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David Cornwell

David Cornwell
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David Cornwell lives in Cape Town, where he writes fiction, films and features for a variety of publications. His debut novel, Like It Matters (Umuzi, 2016) has been long-listed for the 2017 Sunday Times Fiction Award.

The Three Wells of Screenwriting

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Matthew Kalil is a writer, director and script editor who has recently published The Three Wells of Screenwriting, a book hailed by Christopher Vogler (author of The Writer’s Journey) as a “breakthrough in the craft.” Screen Africa caught up with Kalil to learn more about his background and what readers (and students of screenwriting) can expect from the book.

Kalil, who holds a masters in screenwriting from the University of Leeds and has nearly 20 years’ experience of teaching and mentoring his own screenwriting students, says that his passion for screenwriting stems from his childhood, when he remembers how his “father used to get really passionate about watching movies.”

Since then, he has written and co-written over 40 produced episodes of TV and has received various grants, development funding and awards, with productions screened and broadcast in Canada, Denmark, Morocco, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Kenya, South Africa, Thailand, the United States and the United Kingdom. He has also, through the process of developing workshops and academic courses over the years, found a unique approach to screenwriting that helps both beginners and established screenwriters get in touch with their creative cores.

His new book, The Three Wells of Screenwriting, is – in many respects – a distillation of this life experience.

As he explains, “I wrote a book for an online screenwriting course, but while I was writing it I kept feeling like I was missing from the content. What was missing, specifically, was this notion of the ‘wells’ of screenwriting that I had developed over the course of my teaching experience. I knew these were important, sometimes definitive sessions – and I wanted to encapsulate the power of those classes into a book. I actually went to LA on a screenwriting trip and met Christopher Vogler; after I told him my idea for the book, he told me I simply had to write it. So I came home, then did a ten-day silent retreat to let my ideas about the book and the craft of screenwriting percolate – and finally found that I was ready to do it.”

Kalil describes the purpose of the book as helping writers “create scenes that are memorable and different”, while its main focus is “exploring where we get our ideas from without over-analysing them.”

“I define the three wells as the moment when we sit down and we’re faced by a blank page or a flashing cursor. In that moment, we can write anything – we can create anything. We can draw from any kind of source of inspiration. The idea I explore in the book is that there are three main sources we can draw from – the external sources well, which describes other films we have seen or texts we have appreciated; the imagination well; and the memory well. These are interconnected,” Kalil continues, “with a reserve of ‘ground water’ beneath. The book attempts to clearly define these three sources of inspiration and then investigate how we can dig them deeper.”

With an attractively practical component, Kalil trusts that the book will be beneficial to writers of all skill and experience levels. “There are 29 exercises in the book, which you can use to practice digging deeper into these wells. These exercises range from watching and consciously analysing movies with similar themes to your own; to imaginative exercises based around acting principles to free up spontaneity; to deep memory recollections to tap into past emotions, mining personal experiences for nuggets to put into your script. What I like most about the book is that when you’re in ‘the writing groove’ – of course – these process should flow together naturally; but, if you get stuck, these exercises can help shift something and move the project forward. In fact, the tagline of the book is Never be stuck again…”

These sentiments are echoed by South African filmmaker and Oscar Winner, Gavin Hood, who comments about The Three Wells of Screenwriting: “I am often asked, ‘How can I learn to write?’ Matthew Kalil tackles this difficult question by gently reminding us that, when fearfully facing the blank page, there are multiple wells, both external and internal, from which to drink deeply when searching for something truly original and moving to say.”

In terms of his own filmmaking, Kalil counts “David Lynch, Kubrick and Scorsese” as his chief sources of inspiration. “We can see these filmmakers in their movies,” he reflects. “Lynch, especially, draws extensively from dreams and what – in my book – I’d call the imagination well.”

In a turn that he, himself, describes as “amazing synchronicity”, Kalil has recently relocated to Fairfield, Iowa, to teach at the David Lynch Graduate School of Cinematic Arts at Maharishi International University. A unique course that foregrounds transcendental meditation in the creative process, Kalil says that “after wrestling with the decision about leaving home and getting out of my comfort zone, I decided I had to go for it. As one of Lynch’s characters says in Lost Highway, ‘there’s no such thing as a bad coincidence.’”

For more information or to order your copy of the book, visit www.thethreewells.com

An interview with Rodrigo Prieto, The Irishman DoP

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Rodrigo Prieto is one of the world’s foremost cinematographers. An expert technician with the chameleonic ability to adapt his style to the specific needs of the story being told, Prieto’s résumé includes films by luminaries such as Alejandro González Iñárritu, Spike Lee, Ang Lee, Pedro Almodóvar, Oliver Stone and Martin Scorsese – director of The Irishman, currently streaming on Netflix.

In this exclusive interview with Screen Africa, Prieto tells us about his approach to filming The Irishman, collaborating with Martin Scorsese and where he finds his inspiration from project to project…

The Irishman stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, and sees Scorsese return to the crime genre that he has played such a large role in defining for modern cinema audiences. Based on the 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt, the film – which runs for 209 minutes – follows the story of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (De Niro) as he recounts his days working as a hitman for Pennsylvanian crime lord Russell Bufalino (Pesci) before becoming the bodyguard of notorious mobster Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). Emotionally complex and epic in its scope, The Irishman marks Prieto’s third collaboration with Scorsese, after The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and Silence (2016).

Speaking about their working relationship, Prieto says: “I’ve always admired Scorsese’s use of the camera and his cinematic language –and so I find it very natural to execute the shots he wants to do, because I really like his take on how to tell a story visually. I also think that I listen very carefully to what he’s saying, and not only when he’s talking specifically about shots or ideas, but just in general – I know that when he’s in a project there are things he might say, even in passing, that have meaning and significance to the look he is trying to create. At least, I find that I can translate these things, and use them as inspiration for my ideas about how to manipulate the lighting and the camera.”

