COMMERCIALS – DIRECTOR SPEAK: Dan Mace

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Dan Mace

Working professionally behind the camera since the age of 16 means that 26-year-old Dan Mace has over 100 music videos, documentaries and short films under his belt. His work has garnered nearly 20 million views on YouTube; he recently joined South African production company Egg Films; completed an award-winning television commercial for Tusker with Net#work BBDO; and won his third Young Director Award in two years at Cannes Lions. Dan Mace is on the rise…

What is your background and how has this shaped you as a director? 

My background consists of being a ‘surf rat’ from Kommetjie, Cape Town. All I knew from a young age was the surf world. I would be on the beach most days and bunk school as much as I could. Along the way, I met a guy called Mikhail Thomson, who became my coach and taught me the power of visualisation. When there were no waves, I used to sit on my carpet with little Lego men I glued to mini surfboards. They’d ride the waves I’d create on the carpet all day. These Lego men became a huge source of my imagination and really taught me to entertain myself with nothing much other than my mind. Long story short, I believe it’s the old days I spent sitting on that carpet that really opened my mind up to a world of imagination that I use every moment of my job now. It’s all up in the air until you’ve got it in an edit in front of you; until then, you’re the only one who knows what it looks like and that takes a shit load of self-belief.

Describe the moment, if there is one, when you knew you wanted to become a director? 

I used to be petrified of talking in front of anyone. When I was about 15, we had to do Afrikaans orals in front of the grade. I lay awake for nights before this, thinking there is actually no way that I am going to be able to do this. So the weekend before, I took my dad’s old DV camera, got my mate Gavin over and created a film about Jack the Ripper (which my oral was about). I created an entire plot, with special effects like rain from the sprinkler head and even a murder scene with some fake blood. When I played it to the class, everyone thought it was half alright until the Locnville brothers asked if I’d like to shoot a music video for them. A little later in the ‘shmodel’ days (young surfer boy look), I made enough money to buy a camera. As soon as I held that thing, it was game on. I used to make my sister and parents be my special effects team/extras/lead cast/sound/ even stunt men, setting off firecrackers in pies and all kinds of things… Yeah, I guess I have always just wanted to be a film director; it’s an art form that has completely consumed me.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find that the closer you are to your inspirations daily, the better work you will create. After moving from the small seaside town of Kommetjie to the busy streets of Cape Town, I had to re-adjust and make some new friends. I was adamant about hanging out with the right people – positive creatives with drive and passion for their work. Now six-seven years later, in my group of friends there are business owners, clothing designers, writers, and fund managers. We all push each other and no one is ‘more successful’ or better than the other. We know each other’s trades take time to perfect but most of all we are there for support and to remind each other to live a little. Life can’t only consist of work. The turning point of my career was slowly moving away from hanging out with negative influences. Clean out the trash; garbage in, garbage out!

Do you have any local mentors?  

I do indeed. There’s a guy called Jonah Lewis, who started a company called IYO Burger in Bree Street. We’re the same age and from the same friendship circle, but he has an incredibly creative mind that has been influenced by his business. He has become great at making creative sacrifices when he has to in order to grow his business; in the same way, in film I work with a producer to ensure we don’t make a loss by throwing every single creative idea into one massive fail of a commercial. He helps guide me in giving up on my good ideas to make space for the great ones. There are also guys like Craig Stack from My City By Night and now Colin Howard from Egg Films.

Top three favourite directors?:

  • Darren Aronofsky
  • Guy Ritchie
  • David Fincher

All three have developed their unique styles that I reference in almost every single one of my films.

Which projects are you currently involved in? 

I am in post for a Google Africa job, YouTube. I am just about to shoot the new Vodacom campaign and then we’re busy in the early stages of the second instalment of Tusker in Kenya. So yeah times are busy at the moment but my producer Vjorn du Toit is handling it all like a champ.

What kind of content do you enjoy creating? 

Anything real. Instead of creating a space, I enjoy looking at the awesomeness that already exists and pointing the lens in that direction, then obviously adding the sparkles it needs to make it cinematic. I believe in keeping it real at all times with performances and not departing too far from what I know and have experienced as a person. I have been pretty fortunate with my shitty experiences in my life so I have a pretty rounded understanding of the good and the bad. We will leave those details for another interview.

What has been your biggest career challenge to date? 

Directing my first TVC for Tusker, for sure. When we wrapped, I just burst into tears and was sick for a week. I had no idea how to handle the stress. But now I am way better equipped, so I am more than grateful for that experience.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far? 

Having a team that believes in my vision. On our latest job, we all pulled together like I have never seen. It’s great; being at Egg has really given me the opportunity to explore a bit more.

If you could produce an African version of a Hollywood classic, what would it be? 

That’s a tough question. I’d have to adapt it and create a version pretty far off or else I’d struggle with the originality of the piece. I’d have to say Requiem For A Dream with local drug and domestic violence issues, but a lighter ending.

Top three favourite films of all time? 

  • Silver Linings Playbook (so current with mental health issues and it’s done with the right amount of lightness)
  • La Règle Du Jeu 
  • Requiem For A Dream  

What is your dream shoot location? 

Every Instagrammer and YouTuber in the world (even my producer) would say Iceland. So I am going to be different and say Easter Island.

Who would play you in a biopic?  

Jesse Eisenberg

If you weren’t a filmmaker, you would be?  

Definitely a composer… or a chef. A chef that composes too (Haha).

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