Inside the making of South African Netflix Original series, Shadow

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Amanda du Pont and Pallance Dladla star in new Netflix Original series, Shadow.

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Last year, American entertainment streaming service, Netflix, announced that it will be investing in original African content. The year 2018 saw the release of its first African original series, Queen Sono, executive-produced by Kagiso Lediga (Catching Feelings, Matwetwe). On 8 March 2019, a second original South African series – the action-drama Shadow – was launched on the global streaming service.

“The African continent presents opportunities both for Netflix and filmmakers and we are actively searching for fresh differentiated stories from the African continent. We are committed to giving passionate local content creators a worldwide platform to share their vision, and offering consumers around the world unique and diverse stories they can discover and enjoy anywhere, anytime and at the same time. This is just the beginning of our investment in Africa,” said Netflix in a statement.

Shot in Johannesburg, Shadow is a proudly South African production, written by Gareth Crocker, and co-directed by Crocker and Fred Wolmarans. The eight-part action-drama series follows a crime-fighting, supernatural vigilante named Shadrach ‘Shadow’ Khumalo, played by rising South African star Pallance Dladla (Isibaya, Hard to Get). In addition to Dladla, the show’s cast includes Amanda Du-Pont, Khathu Ramabulana and Tumie Ngumla. The series is the latest production from Johannesburg-based independent film and television studio Motion Story.

Shadow is inspired by the sense of helplessness we all feel when faced with injustice in our lives. While we may not be able to defend the vulnerable or take on the criminals that plague our communities, Shadow can. He’s a kind of avatar for our primal brains. Someone unafraid to take action regardless of the consequences,” says Crocker.

The series follows Shadow, a former task force specialist and detective. Having been struck by lightning as a child, Shadow is now, as a result, resistant to physical pain. Initially he uses his condition to his advantage, in order to thrive in his career. However, after a devastating personal tragedy, Shadow takes on the darker role, as he travels deep into the underworld of killers and mercenaries. In this dark world he is forced to face his past, and soon discovers that feeling no pain is the most painful thing of all.

“In so many respects, Pallance’s character is the person we all wish we could be. He doesn’t stand on ceremony, cares little of what others think and has the courage to do what is right – regardless of the ramifications. And yet, even though his character seems cold and reckless on the surface, beneath that veneer is someone who cares intensely about his country, his friends and his family,” shares Crocker.

The series was cast and shot in Johannesburg last year with at least 80 per cent of the show filmed on location. “From the roofs of buildings, basements and bars to places like the Soweto Cooling Towers, penthouses and street scenes, we took great care in trying to move our characters through the city as much as possible. Johannesburg is, in fact, one of the show’s main characters,” comments Crocker.

Writing and pre-production of the series spanned roughly six months each, while post-production took almost an entire year. “My partners Chris and Colleen Lawrance, Phillip and Fred Wolmarans and Nick Keulemans are all equally responsible for Shadow. We’re very fortunate in that by and large our studio handles all aspects of the show: from breaking the story, writing and pre-production, right through to filming, post-production and final material delivery – virtually everything is done in-house,” says Crocker.

Shadow was shot on the Sony FS7 camera with Sigma cinema lenses. Most of the series was shot using a shoulder rig and gimbal stabiliser, with select scenes shot with camera cranes and dollies and very little work based on the tripod. Drones were also used for aerial shots throughout the production.

Crocker expands: “Camera choices and lighting were made according to the pacing of the scene and its dramatic needs. For scenes that required a voyeuristic or dream-like feeling, the camera would be mounted on a three-axle gimbal stabiliser, and for the more visceral fight scenes it would be mounted on a shoulder rig and harness. Various drone shots of the city were critical to establish and ground the show in Johannesburg.”

He adds, “From cross-cuts and fades to J-cuts and L-cuts, all editing decisions were always made in service of the story, its mood and tone and the pacing of the scene in question. There were several creative montages and a number of visual effects used to help heighten the tension.”

On Key Sound Studios was responsible for the sound of the series, a job which Crocker says “went way beyond clean audio, music and Foley effects. Much of the sound is designed around emotion and character headspace. What you see on screen and what you hear are not often the same thing, but the audio elements and the visuals combine together to build an emotional experience for the audience.”

In terms of special effects, the series made use of rotoscoping and compositing as well as match-moving and green-screening. Stunt sequences consisted of live stunt-action and various clean-plate effects.

Crocker says that budget constraints did limit the production; however, he hopes that the series punches above its weight in the international arena. “We hope that audiences will be moved by Shadow and inspired by what we’ve tried to create. Not just in terms of the show itself, but from a business perspective, as well. We’ve proven that with desire, belief and hard work, it’s possible for an independent production to be picked up by a major global player like Netflix.”

KEY CREW:

Producer: Phillip Wolmarans

Writer: Gareth Crocker

Director: Gareth Crocker and Fred Wolmarans

DOP/head of special effects: Nick Keulemans

Editor/technical director: Fred Wolmarans

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