With the film “in gestation for many years”, Prieto explains that he “read the book before I’d read the script, and that helped me get into that world. Sometimes when a movie is based on a novel, I actually prefer not to read the novel – because you can get caught up with scenes and incidents that don’t happen in the script – but in this case, I really wanted to get a sense of the history behind the story, and it was fascinating.”

One of Prieto’s distinctive techniques is his willingness to combine film and digital to achieve the exact texture of image the story requires. “On this particular project I knew film negative would be required. This is because at one point Scorsese mentioned that he had a sense of memory for the movie – and of home movies. Then again, he mentioned that he did not want a grainy, hand-held Super 8 or 16mm feeling, either – so I thought I would use references to the emulsions of still photography of the different eras,” Prieto says.

Shot on both an Arricam LT and ST with Cooke Panchro lenses, Prieto says: “I’m proud of the way I decided to differentiate the different decades in the film. For the 50s I used Kodachrome and for the 60s I used Ektachrome – and I think these photographic emulsions, on a subliminal level, remind us of our childhoods, those colours connect us instantly to the feeling of home movies. From the 1970s on, though, I did an emulation of a technique called ENR – which is a process where on the print of a film, you skip the bleach pass and keep the silver on the film, which creates added contrast and desaturates the colours. So, towards the end of Frank Sheeran’s life, you will notice the colour has drained from his life because of what he’s been through. And that’s the big movement of the film – it starts full of Kodachrome colour and then by the end, the colour has drained from the images. This plays into the idea of memory, but is also a way to show that the meaning Frank thought his life had, which I represent with colour, maybe was not exactly what he thought.”

Shot over 106 days, the other key challenge for Prieto on The Irishman involved the cutting-edge de-aging technology on display throughout the film. Prieto says, “We had to use digital cameras for the de-aging visual effects. So, even though I knew that I wanted the movie to a have a sense of being photographed on film negative, it was necessary for the scenes that were ‘youthified’, that we had to use three cameras for each angle. So for the main camera, I used a Red Helium, but on each side of it I used two ARRI Minis – which were just capturing information from the faces so that the computer could then apply all that information from the performances to the CGI-created younger face.

“That was a big complication,” he continues. “I had to create rigs that were robust enough to hold these three cameras, but still lightweight enough to work on Technocranes or remote heads or fluids heads or whatever it may be – we had to make sure we didn’t limit Scorsese at all in terms of the way he wanted to move the camera.”

Another factor that added to the complexity of the camera crew’s operations, as Prieto explains, is Scorsese’s penchant for covering dialogue scenes from more than one angle simultaneously. “The cameras are facing opposing directions, which makes lighting complicated – and sometimes, he will also want to cover the scene in a two-shot at the same time. So when you consider that each rig actually consists of three cameras that means we could have six or nine cameras in operation at the same time – with six or nine focus pullers all working at once.”

Elaborating on his choice of style for the film, Prieto explains that “Scorsese wanted the film to have the perspective of Frank Sheeran – who was a quiet, methodical man. That meant the camera couldn’t behave in a flashy way; the camera language needs to be simple when we’re with him: frontal, sideways or simple panning. There’s no spectacle to the way he kills, and so there’s no spectacle in the approach of the camera work.”

With its novelistic length and assortment of settings and sub-characters, Prieto describes the key challenge of this particular project as follows: “To keep the images interesting, but not in an obvious way. Vary the lighting conditions and the colour from scene to scene and use the different settings as an opportunity to convey a variety of different feelings. What’s spectacular in the movie is the performances – and I had to trust that myself and not try too hard with the camera.”

This last point is characteristic of Prieto, whose style, while recognisably his own, is also distinctive in its variety and has been put to exquisite use on an impressive variety of projects. From the fireworks scene of Brokeback Mountain, to his portrayal of Tokyo in Babel and the Quaaludes-induced chaos of Wolf of Wall Street, Prieto has been responsible for some of the most memorable moments in cinema of the last 20 years.

“I have been fortunate to work with directors who are very passionate,” he reflects. “And I have always gravitated towards that – towards treating what we do as something much more than a job. I use cinematography as a tool for my own expression; lighting is an abstract way of expressing emotions. It’s like music – you can’t explain it in words, it’s something instinctual. That’s how I approach my cinematography – using my own life experience. Things I have seen with my own eyes and have made me feel a certain way. Even if I do try give every film its own specific visual characteristics – things that emanate from the story and from the director’s point of view –my eye is inevitably in there, the way I have responded to my own experiences in my life.”

On set with DIT Tanika Wessels

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

The role of Digital Imaging Technician (DIT) is integral to any production. With a job scope that encompasses far more than simply ‘data wrangling’, it is the DIT’s responsibility to ensure that everything that is captured on set arrives on the editor’s desk both intact and on-spec. Screen Africa caught up with Tanika Wessels on the set of the new feature film Pou to learn more about what the job entails.

For Wessels, who started working as a DIT in 2011 and whose experience ranges from features to series, commercials and corporate AVs, “The job runs in my family. My brother is an editor, and so is my boyfriend – and initially, I thought I wanted to be an editor, too. But then I realised that being a DIT is more the role for me, because I like being on set – I like the energy of the production period, and I love that my role is the link between what happens during this stage and the editing suite.”

For those who aren’t clear of what, exactly, this entails, Wessels describes the role as follows: “I liaise with the camera department – I get the rushes and then I run the footage through my verification software to make sure every byte is copied and that we don’t lose a single frame or pixel. Other things could be on-set colour correction, if that’s required, and then – obviously – to create transcodes and back-ups of the footage from the dailies and pass those on to the producer and to the post-production facility. This includes keeping a record of what has been shot – the scenes and slate numbers, any wild sound recordings, everything like that.”

