TELEVISION DIRECTOR SPEAK: Catharine Cooke

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Catharine Cooke

We caught up with iNumber Number director Catharine Cooke, who took home the Golden Horn for Best Achievement in Directing in a TV Drama at the 2018 South African Film & Television Awards…

WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW HAS THIS SHAPED YOU AS A FILMMAKER?

I was the youngest of four sisters and a laat-lammetjie, so I spent a lot of time on my own and therefore developed a robust imagination to fill my world with stories to entertain myself. I think this strong sense of imagination and storytelling has really helped me to lift the writers’ creation off paper and breathe life into their work.

My acting background has especially been helpful to me as a director, as I feel actors can trust me to respect and hold their vulnerability safe in front of the camera. My work in theatre and my years as an assistant director also taught me to have discipline on my sets.

HOW DID YOU FIND YOURSELF WORKING IN TELEVISION?

It wasn’t so much a plan as an organic process of finding out what I really loved and what I was good at, as well as avoiding a 9–5 office job. So thank goodness I found this platform to bring stories to life and work with other crazy creative minds.

INUMBER NUMBER TOOK HOME THE SAFTA – WHAT WAS THAT LIKE FOR YOU?

The crew and actors did such a great job and of course it was an absolute delight having our directing team recognised by the industry and our peers. We don’t really think that getting acknowledged is important, but taking those steps up onto the stage and having that moment was truly wonderful and inspiring.

WHAT KIND OF CONTENT DO YOU LIKE CREATING AND WHY?

Any content, romance, comedy to drama, as long as the story is worth telling, the script is well-written and I have talented actors to work with (that haven’t been plucked from the bowels of Instagram hype). What more could I ask for?

WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON?

I’m currently working on a show for DStv called The River, which has been very well received by audiences since airing.

WHAT INSPIRES YOU CREATIVELY?

Good books, theatre, listening to people’s life stories, listening to music, listening to my imagination running wild… In other words, I find inspiration anywhere I can.

WHO ARE YOUR LOCAL MENTORS?

I am fortunate to be surrounded by other very talented filmmakers that I am lucky enough to call my friends. We share ideas and encourage each other. I am mentored by them all. However, the very talented Donavan Marsh (iNumber Number), who is currently finishing work on Hunter Killer with Gerard Butler and Gary Oldman, was my first and most influential mentor. I learned so much working with him and felt very encouraged by his belief in me.

TOP THREE FAVOURITE DIRECTORS? 

Coen brothers. Steven Spielberg. Ridley Scott

WHAT’S BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CAREER CHALLENGE TO DATE? 

Unfortunately, part and parcel of the South African film and television industry is the lack of time and budget, so instead of aiming for greatness, we merely achieve mediocrity. We have very talented filmmakers in this country, with a great passion for this industry and I believe this lack of time and budget should be a challenge for ALL of us.

AND YOUR BIGGEST HIGHLIGHT THUS FAR?

Working on a BBC TV show called Jamillah and Aladdin.

WHERE IS YOUR DREAM SHOOT LOCATION?

One with no cars, no aeroplanes, no dogs barking, no lawn mowers and preferably where the light looks golden most of the day.

THREE ALL-TIME FAVOURITE FILMS?

Ok, now that’s like asking me to name my favourite child! But here are three of my favourite movies, although not necessarily my top three: The Big Lebowski. Blade Runner (1982). 12 Angry Men.

ANY ADVICE FOR EMERGING FILMMAKERS?

Don’t let fear of failure ever stop you from pursuing your passion. You are not alone on set; you are surrounded by other professionals that are more than willing to help you realise your vision and who share the same passion. Learn anything and everything about your profession, because your knowledge will be your strength and your skills your weapon.

IF YOU WEREN’T A FILMMAKER YOU WOULD BE…

I would still be searching… And of course still avoiding a 9–5 office job. I love what I do. It’s hard to think of doing something else.

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