FILM DIRECTOR SPEAK: Gert van Niekerk

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Gert van Niekerk

This year Gert van Niekerk was nominated for a South African Film and Television (SAFTA) award for Best Director in the TV Soap category. Before taking his place behind the lens, van Niekerk was in the spotlight as an actor, which he believes has helped hone his skills as a director for e.tv’s Ashes to Ashes.

WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW HAS IT SHAPED YOU AS A DIRECTOR?

I am a trained actor and spent the first five years of my life on stage. Then I was lucky enough to get a lead part in the iconic Arende. I was dialogue coach for three years at Egoli… I still act when I get the parts. Discipline from theatre, patience and understanding from working with actors as a dialogue coach, as well as a curiosity to tell stories with pictures so that anybody can relate to them, has shaped me as a director. I have a good understanding of the actor’s side of things and what it feels like to stand in front of the camera when they say: “Action”.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE SA TV SHOW TO DATE?

I obviously like Ashes to Ashes and my other favourite was The Wild. There is a great show on KykNet called Boekklub – one of the best ever made in Afrikaans.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?

Watching people do what they do every day – the different way everybody reacts to the same stimulus. That’s what sets us apart and makes for great characters.

DO YOU HAVE ANY MENTORS?

I do. Bobby Heaney taught me a lot about directing and how to work with actors and crew and I still phone him if I get stuck. My best friend Sandi Schultz – she will slap me even when she knows I will be angry.

WHAT ARE YOUR PERSONAL CAREER MILESTONES?

The first big TV acting job. The first episode I directed on Egoli. The movie I did with Sandi and the story in Binnelanders where I acted opposite her. The job on The Wild. The day Clive Morris asked me if I wanted to do Ashes.

WHICH PROJECTS ARE YOU CURRENTLY INVOLVED IN?

Ashes takes up all my time at the moment… I try to direct at least one play a year … to keep in touch. I am a board member of the Theatre Benevolent Fund. I am a trustee in the complex I live in… I’m developing two projects with very clever writers … I try to see my father as often as I can … I have two friends, a partner and a dog. The other four hours I try to sleep.

WHAT ARE YOUR LEAST FAVOURITE PARTS OF THE JOB?

Waiting.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR HAIRIEST MOMENT ON SET?

Patrick Shai asked me a question and I had no idea what the answer was…

WHEN YOU’RE NOT BUSY DIRECTING HOW DO YOU SPEND YOUR DOWN TIME?

I take my old 4×4 and go camping with the dog and a friend where there is no internet and no cellphone signal. I braai three times a day, bake bread over the fire and spend a lot of time staring into the bush thinking of absolutely nothing.

WHO WOULD YOU CAST AS YOURSELF IN A TV SERIES?

Marcel Schoeman.

WHO IN THE INDUSTRY WOULD YOU REALLY LIKE TO WORK WITH?

Connie and Shona Fergusson.

DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE YEARS?

Doing what I do now… just better.

WHAT OR WHERE IS YOUR HAPPY PLACE?

Water… any water. River, sea… even a fishpond or rain makes me feel calm.

IF YOU COULD HAVE ANY FILMMAKER SUPERPOWER, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

Knowing how it will turn out even before I get to the edit and slowing down time.

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