Wessels also explains that DITs can set themselves apart from the crowd by offering other services on-set. “One thing I do is that I synch the sound of the rushes before passing them along to the editor,” she says. “This is because I have an editing background, and so I do this as a courtesy to the person who is going to be cutting everything together. It saves a massive amount of time in the post-production period: when you’ve shot with a high shooting ratio, it can add at least three days just to synch the sound to the rushes. This is an added bonus I can give to clients, and it gives an added level of security because I can check that we have sound for everything we’ve shot as we go along.”

In terms of the hardware and software required to execute the job, Wessels says: “You need a good monitor, you need a lot of RAM and a good PC running i7 or higher – even an i5 can be laggy – and I also use a thunderbolt connection to make the speeds even faster. Some DITs even have a DIT cart, where they build up their station with colour panels and towers and RAID systems.”

She explains that a RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) is crucial in maintaining a speedy workflow process – “because it reads and writes simultaneously and has built-in back-up systems” – and provides a run-down of the software programs she relies on: “I use ShotPut Pro to offload from the camera; it verifies that you back up every single byte of data and you don’t miss anything. Dragging and dropping doesn’t cut it if you’re an experienced DIT: there is a chance that you lose data, even megabytes, through simple copying processes. It’s much better to run it through verification software that even produces a report for you after you’ve offloaded every card.

“To synch things up I use Da Vinci Resolve, which is more a colouring software, but you can use it as an NLE, or non-linear editing program, as well. Most of the colourists I know of use Da Vinci Resolve, but on this project I’m using Premiere Pro because that was the request from the editor.”

This aspect of the job – needing to stay up-to-date with the latest technological developments across the whole range of filmmaking tools and equipment – is both challenging and exciting, according to Wessels. “You have to stay up-to-date with all the latest technology. You have to know your cameras because the workflow is different: I’ve worked with REDs, ARRIs, Panasonics, Sonys – and they all require something different from you in your process. And then when the editing suites change their operating systems or bring in new updates, you need to learn about those, too.”

One piece of advice she would offer production companies is not to underestimate the cost implications that lie behind the choice of shooting format. “The last project I worked on we shot in 8K, which was a challenge. The speeds were slow, even on my machine, and I had to bring in a Red Rocket to keep the workflow moving at a reasonable pace.

“This is something productions don’t think of – the extra hard drive space required, the time it takes on set – even though, mostly, the product is only ever released in 4K or HD. The transcoding process – which is me taking the file and rewriting the format for the editor – is made extremely slow by 8K, where the rewriting takes as long as the clip.”

Reflecting more generally on the job, Wessels points out that “almost by definition, DITs have the longest day on set. I’m working two to three hours after everyone else has wrapped, sorting out the transcodes and making sure everything is synched and secure. It always helps to know what the editor wants and I think that’s the biggest piece of advice I could give producers: know and understand the quality of picture you want, because that decision will have echoes all the way through the post-production period.” 

Inside the Magic Lightbox Company

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Frank Meyburgh has been involved in the South African film and television industry since 1989, when he established Magus Vision. After returning to the country in 2014 after a brief stint in the UK, he formed the Magic Lightbox Company: a sales, archiving and rentals business which holds true to the original ethos of Magus Vision, namely: “today’s runner is tomorrow’s producer – and everyone has an integral and equal part to play in the ongoing success of our industry.”

Screen Africa caught up with Frank on the eve of the Magic Lightbox Company’s fifth birthday on the 1st of November, to chat to him about his return to the South Africa, the changes he’s noticed in the industry over the past few years and the most exciting recent developments for the business.

Reflecting on his return to the country in August 2014, Meyburgh says: “For me, the welcome we received upon news of our return was very humbling. Eighteen months is a long time in this industry – but it passes very quickly and unless one stays in the game – at all levels – stays current and keeps evolving, it is easy to get lost or forgotten. Fortunately, I was commuting between the UK and South Africa and gauged the turning tides in equipment criteria and user demand. This is something that most of us in the industry do as a matter of course, I know, but it became a huge advantage when starting up again – as we could literally open our doors with the latest equipment from Sony, Canon, and Panasonic.”

Speaking about specific technological changes in the industry that surprised him upon his return, Meyburgh comments that: “I was not expecting to find that tape format had become virtually obsolete and transfer bays went from high demand to little or no use. But most surprising was that the golden era of the Canon 5D MKIII was about to change drastically, with the introduction of the Sony A7S and the FS7.

“For us, the move into lighting was also a new challenge, as we had previously not given lighting the attention it so clearly deserved. Now was our chance – and, again, it was afforded at a crucial time in the industry.  We heavily invested in ARRI Sky Panels and Apurture Lighting Panels, which has paid tremendous dividends.”

When asked about noticeable differences in the production environment over the last decade or so, Meyburgh shares a refrain that is familiar to South African producers and content creators: “The downside is the drop in production value due to budget constraints, and the related fallout due to lack of funding. Many of our clients have had to close their doors – and it is inordinately sad.  We have such huge potential in this country: our industry is full of incredible talent and has an inspiring history, which – tragically – is a little-known story.  We need to pull together as one industry – not various entities trying to grab a slice of an ever-diminishing pie.”

Meyburgh reminds us that South Africa has the second-oldest film industry in the world, a fact he feels we should cherish, and concludes by telling us about the most exciting of the Magic Light Company’s recent projects: “The biggest and most enthusiastic development for us is the evolvement of our Celluloid and Cinematic Emporium, which began its life in pigeon holes along the reception wall of my previous company, Digitalfilm.

“To see the reaction from people, both from within the industry and not, when they enter the newly-renovated space is simply great. We now run the Magic Lightbox Company from a museum of sorts, surrounded by our incredible history and collection of old cinema, film and television cameras, dating back as far as the 1880s. We remain one of the few facilities companies that can offer 16mm and 35mm film cameras and 8mm, Super8, 9.5mm, 16mm and 35mm telecine of negative and positive film to a digital format and drive.”

