Screen Africa sits down with Herman Binge, producer of Ander Mens

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Herman Binge (Photo credit: Jaco Heinrich Spies)

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Herman Binge is a well-known South African director and producer, with more than 39 years of experience in the entertainment industry.

He is one of the directors of the dynamic Cape Town-based production company, Marche Media (Kanarie, Waterfront, Die Byl 2, Nobody’s Died Laughing, Johnny Is Nie Dood Nie and Die Seemeeu), and the producer of acclaimed director Quentin Krog’s new film, Ander Mens.

Ander Mens tells the suspenseful tale of Daniël Niemand (Bennie Fourie), one of life’s punching bags, whose life is changed irrevocably when his wife (Roeline Daneel) leaves him for their marriage counsellor (Tim Theron) and his criminal employer (Frank Opperman) completely disrupts his mediocre existence. Before long, not only is he used as bait by the policeman, Johannes Ackermann (James Borthwick), to capture this crime kingpin and his brother (André Weideman), but he also becomes the victim of a series of very unfortunate misunderstandings. Although this chaos leads to great tragedy, it also helps him to achieve an important personal victory. The film is presented from the perspective of Lieutenant Erica Kruger (Marlee van der Merwe), from the police witness protection programme, and also stars Laudo Liebenberg, Jana Cilliers, Lika Berning, Clyde Berning and Neels van Jaarsveld.

Ander Mens was produced in collaboration with kykNET Films, M-Net Movies and the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) and is distributed by Filmfinity (Pty) Ltd.

Screen Africa spoke to legendary producer Binge about what went down behind the scenes of this dark action comedy.

What do you look for in a script and what attracted you to this specific story?

I think the filmmaker communicates with his audience by surprising them and charming them into liking the story and the characters in it. The script of Ander Mens is full of twists and turns and surprises and its characters (even the baddies) are charming and likeable.

Ander Mens is based on Zirk van den Berg’s best-seller, Nobody Dies. Why does the final script differ so much from the original content of the book?

The demands of a commercially-viable film and a successful book with literary merit are very different. The audience that a popular film must cater for is very different from the discerning readers that a literary work must appeal to. However, all the main premises and characters of Zirk van den Berg’s book are still present in the film. But the film is the director’s comedic take on the novel and the way he wanted to tell the story.

Although you have previously worked on action and suspense series, such as Transito, Interrogation Room and Waterfront, your second feature film is a dark action comedy. What motivated you to explore this genre and why do you think it will appeal to South African audiences?

I think our audiences have seen enough conventional action and suspense stories and they would enjoy the surprise of the fresh, rather cynical and dark approach that the film takes. Ander Mens should appeal to local audiences, as it is full of references and situations that they will understand and familiar characters that they will sympathise with. Although most of these are universal themes, they are played out in a typical environment with specific South African references and sense of humour.

Why did you approach Quentin Krog do direct this film?

I have followed Quentin’s career since he was a very promising young drama student at the University of Stellenbosch. He then worked with us as an actor in our series Vloeksteen, but we were impressed with the quality of the films that he had directed, like Ballade vir ’n Enkeling, Vir die Voëls and the television series Die Boekklub. Of course it helped that we enjoyed him as a person and that we had the highest regard for his work ethic and his talent.

How did you decide on Bennie Fourie as the male lead and what unique characteristics has he brought to this role?

I became aware of Bennie Fourie when I was appointed as a mentor (with Deon Opperman) for the young filmmakers who were elected to make their debut short films for kykNET’s annual Silwerskermfees in 2014. One of the proposed concepts, called Vuil Wasgoed, stood out for Deon and I because it was so original and surprising. The young filmmakers ignored my advice completely and of course it went on to win the prize for best short film of that year. Bennie then wrote and starred in a successful remake of it as a feature film in 2017. He exudes a naïve comical charm as an actor, a bit like Jamie Uys of old, that was just right for the part, and Quentin had no hesitation in casting him.

The film includes choreographed fighting scenes between Marlee van der Merwe and André Weideman. Why did you feel that it was important for the actors to do their own stunts and how many takes were needed to capture the perfect shot?

We cannot beat the Americans at their game when it comes to action sequences. We just don’t have the money and the time it takes. So we have to keep it simple. And of course it is much easier to cut an action sequence performed by the actors themselves than it is to cut it with stand-in stunt people that resemble the actors. Marlee is in very good shape physically and André is an old pro, so we were lucky that our own cast members could pull it off.

You have a strong cast, which includes the likes of Frank Opperman. What was it like working with such a seasoned actor and witnessing his transformation from a loving “Ouboet” type of character into that of a scheming mobster?

I became friends with Frank in the early 1980s when he finished his diploma at the Pretoria Technicon. He was involved in productions with my wife in those days and of course it was a pleasure working with an old friend and now seasoned actor again. Knowing the range of Frank’s ability, we had no doubt that he would be able to be a great scheming mobster. And he delivered. Big time.

Where was the film shot and why did you decide on this location?

Our director and location manager did extensive reconnaissance trips all over the Boland. Practically and also budget-wise we could not afford to be too far away from our base camp in Cape Town. Quentin finally decided on the remote aesthetics of the Du Toits Kloof Mountains and the town of Tulbagh in contrast with the inner city where the rest of the film was shot.

What has been the biggest challenge you have had to overcome to make this film?

Raising the money for the budget is the biggest challenge for any producer and thanks to the dti, kykNET and ARCO – our venture capital partner – we were able to raise enough to make this film. To make any local film in the circumstances we have to face with our small audience, and therefore small budgets and small-scale infrastructure, is a major challenge.

What sets this film apart from other South African productions?

I am quite happy and proud just to be a part of the industry that produces South African films. I salute all the productions that have to cope with the limitations that we are forced to work with to be able to keep the local flag flying. I take my hat off to all of them. I am convinced that our contribution to the fair of local films this year will do us proud and will make a creative contribution to the ideal and quality that we are all working towards.

Compiled by Annelien van Basten