Elements of Cinema: Meet Cute


A ‘meet cute’ is a fictional scene, in film or television, in which a future romantic couple meets for the first time in a way that is thought to be charming, ironic, entertaining or just generally amusing.

Screen Africa chatted to some of the key crew members of Tell Me Sweet Something – one of 2015’s most popular local romantic comedies – on how to craft the perfect ‘meet cute’.

Akin Omotoso and Robbie Thorpe on writing:

The ‘meet cute’ was very challenging to write because it’s the point where the audience wants the characters to meet and the promise of the relationship to blossom. Everything hinges on it. What we tried to do was to explore different possibilities of ‘meeting’. Moratiwa (Nomzamo Mbatha) first sees Nat (Maps Maponyane) outside her bookshop on a billboard; this sets up his celebrity status and also the perceptions she has of him… When they actually meet in real life, we tried to keep it light as well as awkward. The scene ends on a question: “how will he rectify the situation and eventually ask her out?” Some of the best romantic comedies have this beat and it was important for us to respect the genre.

Akin Omotoso on directing:

There were three things that provided my visual realisation of that scene. The first was the four week rehearsal process that all the actors went through to build chemistry and create the ensemble. The second was the quote that starts the film: “I was looking back to see if you were looking back at me to see me looking back at you.” In the film, Nat starts looking at Moratiwa and she isn’t looking at him at first but then their eyes meet. The third was one of the lead songs on the soundtrack – ‘Lovey Dovey Lovely’ performed by Love Glori – and the line goes: “Oh lover about that other night, you know I fell in love at first sight.” Nat falls in love with her at first sight. Moratiwa takes a little longer and the film is about the journey to love, but the idea of the eyes and who is looking informed the scene. In terms of shooting it, we shot ‘the looks’. It was about the characters and who was looking at whom and who was not looking that made this awkward scene into hopefully a memorable ‘meet cute’ scene.

Paul Michelson on cinematography and lighting:

I shot on the Red Mysterium with Zeiss t1.3 lenses. The ‘meet cute’ scene was shot in a nightclub on one of the hardest days because of the number of scenes we had to shoot. Fortunately the club had a lot of practical lighting including a discotheque so I could put most of my effort into lighting the artists. I did this using soft light (mainly Kine Flos) and small incandescent lights, relying on the club’s lighting, to take care of the background. I used medium focus lenses (50 and 85mm) to highlight the cast without totally losing the background. The biggest challenge of the shoot was time. Using soft Kino Flos and slightly harder backlight and kick lights made the artists look particularly beautiful. To help them perform I had to light in such a way as not to limit their movement. I also paid a lot of attention to wardrobe (especially colour and texture) and make up.

Vuyani Sondlo on editing:

When editing the ‘meet cute’ scene, I had to constantly keep in mind the original idea and intention and then investigate the possibilities of what the director shot on set. It was very important to remember where the story was at that moment, where they were in their individual journeys and most importantly where they hoped to be which is what the film is about. I generally try and avoid techniques. The story and the director’s vision informs my editing choices, everything else is just a process using my sensibilities and experience to find the best possible way to contribute towards that vision.

Sue Steele on production design:

Unfortunately in a small budget film the first thing to consider when planning a scene is what part of the budget has been allocated to the specific scene. This may restrict creativity or encourage a more creative approach.

The performance of the actors involved in the ‘meet cute’ scene is the first consideration and for this reason wardrobe needs to be chosen carefully to allow the actors to feel attractive and confident. Light and colour are always important production design choices. Maps wore red shoes and jacket, red was chosen so that those items were visible and dominant. The location was a functioning club with its own interior design.

Other items that were specifically sourced were Nomzamo’s sequined strappy top, and practical lights which added to the romance and intrigue. Wardrobe has an influence on the actors’ performance and it often fills a large percentage of the frame giving the colour or texture. Light is the most successful creator of romantic ambience. Glass, liquid in glasses, small beaded practical lights, Nomzano’s sequined top, all these items contribute to the ambience.

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Chanelle Ellaya is the editor of Screen Africa. She completed her BA Journalism degree at the University of Johannesburg in 2011. While writing is her passion, she has a keen interest in the media in various capacities. Chanelle is an avid social media networker and a firm believer in the power of social and online networking. Between writing and tweeting, she finds time to feed her love for live music.


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