Silverline Studios in the spotlight

Silverline Studios offer film and television studios, with turnkey production services, in the heart of Cape Town.

Recently, the company has been involved in some exciting international and local projects, from M-Net’s television adaptation of Deon Meyer’s best-selling novel Trackers to the most recent instalment of the Maze Runner film franchise.

Screen Africa caught up with Monde Mkhontwana and Ingrid Williams to find out more about the Cape Town-based studio facility and why it has become a favourite amongst content creators from all over the world.

PRIME LOCATION

Office manager Ingrid Williams, who has been working at the studio for the last fifteen years – and whose portfolio covers a wide range of duties – outlines one of the chief attractions of Silverline Studios: its ideal location.

“We are located right in the heart of Cape Town. So – particularly when we have international clients, for example – the V&A Waterfront is on our doorstep, and the new Battery Park development is right across the road, which provides us with ample overflow parking.”

This area is not only a favourite hang-out for visitors to Cape Town – with world-class shopping, dining, hospitality and leisure options grouped closely together within one safe and vibrant precinct – but is also extremely convenient for production crews, with both essential services (like parking) and recreational activities being readily available.

Monde Mkhontwana – who joined the company in 2017 as an IT engineer before being promoted to operations manager a year later – adds that: “a big advantage of Silverline Studios is how convenient it is for crews of any size. We have immediate highway access and we even have a petrol station located at the back of the studios, where clients can run an account for the time they are on premises. We are also near the Green Point traffic department and the area is fully covered with CCTV surveillance cameras. We have many features that just make life easier for our clients, and this is the area of Cape Town where everybody wants to be.”

TURNKEY CAPACITY

Mkhontwana, who describes his role as “looking after clients, meeting their requirements and ensuring that the infrastructure of Silverline stays up to international standards”, shares some details about the different spaces and services that the studio can offer to production companies large and small.

With four air-conditioned studios offering over 11,000 square metres of floor space, workshops, makeup rooms and production offices, Mkhontwana stresses that the Silverline offering “is very flexible and can cater to the individual needs of each and every production.”

Williams says: “Our facilities are updated regularly. We have recently renovated our 3 Port Road building, which has 3,000 square meters of offices and workshop spaces, with covered truck access, and fantastic views from the boardroom and user-friendly technology throughout” – and she describes how Silverline is well-positioned to offer turnkey production services because of its long-established network of industry partners.

“Silverline has extensive partnerships with Refinery – who specialise in post-production – and Media Film Service, one of the country’s leading technical suppliers. Because of these long-term relationships, we can supply quotes and make introductions and create package deals for companies, who enjoy the ability to have all aspects of production managed under one roof.”

Mkhontwana underscores this point. “Having everything on site is another huge advantage for producers. For example, in the case of the recent feature film Maze Runner – everything was done on-site and in-house. This ‘one park’ solution we have developed increases efficiencies all the way through the production chain: there’s no driving around to meet with different suppliers, and all the key stakeholders can work productively in the same studio space.”

RECENT HIGHLIGHTS

It’s been a busy and exciting year for Silverline Studios, with the company overseeing many successful productions – including Scorpion King 5 (Universal), Noughts & Crosses (BBC) and The Kissing Booth (Netflix).

Asked to reflect on their personal highlights from the past year, Williams says: “My favourite was the recent finale for Survivor South Africa Island of Secrets, which took place on the 12th of September. It was a flawless broadcast of the action from inside Silverline Studios, with a large cocktail party event on-site. This one evening showed the full capacity of what we can offer at Silverline Studios: top-quality production and broadcast expertise, as well as a dynamic space where we can make magic happen.”

According to Mkhontwana, “My highlights for this year were the new VW advert and the new Discovery TVC that we shot here in studio. It is so exciting to watch these commercials – which, judging by their quality and production values, would make you swear they were produced internationally – and know they were actually done right here in Cape Town, in the place where we go to work every day.

“To share these experiences with friends and family makes us feel proud and excited for the future,” he concludes.

To learn more about the production home in the heart of Cape Town that Silverline has created, visit their website.

Introducing TITLEDID, specialist subtitling and translations company

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

True specialisation is a scarce resource in the South African film and television post-production landscape, but this is exactly what Johannesburg-based subtitling company TITLEDID offers its clients.

As Kate Mpshe (operations director) and Ntsiki Ntshongwana (managing director) explain, the company was formed in 2016 before moving into Sasani Studios in 2017. Since then, TITLEDID has moved away from a freelancer-based model to include two full-time employees to assist the dynamic duo of Mpshe and Ntshongwana, who first started working together more than eight years ago doing translating and subtitling for Isidingo.

Now with an impressive list of regular clients – including Isidingo, Makoti, Impilo: The Scam, Connect, Uzalo, Imbewu, Date My Family, Please Step In and many others – Ntshongwana says that moving into Sasani Studios, which is nicknamed ‘Soap City’ for the amount of different shows that are produced there, has “helped put us on the map and allowed us to demonstrate to production houses what we are able to do.”

“SUBTITLING IS NOT TRANSCRIPTION”

While often considered an ‘after-thought’ by many producers, Mpshe tells us more about the art of subtitling.

“The one thing we wished more people understood,” she says, “is that subtitling is not transcription. Especially with new clients, they often expect to see a word-for-word translation on the screen – but that actually defeats the whole purpose of subtitling, because it becomes distracting for the viewer. You still want them to watch the story, not read the screen. This problem is then made worse in the case of viewers who are hard-of-hearing; it becomes impossible for them to engage with anything else that is happening on screen.”

Of course, while this has an important visual component, there are also many subtle creative decisions that need to be made about the language of the translation along the way.

Ntshongwana explains TITLEDiD’s workflow: “We watch the show first to make sure we are familiar with the story and the context of what is being said. Then we subtitle line-by-line, and – once we finish – we always make sure to do a last watch, checking every word we’ve put on screen. In the film industry, you’re only as good as your last job – and so quality control is really important to us.”

