SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:
From civil engineering to filmmaking, this month we chat to Girl From Nowhere director Mark Jackson…
What is your background and how has it shaped you as a director?
Most people are very surprised to learn that I have a degree in civil engineering. But it makes sense to me. Civil engineering, like movie-making, has a lot to do with project management. And in civil engineering, the sky is the limit. You learn how to build the biggest things imaginable, from dams to skyscrapers. So I guess you discover that anything is achievable.
Was a career in film/television always the plan?
In a way, yes. At university, I spent a lot of time running the darkroom, and taking photos and writing stories for the varsity newspaper, so I think I always secretly planned a career change as soon as I graduated.
What kind of content do you enjoy creating & why?
I’m not sure I always like creating content. I just feel compelled to make it, especially with documentary work. But with Girl From Nowhere, it was really a lot of fun seeing the actors acting out my script. I got to watch my movie coming alive, through the camera.
What inspires you creatively?
People. Nature. The world. Inspiration is everywhere! And I really enjoy studying mythology.
Your micro-budget film – Girl From Nowhere – has topped the charts on Showmax. What do you credit its success to?
I think it’s the equivalent of a page turner. People really want to see what happens next. So it’s a compelling story, with strong actors. Christia [Visser] is very popular. And I think audiences are hungry for something new. Many great big-budget films soon all start to look the same. Girl From Nowhere is fresh, and fun.
What’s the secret to making a high-quality, micro-budget film? Any tips for fellow filmmakers struggling with budget?
Don’t skimp on the sound design, or the grading – that’s where production quality is very noticeable. Shoot in natural light. Add extra value wherever you can. Find unseen locations. And we have great musicians in South Africa – an awesome soundtrack is within anyone’s reach.
What value do VOD & SVOD platforms like Showmax hold for the South African film industry and emerging filmmakers in particular?
I think those platform offer huge opportunities to emerging filmmakers. It allows them to skip over some of the traditional gatekeepers, like the funding committees, or some distributors, who seem to have other ideas about what people want to watch.
With consumers of all ages favouring digital platforms and steering away from appointment viewing, where do you think that leaves the theatrical film industry and traditional broadcast media?
I think they need to adapt, fast.
Which are you currently working on?
I’m making a really cool graphic novel of my next script. The plan is publish this first, to be enjoyed in its own right, and then I can pitch that to investors, producers, etc. I’m aiming to have this done by April 2019.
Top three favourite directors of all time?
Undoubtably Sergio Leone, then [Stanley] Kubrick and then probably Michelangelo Antonioni. Three is too few.
Top three favourite films of all time?
A Few Dollars More, Blade Runner and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
What has been your biggest career challenge to date?
Selling Girl from Nowhere.
What has been your biggest highlight thus far?
Selling Girl From Nowhere.
If you weren’t a filmmaker, you would be?
Maybe an architect. Or an inventor. Actually, when I was a small kid, we went through every career imaginable, from fireman to astronaut, and then I announced to my surprised parents that I just wanted to be an ordinary man like my grandfather. I didn’t realise that being a retired pensioner wasn’t really a career option.