and English. The profession essentially centred on reviewing many art forms, which came together to form a single illusion. The illusion of film, similar to the art of magic, required careful suspense of disbelief and sleight of hand to immerse an audience in a dream state. Who wouldn't want to be able to slip in and out of dreams all day?

Spling's art history helped steady his art marks through school, writing essays based on the artworks featured during the art class slideshows. Unpacking the artist's meaning, the medium's efficacy, the material and the method enabled him to flex both his creativity and analytical side in piecing together an argument. Since English and creative writing were another favourite aspect of his education, Spling loved deconstructing a creative work through reasoning.

While he hardly ever read any of the set work books besides Lord of the Flies right through university, he was still able to wrestle with the themes and use external references to build a decent essay. Perhaps the dense writing of Passage to India and The Great Gatsby put him off the whole idea of novels. Having been a keen reader of Douglas Hill, Roald Dahl and Willard Price up till the age of 15, perhaps the academic works were a bit too boring. After all, he was that kid who would almost always pick page-turners like Asterix and Tintin from the local library.

Graduating from high school with academic honours based on his marks for Art and English, the presumptuous and premeditated photo of the year's glut of prospective honours students had to be trashed. They didn't have mad Photoshop skills back then and inserts and exclusions would've made it look like a nasty scrap book. It seemed like a bit of a fluke, especially when you consider mathematics, but Spling applied himself in his matric year working out a disciplined exercise, napping and study regime.

While Spling opted to do a bachelors degree in the Film, Media & Visuals Studies stream at UCT, it was only years later that he truly committed to film. Having muddled his way through a possible business information systems Masters in the productivity enhancement of speech recognition software, he quickly realised that without a proper supervisor it wouldn't be possible. This led Spling to accept a job as a copywriter to pursue a more creative role.

He had acrylic paints and an easel to continue his artwork after school, but he wanted to make it more than a hobby. Writing creative copy wasn't a bad option to leverage that creative energy and after coming up with catchy product names, mailers and overseeing some of the creative from art work to sound - he changed course. Working from home he was able to ply his skills elsewhere. Reviewing a film a day for a year, Spling started renting movies and writing at his blog, spling.co.za.

 
'The Unfamiliar' Drops First Trailer


Henk Pretorius is the South Africa film-maker who brought us Bakgat, Fanie Fourie's Lobola and Leading Lady. His latest film, The Unfamiliar, sees him shifting focus onto a brand new genre in horror. While best known for comedy, the gear change has seen the director wrestling with what makes people love horror. Tapping into the horror family, the film's first trailer has landed and promises to be an unsettling immersion into Hawaii's ancient culture and secrets. Take a look for yourself...

When a British army doctor returns from war to rekindle her relationship with her estranged family, strange things start happening in her house. Her husband believes she's suffering from PTSD but Izzy militantly pieces the daunting puzzle together to reveal a terrifying, invisible enemy that has infested her household.

The chilling horror mystery thriller stars Jemima West, Christopher Dane, Rebecca Hanssen, Rachel Lin and Harry McMillan-Hunt. Spling discussed The Unfamiliar with Henk - check out the interview.

The Unfamiliar will release on 21 August 2020 with Vertical Entertainment in North America, followed by Lionsgate UK (digital) in the United Kingdom on 11 September 2020 and by Filmfinity just in time for Halloween in South Africa on 28 October 2020.

 
Spling Interviews Francis Annan and Tim Jenkin on 'Escape From Pretoria'


Spling recently had the pleasure of interviewing Escape from Pretoria writer-director Francis Annan and the man who inspired it all - Tim Jenkin. Conducted and recorded via video conference, Spling was able to get some of the nitty gritty details of what went into making the film and living the story.

Escape from Pretoria recently premiered on TNT Africa, a prison break thriller that tells the remarkable true story of Tim Jenkin. An anti-apartheid activist, Jenkin was incarcerated at Pretoria Central Prison... known as "white man's Robben Island" at the time. He and Stephen Lee were working for the ANC distributing propaganda in a bid to topple the apartheid regime. After being arrested and imprisoned, Jenkin began work on a meticulous escape plan. One of the greatest true jailbreak stories of all-time, it defies expectations with a story that could have inspired MacGyver and The A-Team, two popular TV series that followed only a few years later.