Delving more deeply into the creative aspects of the job, she says: “We live the stories. We put ourselves inside the stories – asking yourself how the character would say a certain line – but then through the translation process, you also take the viewer’s perspective because you understand the need to make the subtitles simple and understandable.”

Mpshe sums the process up as follows: “The key is always to subtitle not what is being said, necessarily – but what is being meant.”

ADDRESSING THE MARKET

These subtle complexities mean that – in a post-production landscape that is increasingly dominated by software, AI and machine learning – the job of subtitling remains relatively free of automation.

“We can’t rely on working from the script,” Ntshongwana says. “And you should never rely on an ingest system. You have to work with what’s on screen; you have to listen to what the performers have said and find the right way to put it across. Creative decisions can happen on set, and – in the context of South African shows – performers will often use vernac, and so you need a human ear that understands the context to translate it accurately.”

Mpshe echoes these thoughts, saying, “We have a lot of languages in South Africa, and so – to their credit – most programmes switch from language to language to reflect this social reality. In recent years there has been more of a drive towards multilingualism and towards letting performers speak in a way that is true to the character they are portraying.”

Ntshongwana says that producers should be mindful of this trend – and ensure that they properly budget for subtitles. “I would be great if producers would budget for subtitling instead of treating it like an afterthought. You know that the broadcaster requires subtitles, and you know that subtitles will help your movie travel to different audiences, so make sure you have enough in the budget at the outset for a professional job.”

With all 11 official languages able to be translated in-house, and with their processes streamlined over years of experience – allowing them to turn around a feature-length project in just eight hours – the two say they are proud to be known as one of the fastest and most accurate subtitling company in the business.

For more information about TITLEDiD and their subtitling and translating services visit their website.

FREEDOM AND FLEXIBILITY: How the Rialto Extension System adds even more performance to the Sony Venice 6K RAW

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

In the May issue of Screen Africa we spoke to director of photography Willie Nel about the starring role that the Sony Venice 6K RAW camera played on the set of upcoming feature Die Verhaal van Racheltjie de Beer.

“By the end of a shoot,” he told us, “you know what a camera can or can’t do. With the Venice, there wasn’t an issue in sight. Honestly, it’s like the Swiss army knife of cameras to me, and definitely has set the new standard.”

With the launch of a brand-new, high-end accessory for the camera – known as the Venice Rialto Extension System – we checked in with both Nel and Goran Music (of local distributor Visual Impact) to learn more about how this latest piece of gear adds even more flexibility and performance to the Venice 6K RAW.

HIGH-PROFILE ADMIRERS

The Venice 6K RAW has won its share of fans – both locally and internationally – and it was, in fact, during “detailed discussions and further collaboration with James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment” that a prototype of the Extension System was first engineered to meet the production company’s exacting needs (including 3D rigging) as they began shooting the sequels to Avatar, the highest-grossing feature film in history.

First demonstrated at Cine Gear 2018, though refined since then, the Rialto Extension System essentially allows the Venice to be broken into two pieces – so that the image block and lens may be placed in tighter spaces, or else simply positioned further away from the body of the camera.

For Nel, being able to ‘build’ the camera in this manner changes both “the shots you can achieve and the shots you are willing to achieve”; he explains that the system allows you to think differently about camera placement. He describes set-ups where he has been able to put the image block “on the dashboard of a car and still look at the driver” and enthuses about the freedom of movement the Rialto Extension System allows, commenting that he is able to operate the system with the agility of a hand-held camera while still being assured of the ultra-high-quality images that the Venice is known for.

HOW DOES THE RIALTO WORK?

The Rialto Extension System consists of a front panel cover, an image sensor block case, a 9-foot cable and a 9-foot extension cable. The addition of the Extension System, furthermore, adds an HD-SDI output and a 12V or 24V output for powering accessories such as lens servo motors and monitors.

The Rialto system boasts great compatibility, with operators being able to customise the camera for specific scenarios in under three minutes using a single 3mm Allen wrench. The image sensor block weighs just 1.8kg (with PL mount) and 1.4kg (using the native E-mount), and the cable system can extend up to 18 feet (5.49m), offering a highly-configurable, flexible and portable method of operation.

Crucially, the Rialto Extension System enables the Venice to be suitable for many different mounting configurations and filming scenarios, including use with gimbals and handheld stabilisers, underwater and helicopter housings and 3D/VR rigs. Nel points out that this easy compatibility has a significant time-saving benefit on set, as the Rialto Extension System balances quickly and easily with gimbal set-ups, avoiding lengthy breaks and disruptions to the momentum of the shoot.

FIRMWARE UPDATES ADD FUNCTIONALITY

Also recently available from Sony is the free Venice Version 3.0 firmware upgrade.

This further enhances the camera’s capabilities, with the manufacturers incorporating feedback from filmmakers and taking the decision to “protect the customer’s investment by allowing the camera to grow with the user.”

Version 3.0 firmware will add a recording profile within the X-OCN (eXtended tonal range Original Camera Negative) codec. This new profile, called X-OCN XT, captures the highest-quality imagery with the AXS-R7 portable memory recorder. Moreover, for demanding visual effects work and productions requiring the utmost in image quality, the new X-OCN XT profile maintains exceptionally economical file sizes (comparable to Sony’s F55RAW file size), making the workflow affordable and efficient.

Other firmware highlights include new imager modes – including 6K 2.39:1 and 5.7K 16:9 – for greater shooting flexibility, and additional de-squeezed ratios for various anamorphic lenses (x1.25, x1.3, x1.5, x1.8), as specifically requested by filmmakers such as Nel, who enthuse about the “dramatic anamorphic drop-off” the Venice 6K RW naturally provides. The new firmware update also provides for a 6G/12G-SDI switchable output enabling 4K SDI output and wireless remote control via CBK-WA02, for controlling and changing key functions and menu settings with increased flexibility.

