The coordinated efforts of 25 different filmmakers from 13 countries around the world – including South Africa – resulted in CollabFeature’s first ever production, The Owner.
In a global road movie of sorts, The Owner follows the adventures of a mysterious backpack that makes its way around the world, intersecting the lives of dozens of fascinating characters along the way.
The film’s 25 directors come from Germany, the US, Ireland, France, Austria, Colombia, England, China, India, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, Brazil and South Africa.
On 25 May the film’s world premiere took place at several locations across the globe, including Johannesburg where director of the South African segment, 29-year old Francois Coetzee, was on hand to introduce the film.
Supervising producers on The Owner are Americans Marty Shea and Ian Bonner. Shea told Screen Africa that in many ways the finished product exceeded the filmmakers’ expectations.
“Since we were working with almost no budget we weren’t sure what kind of production value we would end up with. The filmmakers went all out to create beautifully shot segments and we were especially pleased that so many talented actors were involved.
“I’d always been attracted to the idea of collaboration and had talked about different film collaborations with Ian Bonner over the years. In 2008 we decided that the time was right; the Internet and social networking were exploding with possibilities and we created CollabFeature. At that point we had no idea where it would lead – we just built a website, a message board and began to contact filmmakers. The rest is history.’
According to Xavier Agudo, director of one of the Berlin segments of the film, Power Outage was CollabFeature’s very first project. “We reached the stage where we had a good draft for a script with segments from all over the world but realised it needed a major budget. The project was put on hold to raise financing and a second project was launched, once it became apparent that many more filmmakers were willing to join up and shoot on their own budgets. Thus The Backpack Project, now The Owner, was born.’
Making it work
Every filmmaker was in charge of his own production with Shea and Bonner overseeing the whole process. Says Agudo: “Different tasks were assigned among the filmmakers, so there was a group captain, a post-production captain, a music captain, press captain, and so on.
“All the collaboration was centralised on a web platform developed by Ian (Bonner) in which we exchanged scripts, voted, posted messages and managed tasks. We would share videos of our cuts through a known video platform and have the inevitable Skype talk or live chat to address different matters.’
Principal photography commenced in May 2010 in Brazil. All the film’s funding came from each of the filmmakers, with operational costs covered by the project directors.
South African element
In 2009 Johannesburg based Francois Coetzee (Diesis) saw an ad for CollabFeature on a website.
“I contacted them, submitted some of my previous films and was accepted. Initially the project was going to comprise 12 filmmakers working on Power Outage. But when that was put on hold Indian filmmaker Varun Mathur came up with the idea of a travelling backpack.
“All collaboration on The Owner was done via the Internet and everything had to be accepted by the 24 other filmmakers. As none of us were forced into a through-line story we were free to write in our personal styles. We were given deadlines for everything and had to pitch our stories to the producers and the other filmmakers and then submit drafts of our scripts.’
Coetzee had his initial draft accepted and worked really hard to make sure it would stand alone as a segment. Once his script was approved, as well as the actors and props, Coetzee received greenlight status. He used R6 000 of his own money to produce his segment.
“I filmed my sequence in a single day in August 2010 at a bus stop in Emmarentia, Johannesburg, with the shoot facilitated by the Gauteng Film Commission. My segment stars Nambitha Mpumlwana (suggested by casting director Christa Schamberger) and Philip Nolte.
“The theme of my segment is about self-acceptance during adolescence and acceptance by your peers. Gregory Cattel from Cape Town edited the sequence which I had to upload and get approval for from the other filmmakers. As the other segments came in from around the world we were able to view assembly cuts on the Internet. This project took a huge amount of my time but it was wonderful to work with so many different filmmakers,’ explains Coetzee.
He notes that The Owner was shot on 25 different formats. Johannesburg company FiX Post Production was responsible for marrying all the different formats together and for the grade.
The Owner is represented by Australian sales agent Screen Launch. Coetzee and FiX are working on securing South African distribution.
By Joanna Sterkowicz
Screen Africa magazine – July 2012