Jenkin documented his amazing story in a gripping and equally meticulous autobiography 'Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison', which is being re-released by Jacana Media with the film's title. This book formed the basis for a long-awaited adaptation that almost didn't happen when the filmmakers were confronted with relocating the entire production to Australia or not doing it at all. At this point, writer-director Francis Annan had joined the project and was interested in translating what he believed to be a "visually dominant" story to screen.

While Escape from Pretoria has been criticised by South Africans for its iffy accents and international casting decisions, the film has received rave reviews around the globe. Topping the box office in Korea, it's the powerful story, Jenkin's genius and Radcliffe's determination that underwrite a masterclass in suspense. Using a compelling soundtrack, crisp sound design and crafting some tense moments around the escape plan, Annan uses his feature film debut to showcase his ability. While it starts off with a few awkward moments, it quickly gets into gear as soon as the prison break thriller dynamic clicks into place like key in a lock.

From this point, you're hooked and the superficial flaws cease to matter turning in an exhilarating and important story about a man committed to a much greater overarching cause. Putting the needs of others ahead of yourself is not natural and this heroic sense of altruism at the heart of Escape from Pretoria gives it a purity and raw power.

 
Spling Reviews TNT Original 'Escape from Pretoria'


Stephen 'Spling' Aspeling is a film fanatic and movie critic, who has become something of a film authority in South Africa. That's why TNT Africa got in touch to get his take on the first of their slate of TNT Originals, Escape from Pretoria. Put a red circle around 4 July on your calendar because this prison break thriller is set to premiere then at 8pm. Set to release the first Saturday of every month, TNT Africa are bringing premieres and international stars into your living room on TNT, channel 137 on DStv and channel 16 on GOtv.

Escape from Pretoria starring Daniel Radcliffe and Daniel Webber is about a trio of young political prisoners who made it their do-or-die mission to escape from the maximum security wing of Pretoria Central Prison in 1978. It's based on the real-life story of Tim Jenkin, an anti-apartheid activist whose ANC propaganda leaflet distribution landed him in prison. Using his cunning and ingenuity, the man concocted one of the most daring and meticulous jailbreaks of all-time.

This pulsating prison break thriller is directed by Francis Annan, who has taken the same level of locksmith precision to his film-making, turning in a nail-biting and suspenseful film. In this video review, Spling unpacks Escape from Pretoria, the first of many TNT Originals produced by WarnerMedia's Particular Crowd. Other films such as Buffaloed, Human Capital and Guns Akimbo are also lined up for release, featuring the likes of Liev Schreiber and Daniel Radcliffe.

Spling is also hosting a Bingeing with Spling online watch party to tie in with the premiere of Escape from Pretoria, so make sure your cellphone's charged and you're stocked up on popcorn! You can join in the action right from your couch by following #BingeingWithSpling, #EscapeFromPretoria and #TNTOriginal to track the conversation across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on the night. Banter, prizes, movie trivia and an action-packed movie... it's gearing up to a whole lot of fun and the perfect way to spend movie night!

 
The Future of Digital Radio... Where Podcasts and Music Collide


Podcasts are becoming the next big thing. While it seems like almost everyone is getting to the point that they feel they need their own podcast, the medium is growing in terms of contributors and listeners. In fact, it's getting to the point where it's quickly becoming necessary to have applications that are able to handcraft a radio stream for users.

Curating content and music based on your personal preferences seems like a natural step in the right direction. The recommendation algorithms already exist and have been fine-tuned to the point that recommendations are very useful and quite strong when it comes to figuring out what other music or movies people might enjoy. Based on your personal preferences, modelling your taste based on your listening stats and learning from your your trends, it's becoming more accurate and the suggestions are more on target.