For filmmakers, the Rialto extension to the Venice 6K RAW promises the perfect marriage between agility and performance, with the smaller footprint of the camera not compromising its exceptional image quality, nor its range of iconic in-built features like its Dual Base ISO (500/2500) and eight-step mechanical ND filter system.

For Nel, the “amazing sensor” of the Venice 6K RAW is the closest approximation of “what the human eye sees” he has discovered so far – and cinematographers can now combine this peerless performance with a highly adaptable set up that removes constraints and enables greater freedom and creativity on set. “The Rialto Extension is a revolutionary innovation,” concludes Nel. “It has turned the Venice into a brand-new camera for me.”

 

HOW TO SHOOT A MOVIE ON YOUR MOBILE PHONE: A rundown of the essential kit you’ll need to produce cinematic shots on your device

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

What do Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane, Sean Baker’s Tangerine, Park Chan-Wook’s Night Fishing and Matthew A. Cherry’s 9 Rides have in common?

All of these films were shot on mobile phone cameras.

Although, for many, the decision to make a movie using a mobile phone will be financially motivated – the ultimate example of ‘using what you have at your disposal’ – progressive advancements in mobile camera technology now mean that this does not necessarily have to compromise the quality of the film.

Reviewing Soderbergh’s Unsane, Richard Brody argued in The New York Times that, in fact, the use of the iPhone 7 as principal camera made the project a better film that it might otherwise have been: “Free of cumbersome equipment, Soderbergh wields his camera with the agility of a pencil flying along a sketch pad… he tries out a technique and finds that it gives rise to a new, spontaneous style that reinvigorates and revitalises his art, that marks a sharp contrast with his own prior work and with Hollywood’s conventional action dramas.”

With this in mind, here is a brief rundown of the key pieces of equipment you’ll need to shoot your next masterpiece on your mobile phone.

*Please note that prices are accurate at time of writing; where it is necessary to import equipment, prices given in $US.

  1. LENSES

Without a doubt, the biggest difference you can make to your mobile camera game is fitting your device with a lens attachment.

These fit over your cellphone’s existing camera lens, adapting its performance to recreate wide shots, telephoto zooms, fish-eyes and other effects. Note that lens attachments do not replace the lens of your mobile device, but rather adapt its performance – meaning, firstly, that different phones will perform differently even when fitted with the same lens attachment, and also that using a lens attachment will affect the amount of light reaching your camera sensor (as it now has ‘two lenses’ to pass through).

Lens attachments come in all shapes and sizes, and it might be worth buying a cheap ‘universal set’ to test out the different effects you can achieve. However, the most suited for filmmaking are lens attachments that allow you to recreate that anamorphic, ‘widescreen cinema’ look on your cellphone. Leading the pack at the moment are 1.33X anamorphic options from US companies Moment ($149) and Moondog ($150) – both of which can produce the amazing depth of field and evocative bokeh synonymous with top-performing cameras like the ARRI Alexa.

One last thing to bear in mind about lenses for your mobile phone: not only are they quite pricey, but they come with several additional expenses. Moment Lenses, for example, must be screwed into specially-designed Moment Cases (which provide blackout on the other, non-primary lenses of your phone) – and most lens attachments will require you to purchase (or build) an extra counterweight for your gimbal (see Section 5) in order to make it balance properly.

  1. SOFTWARE

If you want to get serious about your mobile camera set-up – and particularly if you are going to add an anamorphic lens attachment – you will require more sophisticated software to operate your phone’s camera than the native app.

Not only does the industry-leading Filmic Pro (R210) allow you to truly take control of your device by manually adjusting settings like frame rate, shutter speed, exposure levels and white balance, but it has a built-in function to allow you to ‘de-squeeze’ the frame from anamorphic footage and ‘stretch out’ the oval bokeh to represent what you traditionally see on screen.

With the Filmic Pro expansion pack – known as the Cinematographer’s Kit ($15) – the developers have managed to fit in some astounding features for such a compact and easy-to-use application, such as the ability to shoot in a true LOG gamma curve and a live analytics suite including zebra stripes, clipping, false colour and focus peaking.

  1. LIGHTS

With the incredible advancements in LED technology over the last 10 years – as lights continue to get brighter, smaller and cheaper – there is a huge range of options available to the budding mobile filmmaker.

If something like the DMG Lumiere MINI MIX is still too much of an outlay, the Manfrotto Lumimuse 8 LED (R1,750) is a high-performing, compact and versatile option, though the Lume Cube Bluetooth LED (R1,200) is not only more cost-effective, but produces 1,500 lumens, can be operated remotely and is also fully waterproof to a depth of 30 metres. Another interesting option is the Ulanzi Ultra Bright (starting at $20), which features three cold shoe mounts, meaning you can interlock fixtures for added flexibility.

If you intend on being a ‘one-man-band’ and are going to need to operate your camera with an attached lighting source, you might also want to consider a grip or shoulder rig of some kind. The Joby GorillaPod Mobile Rig (R1,500) and the ultra-compact Ztylus Smartphone Rig (R800) are decent options that won’t break the bank.

  1. SOUND

All cineastes know that the sound of a film is usually the aspect that most quickly distinguishes truly professional productions from ones that ‘wear their budgets on their sleeves’ – and, as such, this is the one area of production you should really never skimp on.

However, for informed and skilled DIYers, there are some great compact solutions out there on the market.

Go for a directional shotgun-style microphone, as these will provide the best clarity with reduced background noise. It’s hard to go wrong with the RØDE VideoMic Pro (R1,800), though others swear by the shotgun attachment on the Zoom H6 (R7,500 for both microphone and recording unit), which will also allow you to run your sound recording separately from your camera operation.

If you are filming a documentary, or perhaps a feature that is particularly dialogue-heavy, it might be a good idea to augment this capture with a lavaliere microphone set. The Sennheiser ME-2 (R2,400) is a fantastic omni-directional system that is renowned for its extremely clear vocal pick-up.

