Chasing Vehicle 19


Shot in Johannesburg, Vehicle 19 is a high octane thriller that stars Hollywood name Paul Walker (Fast and Furious, Eight Below) who also serves as executive producer.

Written and directed by South African Mukunda Michael Dewil (Retribution), Vehicle 19 is produced by Peter Safran (Buried) and Ryan Haidarian through their shingle companies Safran and Forefront Media Group. Gary King of Picture Tree is the co-producing partner.

South Africa’s Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) financed the production. K5 International handles all the international rights and Rena Ronson at UTA the North American rights. K5 has already sold Vehicle 19 to Optimum Releasing in the UK, Kinowelt in Germany, MadMen in Australia and Falcon Films in the Middle East.

The cast includes Owen Sejake (Tsotsi, Shake Hands with the Devil), Naima McLean (BBC’s Wild at Heart), and Tshepo Maseko (More Than Just a Game). Miles Goodall (Amelia, Retribution) is the director of photography (DOP).

Vehicle 19 was shot on location in and around Johannesburg in August and places the lead character, Michael (Walker), in the wrong car at the wrong time with a hostage on the run from a corrupt cop.

Dewil explains that he was inspired to tell this story because he wanted to place a foreigner in a strange land. “I wanted to show the journey he must go on to overcome the harsh environment. Johannesburg is a very gritty and dangerous city and it has a unique edge to it. A lot of Hollywood thriller genre films are very cosmetic these days, whereas Vehicle 19 definitely has an edge. Paul Walker is such a handsome man and to drop him in a city like Johannesburg, I think people will feel real empathy for him as a character.’


The other unique aspect about the film is that all the camera work and action takes place either inside or on the car. “I wanted to strip down the essential elements of the thriller genre and create an intense psychological aspect. The use of cameras only from the car sets up a very claustrophobic effect. Paul is fantastic and brings out a lot of depth in the role.’

In terms of his directing style, Dewil says he is very flexible. “I tend to be this way because I know what I want. Writing the screenplay also gives you a strong sense of the vision of the film. However, there are times when what you have envisaged on the page, simply does not work on film.’

Dewil says that he was thrilled to have Walker sign onto the project. “The whole process was quick, from writing the screenplay to finance to production. I am also very happy to be working with Peter Safran, Ryan Haidarian and Miles Goodall. Miles shot Retribution and we have a long and solid relationship. He offers great feedback and insight about shots and what we should go for.’

Different fare

Safran explains that he came on board because he believed in the project. “It is a very different kind of film. Shooting in South Africa is just fantastic. There is a real feeling of a renaissance as compared to America, where things feel jaded. I will most definitely come to shoot more films here. Johannesburg, although edgy, has a remarkable warmth and energy. We shot everywhere in the city and it feels like a place where people embrace the movie making process. I think it is great that the government supports the industry through the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) scheme.’

Haidarian met Safran at the Toronto International Film Festival. “He gave me Mukunda’s script and I was immediately impressed by the screenplay and the character’s journey and came on board. Ryan and I listed all the actors who we thought would suit the role. Paul signed on after we had our finance in place and just loves the script and being part of the project.’

The film uses local language and culture to tell the story. “This is very appealing as it is set here but made for the international market. It is authentic to the environment and has a great cast and crew making it happen,’ notes Safran.

Haidarian adds that they are shooting the entire film in sequence. “This contributes to the feel and look of the film. We would love to see it premiere at Sundance and hopefully spark a bidding war for North America. It is great to have talent like Mukunda and Paul involved. This really helped with the financing and I believe this will contribute significantly to the film’s success.’

Multiple cameras

Miles Goodall explains that this is one of the most interesting films he has shot due to the camera always being on the car or in the car. “The challenge however is to keep it interesting and generate a sense of outside life. We shoot with three sync cameras, two high speed cameras and one handheld. The cameras are not locked to the vehicle so as to create a shuddery effect. Our aim is to create a sense of claustrophobia and a unique feel to the thriller genre. The film takes place in the course of 90 minutes so the challenge is to balance the light and maintain continuity.’

In order to shoot the film in this way there are four cars with different camera rigs. Says Goodall: “We had for instance, one that records sound, one for point of view shots, another for profile shots. The film was shot on Kodak film stock and on anamorphic lenses.’

Dewil concludes: “Vehicle 19 is just a fantastic experience and I am ecstatic to work with such a great cast and crew. I hope that the film has critical and commercial success.’

SCREENAFRICA Print Magazine – November 2011 (view here)
By Karen van Schalkwyk


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