It seems that the natural progression of this would be for a company to design something that pulls in specific podcasts and music that match your listening profile. Wouldn't it be fantastic if a service existed that charged users a small monthly fee in order to do that for them. Being able to curate a blend of talk and music, geared specifically around your customisations... people would love that! Since there are so many podcasts one imagines that it wouldn't take much for streamers and podcast owners to agree to having their content added to that kind of platform to connect with more fans.

movie podcast directory

Being able to choose which new service you wanted to get news from, when you want to do news – even if on the hour or just in the morning at a certain time, there are many ways that this "radio station" could play out. For most listeners, it would only serve their purposes to have the function to simply hit play. Deciding your balance of talk versus music and even allowing the software to make editing changes to switch between the two at set intervals, it seems as though this kind of disruptive technology would challenge most radio stations.

Podcasts are still in their infancy but they are definitely stars developing from within this world. They would essentially be the "DJs" of the future, which would occupy a global marketplace instead of regional. Imagine being able to listen to a podcast on castles, interspersed with your favourite rock music only to get sport alert results that are in line with your favourite team - if you like that sort of stuff. Being able to offer niche content that completely matches the listener's profile will make this platform very powerful. Most radio listeners tend to switch between channels, probably deciding to do so due to too many adverts, a song that doesn't match their personal taste or a radio personality that bothers them.

Of course, if radio stations were wanting to survive this kind of disruptive technology they would have to present or take on a similar offering. Allowing their listeners to essentially download a series of podcasts, radio stations would have to allow their own listenership to essentially compile a best of for their own listening pleasure. This would mean that the platform would be able to cater to stations and try to keep them in the game for the type of listeners who want a much more drilled down version of the platform's content.

In this fast-moving age where people don't feel that they've got enough hours in the day, having on standby content that is completely suited to them will make them feel like they're getting much more value out of that time and not simply listening to a random selection of current music and opinions. The immediacy is probably the most attractive part of being able to switch on the tailor-made radio and get a typical brand of music and talk, however with the advent of speech recognition technology and data mining, it'll be quite feasible for shows to be analysed and attributed to certain listener profiles.

It's already amazing to use one of your music apps and have the system learn from you, offering you a personal mix of music. How amazing would it be if something similar were able to be done with podcasts, making it much easier for you to have your own custom radio station built for you from the ground up. It may seem like quite a difficult task, but based on all the supporting technologies that exist already it can't be that far in the future.

It would be wise for radio stations which are already struggling to compete with portable apps but is something that they should definitely anticipate to remain relevant to the next generation of listeners. Younger audiences are used to having things tailor-made and curated based on their specific likes, so one imagines it'll only be a matter of time before this is transferred to mainstream.

Spling has a series of movie podcasts, which are geared towards different types of listening...

Presenter of Talking Movies on Fine Music Radio, Spling publishes podcasts of this movie review programme every week. These reviews typically include three movie reviews, including cinema, online streaming or films available for rental.

He also recently launched something called Confessions of a Movie Critic, which allows him to have a much more candid stream of consciousness type podcast. Running up to 15 minutes, it's an opportunity for him to get a bit more personal and topical with his listeners, adopting a conversational approach.

Must Love Movies is a new addition to his podcast bouquet, a podcast lasting up to an hour where he interviews a celebrity or film industry professional about their taste in movies. During this recording he and his guest watch one of their favourite films, discuss it afterwards with a perspective on their love of movies and their top 10 movies.

Even now, essentially contributing to three podcasts, he's also the host of The Three Wells of Screenwriting podcasts with Matthew Kalil. A screenwriting series, which is entertaining and infotaining, it just shows how niche podcasts can be. Being able to do something niche like this, which ordinarily wouldn't be feasible on bigger platforms or broadcast channels, the attraction is very specific and the low costs involved make it much easier to maintain.

Even with a number of podcasts underway, Spling still believes there is even another channel for podcasting whereby he has more in-depth interviews with filmmakers and screenwriters. The possibilities are endless, the biggest challenge is creating an audience and sustaining the momentum of the podcast series in order to make it a proper, curated piece of content.

The beauty of it all is that since it is so specific, connecting listeners with things they will enjoy can work for the platform creator and the creators who are listed. There is a need for podcast creators to be connected with on-target audiences and this kind of custom radio station idea would do wonders in making that possible.

 
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