  1. STABILISATION

Set up on a tripod and fitted with a great lens attachment, most top-end mobile phones can produce beautiful, vivid images in 4K resolution with no discernible reduction in quality compared to cinema cameras – and particularly those of slightly older stock, as is often the case with independent filmmakers pulling together a project on a budget.

However, it is when you need to move the camera through space that cracks in production quality can quickly start to appear.

Without a proper SteadiCam rig, how can mobile filmmakers go from jerky, handheld footage to smooth, buttery action shots?

There are two main options here.

Both the GoPro Hero 7 (R4,000) and the brand-new DJI Osmo Action (R7,000) make use of inbuilt digital stabilisation technology to produce ultra-smooth 4K footage. However, these are designed more for true ‘action photography’ – such as extreme sports or rugged handheld applications – as the picture they produce has an ‘infinity focus’ quality, where everything in shot is, more or less, equally as vivid and clear as everything else.

Of course, this can be manipulated via settings both on the devices themselves and in post – but if you’re looking to capture truly cinematic mobile motion footage, then the better option is to find an appropriate gimbal for the make and model of your phone.

The Rolls Royce in this department is the Freefly Movi (R6,200/$299). This portable ‘cinema robot’ may be significantly more expensive than its competitors, but the quality – if not the range – of its features truly sets it apart. With time-lapse and ‘echo’ modes (where you train the camera to move between two predetermined points) – as well as the ultra-cool ‘orbit’ function, for 360-degree shots – this is the kind of product that gives credence to the phrase “the quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten.”

For those looking for more cost-effective options, the good news is that there are two very dependable back-ups on the market: the DJI Osmo Mobile 2 (R2,200) and the Zhiyun Smooth-4 (R2,000).  Both of these motorised three-axis stabilisers have a very similar set of functions – object tracking, pan, follow, time-lapse – but differ in terms of how they are operated, with the Osmo 2 employing a joystick and the Smooth 4 a focus/zoom wheel (which is surprisingly handy, as you don’t need to touch the actual phone’s screen to adjust the focus field).

Be sure to research both of these options in terms of the phone you will be using for photography, as users report different functionality between brands and operating systems. Remember that if you are using a lens attachment, you will probably also need an extra counterweight to balance the gimbal and allow for smooth operation.

Social Action: Bruce Donnelly’s The Black Mambas

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

The Black Mambas are an all-female anti-poaching unit first founded in 2013 by Transfrontier Africa NPC. Originally formed to protect the Olifants West Region of Balule Nature Reserve, the group’s operations were quickly expanded and they now police 52,000 hectares of the Greater Kruger National Park, striving to make their area of influence “the most undesirable, most difficult and least profitable place to poach any species.”

In a new film entitled The Black Mambas, director Bruce Donnelly and his team shine a light on the efforts of these women, whose impact extends far beyond nature conservancy and into many forms of community upliftment. Screen Africa chatted to Donnelly about how the film project came about, the production process and the enthusiastic reception it has received so far.

“THE PERFECT PROJECT”

Donnelly hails from Durban and studied film and media at the University of Cape Town, before spending a year at the New York Film Academy, which he describes as a “very practical, hands-on one-year programme” that “complemented my studies in South Africa very well.”

After opening a production company, DKR films, during his first year in New York, Donnelly explains that “over the years, I’ve been looking for a way to reconnect with South Africa, and connect the storytelling and the documentary work that I do to bridge the gap for myself. I kept thinking, What are the kinds of stories I want to share? What are the stories that I don’t see being told? Generally speaking, people’s understanding of Africa often tends to be limited, or else it sways negative – and so that became my motivation for wanting to tell stories from South Africa.”

In terms of his own career path, Donnelly says that he “stumbled into documentary filmmaking” but found soon found that he “loved the process. It was very freeing, after working for so long trying to put a scripted feature together – and what I loved from a filmmaker’s point of view is the unique way that you can get audiences to connect to subjects. You can get them to connect as people they can relate to – and, in that moment, politics and prejudice can fall away.”

As Donnelly puts it, this project came up at the perfect time: “While I was looking into the idea of telling under-represented stories from Africa, I learned about the Black Mambas. It’s a positive, proactive story that represents a new generation, a different way of thinking – not just looking at the problem, but taking steps to solve and address it.”

TWO-FOLD PRODUCTION PROCESS

The film was co-produced by DKR Films and Brazilian company Adorni Films – a relationship that goes back to Donnelly’s time at the New York Film Academy. Donnelly explains that he undertook the initial research with a South African friend of his, and the shooting of the documentary took place over two production sessions.

“For the first sessions, we brought in all the crew and did a lot of glamorous shots – drones flying over the bush, and things like that.

“However, at the end of that particular shoot, I realised I wanted to come back and strip down the production the second time around. This was because, as much as the women were comfortable with and we all got along well, as a filmmaker I don’t like big productions – especially, in the context of the documentary genre, when it comes creating a sense of intimacy and trust. So my idea was to go back and – having established a good relationship with everyone there – I just wanted to go out on my own and shadow the group for as long as I could.”

Donnelly delves into why this approach paid off for the project: “Those two production sessions complemented each other really well. The second time around I felt like I could disappear – at least, as much as possible. The scenes where I’m walking along the fence with the group, for example, that’s really just me and a couple of the Mambas.”

Although Donnelly estimates that “about 70 to 80 percent of the film” was shot on Sony A7 ii cameras, with DJI drone footage providing sweeping aerial shots of the vast game reserve, for these intimate moments he used “a DJI Osmo – I just strapped myself up and used that. It was the most practical item I could get my hands on at the time. It operates on a three-axis gimbal, shoots in 4K and you operate it via an app on your phone. If the lighting is good, you can get beautiful material – I trusted it with what we were doing and it allowed me to be a one-man band.”

