Meet SuzelleDIY co-creator and Sketchbook Studios co-founder Ari Kruger…
What is your background and how has this shaped you as a director?
My background is in character animation and VFX, which really helped me prepare for becoming a director. Working in 3D meant that I had to create my own virtual sets, place the cameras and physically breathe life into the performances of the characters. It’s definitely given me the confidence to rely on my instinct for blocking scenes with actors and positioning cameras on set. Being able to create my own 3D previsualisations before a complicated shoot is also a huge added benefit.
Describe the moment, if there is one, when you knew you wanted to become a director?
I never really had that lightning-bolt moment where I realised that I wanted to be a director. In fact, I don’t even think I knew what a director was until I was in animation school. I did however fall in love with the process of making videos when I was a kid, as I used to watch my dad make high-end home videos by editing footage together using our VHS machine and his video camera. He also used to draw animated titles and film them for the intro sequences. I basically stole his video camera and started making home movies with my friends, from wrestling videos in my garden to ridiculous skit shows. Thankfully YouTube didn’t exist back then otherwise the immaturity of my teenaged years would have been forever embedded in the internet.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find my inspiration from everywhere. From other films, YouTubers, rappers and comedians to start-up founders, travelling and everyday encounters that tell an interesting story.
Do you have any local mentors?
Trevor Clarence, from my commercials production company Your Girlfriend, showed me the ropes in many ways and taught me the art of pitching. He also has great comedic sensibilities and instinct and I gain huge value from bouncing my ideas and new projects off of him. Daniel Levi is another director for whom I have the utmost respect. He was extremely encouraging when I was transitioning from animation into directing.
Top three favourite directors? Why them?
My favourite directors are always changing but I love the DIY directors, the guys who have carved out their own careers by taking action in their own way, so to speak. Spike Jonze, Robert Rodriguez and Steven Soderbergh were my big influences early on. I also love that they get their hands dirty, often shooting their own work and editing it too. I was very hands-on when I was starting out and still am to some degree, although I’m trying to stick to just directing and writing these days.
Which projects are you currently involved in?
I’m currently in post-production on our new TV show, Tali’s Wedding Diary, which is premiering on Showmax in December. It’s been an incredible project to work on as Showmax gave us full creative freedom and support to make the show that we wanted. I’m really hoping that our show will be a step forward in shifting the landscape of traditional South African television.
What kind of content do you enjoy creating?
For whatever reason, I seem to gravitate towards comedic storytelling, which could be because I always secretly wanted to be a stand-up comic. I love creating and developing characters with actors; I love narrative work and exploring new techniques of how to tell a story. I’m also happy to work across all formats, like short films, music videos and online videos. I’ve loved the process of making a TV show and would do it again in a heartbeat.
What has been your biggest career challenge to date?
My biggest project to date has definitely been creating Tali’s Wedding Diary. The turnaround times were really fast, from writing the show to pre-production and production. It’s all been a beautiful blur. We were concerned with how to pace ourselves on set for five weeks but after the first few days we got into a rhythm and it became quite addictive. It was five hard weeks of running on adrenaline and instinct.
What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
One of my highlights was being selected for Tropfest 2011, the world’s largest short film festival, for my short film, Focus. I had been previously rejected three times so it felt REALLY good to finally get in there. I’m also a big fan of Australian film and I got to meet some of my local filmmaking heroes there.
Another definite highlight is having created SuzelleDIY with my supremely talented wife Julia Anastasopoulos. Suzelle really changed our lives and opened doors for us in ways that we could never have imagined. It has also allowed us to create our own content consistently for the past few years and we’ve been able to work with brands in a liberating and rewarding way. We’ve also learned a huge amount about YouTube, algorithms and different strategies to consider when creating content. We’ve since launched our own production company Sketchbook Studios. The idea behind Sketchbook is to work with brands in creating original content and memorable characters, using the knowledge and experiences that we’ve learned from SuzelleDIY. We’re also looking at creating more original content for VOD platforms like Showmax.
If you could produce an African version of a Hollywood classic, what would it be?
I would make an African version of Chinatown and replace the California water crisis with the Cape Town one. I’d need to find a great African Jack Nicholson though…
Top three favourite films of all time?
That’s the hardest question in the world. I’d say these films because I can always watch them again and again: Being John Malkovich; The Godfather; The Life Aquatic.
What is your dream shoot location?
Everyone says Iceland so I’ll say Iceland – that prolonged golden hour is just something special.
Who would play you in a biopic?
If you weren’t a filmmaker, you would be…?
I’d be producing music — or trying to be a stand-up comic.