Lance Gewer, DOP (director of photography) on Oscar-winning South African
feature film Tsotsi and the highly acclaimed productions Otelo Burning, Spud and
Elelwani, recently completed filming on the new movie Kite, based on the
Japanese anime by Yasuomi Umetsu.
“Making a film based on an anime work is like a celebration of art. So with each
frame we were actually creating a piece of art that people are going to look at
and appreciate like they do with a graphic novel. My job was to create frames
that look like paintings,’ says Lance Gewer.
Shot in downtown Johannesburg, the world of Kite was transformed into a
space that humans had already destroyed. “There are so many abandoned
derelict buildings in Johannesburg, beautiful buildings that are unoccupied,’ he
Thus, a world was created where people are unsafe, “an insecure environment
where gangs rule, where crime pays and where criminals run amok. Where no
one is actually safe and in which social structures have fallen to pieces,’ says
Smoke and mirrors
With Gewer’s trained eye, an apocalyptic society rose from Johannesburg’s
sidewalks and in the empty spaces where evil lurks in the destroyed remnants
“We used a hell of a lot of smoke to create that as I wanted a very diffused
look. The idea was not to put the actors directly in the light, rather to let the
light bounce off things and find the actors. So that they were kind of in an
illuminated space, but I wasn’t lighting them directly.
“It was a new approach for me. I didn’t always get it right, as on a 30-day
schedule one doesn’t have time to play around. I sometimes had to take a more
traditional approach for the sake of the schedule and production.’
Because of the comic-book look that was required, Gewer says muted colours
were used as well as very dramatic set-ups that were not entirely realistic. “We
wanted to place everything in another world, a world beyond our world, a sort
of post-apocalyptic derelict world where things are falling to pieces.’
He calls the universe of Kite “a kind of terminal genre where people have to use
whatever is at their disposal because the world isn’t really producing much
anymore. Whatever resources exist is kind of precious. So we wanted to create
that kind of world.’
Gewer mentions that one of the biggest challenges he and his team
experienced was working with stunts, armourers, special effects, prosthetics,
stunt doubles and CGI on such a tight schedule. “Because of the genre we did a
lot of work on tripods, a lot of static and classically composed frames and then
also a fair amount of Steadicam work.’
India Eisley portrays the role of Sawa, who is determined to find the people who
killed her parents. Now a trained assassin, all memories but those about her
father’s murder are vague. Driven by revenge, Sawa goes on a killing spree with
Kala Aker (Samuel L. Jackson).
“India is unbelievable. She is a superstar of note,’ mentions Gewer. “She
always has to look like an angel, so we kept her lit separately, which was
challenging. We had to maintain that angelic look about her. She always glowed
a little bit more that the other actors.’
Some of the crew members have been working with Gewer for more than 20
years. “We have incredible crews in South Africa. Most overseas directors are
so impressed, especially with our focus pullers, lighting teams and gaffers that
they want to take them back with them.’
He adds: “We are hardworking crews who are passionate about what we do.
We work long hours and are constantly trying to develop ourselves and get
better at what we do all the time.
“It is a matter of being honest and being real and asking what knowledge can
be gained from the production. How can we develop our skills, how can we raise
our game? We want a product that we can be proud of, that is of an
international standard and which can stand up to any international film in the
“No matter what I’m doing, I’m doing cinema. Whether it’s documentary,
whether it’s drama, regardless of the genre, it must always look like cinema,’
Moviemaking runs in his blood, pumps through his veins. “It’s not about the
budget, it’s about what you do with the camera and where you put the camera.’
Kite was shot on RED Epics, shooting at 5K, using a full complement of Cooke
Classic S4 prime lenses and Angenieux Optimo and 30 – 80mm Angenieux
Optimo zoom lenses, as well as SFX filters to help break down the digital image.
All the lighting, cameras and grips equipment were supplied by Media Film
Service. Gewer says the service and backup was of an international standard.
“We got through the film without a glitch on the technical side.’
“Shooting Kite felt natural and quite real at times and rather gritty, which was
the look we were after with director Ralph Ziman. We wanted a dark, dingy,
dirty kind of look. Nothing was clean. We never washed a window, never cut any
green foliage, we scattered litter right across the city and pumped smoke in. It
felt like Johannesburg was on fire half the time.’
Kite also stars Australian actor Callan McAuliffe and South African actors Carl
Beukes, Terence Bridgett, Jaco Muller, Lionel Newton and Russel Savadier,
The film is produced by Brian Cox and Anant Singh.