Love the One You Love


The making of Love the One You Love by South African director Jenna Cato Bass,
was, in her own words, “dictated by necessity’. Finding it impossible to finance her
projects Bass grew tired of waiting and decided to take a leap of faith, investing her
all in a low-budget project centred on one thing we all know too well – love.

Describing her first feature as a film about the way we cling to ideals in the face of
uncertainty, Bass says: “This is most obviously the case with love and romance,
which is so sentimentalised that there’s no way our reality of it can live up to
expectation. As a result, we dream of something that doesn’t exist, but which we are
told does. And it leads to a lot of unhappiness.’

Taking the leap

Love the One You Love was produced, directed and shot by Bass. Taking guerilla
filmmaking to a whole new level, Bass developed the film for actors/actresses she
already knew, and began shooting without any script whatsoever – a completely
improvised feature length film about love as a conspiracy.

“I got to a point where it seemed impossible to finance my larger-budget projects,
partly due to the fact that I hadn’t yet directed a feature. So I felt that I needed to
make a feature-length project on my own, somehow, so I could actually have a
chance in this business,’ explains Bass.

“This of course meant I was talking about a low to no-budget project, and so I would
have to come up with something that could be made within that framework. I decided
to write a film for actors I knew, admired, or in some cases was already friends with,
and work out a story around them. I’d also been dealing with a lot of personal and
ideological disillusionment, and had this idea for a film in which it turned out that love
– the supposedly purest of all emotions – was actually a conspiracy.’

Guerilla filmmaking

With Bass producing, directing as well as heading up other departments such as
cinematography and production design, pre-production on Love the One You Love
began in April 2013. Fast forward two months, with a brief treatment describing the
film’s look and feel in place, and a detailed scene outline in hand, shooting
commenced in June last year with Chi Mhende, Andile Nebulane, Mogamat Dayaan
Salie and Louw Venter playing the lead roles.

“The treatment was actually more experimental in some ways than the film ended up
being, using a lot of DIY special effects like miniatures and data-mashing. One
important thing was I wanted to use small cameras to achieve the fluidity and
intimacy in a visual way which I imagined would do justice to the performance style.
But most importantly, I made most creative decisions around the ethos that this
would be a nano-budget, guerrilla-style film made with what was available to me, and
that was the guiding principal – I would never try make the film something it wasn’t,
believing strongly that it could look beautiful without having all the bells and whistles
which cost money.’

The message of the film is told through two stories – Terri and Sandile’s story and
Eugene’s story – both requiring a very different look and feel. To achieve this, the
majority of the film was shot on two different cameras, one for each story: The Canon
600D and the Canon EOS-M.

“We shot Eugene’s story first on the Canon 600D. I only wanted to use one lens
throughout, mainly because I’m no cinematographer and I wasn’t going to have a
focus puller so I wanted to make life as simple for myself as possible. We used a
28mm Canon lens, though we switched to a 50mm for the phone-sex scenes because
I wanted those to feel especially uncomfortable. I used this equipment because my
art director just happened to have them, and was kind enough to let me use them.

But I wanted to shoot Terri and Sandile’s story on an even smaller camera – even a
DSLR was too clunky. At the relatively last minute, I went with the Canon EOS-M, a
mirrorless compact camera, with a 22mm lens. It’s tiny, but with full manual controls,
and I think the camera’s size helped me get the freedom of movement I wanted, and
helped in making the performances a lot less inhibited…I also made some small use of
a Sony miniDV handycam.’

Improvised dialogue

With one or two minor exceptions, Love the One You Love was completely
improvised, stemming from Bass’ admiration for director Mike Leigh’s work. While
Leigh does not use improvisation in the actual shooting of his films, it plays an
important part in informing his dialogue and style through rehearsal. In the end time
constraints, as well as Bass’ love for Leigh’s films, inspired her to apply improvisation
as a style to the film.

“It was quite a crazy thing to do, especially considering the film doesn’t have a
rambling, abstract narrative, but actually has to be very tight – it’s a mystery
storyline after all, even in a weird way, and you can’t mess about too much with
that…Let me also say that I had no background whatsoever in improvisation, or even
in theatre, so I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for,’ says Bass.

“But it also occurred to me that this process would force me to deal more directly with
my actors, which is an area of directing I’d always felt very weak in. And I wanted
this film above all to be a challenge that would force me to find some new ways of
working. And it certainly succeeded in that respect,’ she concludes.

Passion as a driving force

It goes to show just how far passion and talent can take you, with the film winning
multiple awards at Durban International Film Festival, namely – Best South African
Film, Best Direction in a South African Film and Best Actress for Chi Mendhe.

Due to be released in cinemas in 2015, Love the One You Love is sure to resonate
with South African audiences. Described as a modern-day true-to-life vision of Cape
Town, the film’s honest portrayal of love’s highs and lows, and its inherent
complications, is something to which we can all relate.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here