In conversation with award-winning director Quentin Krog

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Screen Africa spoke to award-winning director Quentin Krog about his journey to the director’s chair, his process when directing Die Byl, and what is next for him as a filmmaker

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Screen Africa spoke to award-winning director Quentin Krog about his journey to the director’s chair, his process when directing Die Byl, and what is next for him as a filmmaker…

Tell us a bit about your background and how it has shaped you as a director?

Being my dad’s 20-year-late laat-lammetjie and my mother’s only child, I never had the constant companionship or presence of brothers or sisters at home. My folks divorced when I was still a toddler, and I ended up living with my mom. So, growing up, I had a pretty lonely childhood where the TV was my constant companion, my babysitter and my favourite form of entertainment. My mom also allowed me, from a very young age, to watch movies that were totally inappropriate for my age. She’s always been very progressive and liberal-minded in that regard, so naturally I was always fascinated by the medium. I’ll never forget being superbly young and being moved to tears by the death of a grandfather in scene of a movie that was on TV. I can’t remember what the movie was but I’ll never forget that moment. I think those early years had a lot to do with shaping and informing what would become my future career.

You majored in stage acting at the University of Stellenbosch, tell us about your journey to the director’s chair?

I think it was in my second year when my dad asked me to help him with some safari footage he had filmed on his new video camera – a Sony Hi8 Digital Camcorder. The camera came with some really primitive editing software on a CD and a fire wire cable that allowed you to digitise the 8mm footage from tape to hard-drive. I started messing around and cut together my first amateur doccie featuring my dad’s safari trip with his friends. The bug bit me really hard and there was no turning back after that. I filmed and edited everything that came across my path after that. Needless to say, my dad never got to use the camera again. From there onwards, I juggled acting jobs with shooting videos for friends and colleagues, eventually starting a small little side business.

Having directed well-received feature films and television series, which do you enjoy more and why?

Feature films are definitely more of a director’s medium; you get more time and focus to craft the screenplay, more time to compose the visuals and fine-tune performances. It’s definitely friendlier to the director. TV, on the other hand, is more of the writer and producer’s medium for all the obvious reasons, whereas the TV director has to compromise on pretty much everything, every day. So naturally I would gravitate towards films more, if the luxury and privilege presents itself, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy TV. I do; it’s just a totally different mind-set and work fitness level. It’s like running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace!

Tell us a bit about your work on local crime series Die Byl… What drew you to the project?

First of all, I really enjoy working with producers Jaco Smit and Herman Binge, along with their company Marche Media. I’m also a big fan, and friend, of head writer Leon Kruger. That and the fact that I’ve never really worked in the detective genre so intensely, so I looked forward to the challenge of show-running, reinterpreting and rejuvenating the series. An almost-deal-breaker was the fact that, at 73 minutes, each episode is feature-length and they wanted to produce 14 of them in 18 weeks. I’m based in Jozi and I wasn’t willing to stay away from my family for that long to shoot in Cape Town. Luckily, Jaco agreed to bring two other directors on board, in the form of Liezl Spies and Leon Kruger, to share the heavy workload. So I directed episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 12, 13 and 14 – and the rest in between ended up in the highly-skilled and capable hands of Liezl and Leon, who did some really amazing work.

What approach did you take when directing the first episode?

Due to the nature of the shooting schedule, being constantly out of order and grouped in location blocks, there was less of a focus on ‘episode one’ and more of a holistic approach to the whole series. I do, however, always try make a point with the 1st AD of not scheduling episode one scenes within the first week or two of shooting. Mainly to allow us, as a creative team, to find our groove and settle into a style. So that by the time we get to episode one scenes, we’re already in a confident and clear flow, which translates to making a good first impression on the audience in the first episode. As far as stylistic approach goes, it’s a very dialogue-heavy series, so my main aim was to always keep the scenes alive and moving, whether that be via dynamic blocking and camera movement or just engaging and rhythmic performances. When we scouted the main location for the detectives’ office, the first thing I told the art department was to break out 80% of all the dry-walling and open up the place. This allowed us greater freedom of movement, as well as lots of depth and layering for camera. Then it was just about making the look, feel and tone much darker than before. 

True-crime/murder content has become a consistent favourite with viewers locally and globally, why do you think that is?

I reckon it appeals to the darker side of us all in some sort of weird and fascinating way. Also, as an audience member, I personally always enjoy trying to figure things out before the characters do, so I think that mystery-solving aspect makes it way more interactive for the audience. That could be part of the main appeal.

You’ve worked on some of SA’s most-loved TV series. What, in your opinion, is the key to creating a successful television show in South Africa?

For me the most essential ingredient is a good set of scripts. A great story with layered characters, all set in an engaging world. If you’re missing any of those ingredients, or they’re not developed to their fullest potential, then you’re already dead in the water before you’ve even rolled a single frame. For me that’s really the most challenging part of the whole process, wrestling with the scripts and fighting with the writers and producers for the best version it can possibly be, sometimes even right up to the last minute before we roll on the scene. And, more often than not, the bulk of this crucial phase usually ends up taking up most of my precious pre-production time, and then I’ve got scraps of time and attention left for the actual shoot prep. But once I’ve got a proper handle on the scripts, it’s all imprinted in my mind and then it’s really downhill from there.

What next for Quentin Krog?

I’m on a bit of a creative break at the moment, busy developing and pursuing some of my own ideas for the first time, ideas that I’ve been aching to do for many years now. I’m also keen to get some producing credits to my name. The extra time at home of late is also giving me some precious time to hone my dad and husband skills with my wife and two kids. We’re also currently expecting a third little one early in 2020.

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

In high school, I was really into music, so much so that I was pretty sure I wanted to be a rock star. My dad, however, was not so keen on the idea. I was the lead singer of the high school rock band… such great memories! I also had three different bands during my university days in Stellenbosch, which all faded into the background as my love for filmmaking grew. Currently, I have five of my old guitars hanging on the walls of my office – so, if all else fails, I guess I’ll have to dust off the old acoustic and warm up the vocal chords again!