Donnelly is also quick to point out the off-screen benefits of his second, solo production session: “It also gave me such a different experience and appreciation of the work that the Mambas do. That particular day [walking by the fence], we trekked for seven hours, and it was the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done. And it gave me such a deep appreciation – this sense that these women do this every day, in extreme conditions, and they are on the inside of the fence, meaning they’re exposed to all wildlife of that area of the Kruger National Park.

“Not only does this experience show in the film, but it’s something I can carry with me and talk about – because I know the work that they do really has value, and they put so much into it.”

WIDE-REACHING IMPACT

The Black Mambas premiered at the American Documentary Film Festival in California – where it won the Best International Short Film award – before following this up with several more high-profile screenings around the world and two more prizes (at the Jozi Film Festival and the Wellington Independent Film Festival in New Zealand).

With South African company Hi-Tec coming on board as a “very supportive outreach sponsor”, Donnelly says: “The reception has been amazing. We started our festival run at the American Documentary Film Festival – which was a wonderful, auspicious start for us – and from there, it just picked up. It’s been translated into German, Japanese, French, Portuguese, Spanish – which shows the film is finding an audience everywhere.”

Asked to reflect on why this story has made such an impact, Donnelly says: “Though it’s a short film, it touches on education – through the Bush Babies programme, which features in the film – community engagement, upliftment, women and empowerment; there are so many things for people to connect to in the story.

“Most people are aware of the issue of rhino poaching,” he continues, “but they tend to hear it from one side. They get the same terrible news all the time. Our purpose with this film is not to gloss over anything, but to show the resilient, problem-solving side of things. If you want to put your energy into something, put it here – believe in these women – and this is a message that is carrying around the world.”

Donnelly explains that he is excited that film has started to make inroads at environmental film festivals, and he outlines his ultimate vision for the impact of the film: “I obviously have a good relationship with the Black Mambas and Transfrontier Africa now – and my simple objective is, How can this film can be of continued service to you? How can it be a tool for you? How do we actively engage audiences through conferences, events and screenings? Distribution has changed – the model is different now – we want to take the film on tour, take it into schools and universities and actually have some of the Mambas travel with it to engage directly with audiences.

“Ideally, we want to create a programme around the film and the work of this amazing group. I want to take the film to China – there is an organisation there called Wild Aid that shows films that deal with issues concerning conversation. As poaching has become synonymous with the Chinese market, it feels important to show our film there. Then we will have our story right in the heart of where it needs to be,” he concludes.

MOBILE VIU-ing: Introducing South Africa’s newest streaming platform, Viu

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

From both a national and global perspective, all industry predictions about 2019 highlighted expected growth in the video on demand (VOD), streaming and mobile viewing verticals.

It should be no surprise, then, that South Africa has recently welcomed another platform to its VOD landscape, in the form of Viu – a content streaming service and mobile app that aims to “provide premium content to the local consumer.”

Screen Africa spoke to Ryan Solovei, the country manager for Viu SA, about the background of the company, what is unique about its offering and its plans to prioritise local content.

INTERNATIONAL FRAMEWORK

Headquartered in Silicon Valley and with a presence in several major Asian cities such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Dubai and Jakarta, “Vuclip is a leading global technology-driven media company delivering on-demand entertainment to emerging markets including India, Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East. As a PCCW Media Company, Vuclip properties include Viu, Vuclip Videos, Viu Life and Vuclip Games,” explains Solovei.

Viu SA is, in fact, the 17th market in which VuClip’s Viu video streaming service has launched, amassing more than 30 million active monthly users in the process, who – last year – watched 37 billion minutes of content, according to Neo Lekgabo, chief marketing officer for Viu SA.

Solovei says that this market success in on-demand entertainment “is built on its leadership at the intersection of technology, consumer insights and media.”

“A TRUE FREEMIUM MODEL”

Asked to describe what is unique about Viu’s offering to the South African market, Solovei says: “Viu offers a true Freemium model, which is a hybrid between free and paid-for video on demand service. The free offering [comes in the form of the] app, which has the most-watched daily soapies in South Africa, including Uzalo, Skeem Saam, Scandal! and Imbewu.

“It is the first time these big titles are available on a single platform, and these popular soapies have been removed from YouTube; they are only available exclusively on Viu immediately after linear broadcast.”

This represents a major coup for the company, with a recent report by The Media magazine indicating that Uzalo reached a record-breaking 10.2 million South African television viewers in September 2018, with shows like Skeem Saam “[hitting] the six million mark.”

Solovei explains that “the free service is available indefinitely and one is not forced to upgrade to the paid offering at any point. However, we do have a Premium section, where customers can subscribe to get more premium content for R69 a month. Our Premium section includes a wider variety of both local and international content from the world’s leading film and TV industries and genres.”

LOCAL FOCUS

As Solovei puts it, Viu’s “focus is on local content. We are about authentic South African stories and this focus on local storytelling and entertainment is what South Africa needs.”

To this end, the company has already forged some promising partnerships with local content licensers and mobile companies.

“We have licensing agreements and partnerships with both Etv and SABC, where we have licensed some of their main daily dramas. Viu has selected choice library titles, including great hits like Yizo Yizo, Harvest, Umlilo, The Docket and more.

“We also have a partnership with Vodacom which will see customers being able to use their airtime to pay for Viu Premium as Phase 1 of the relationship

Expanding on the importance of telling local stories, as well as keeping step with trends in viewing habits, Solovei explains: “Viu’s business model is based on broadening access to local content. This approach has worked for Vuclip in all the other 16 markets where the brand has been launched. Over 60% of the content on the Viu app is local. We are committed to making local content accessible and to meet the market’s growing trend of multi-screen viewing; this is precisely why we partnered with Etv and SABC, as they have the widest library of local content.”

Even more exciting for the South African film and television industry is Solovei’s announcement that “Viu is also engaging with the industry at large including production companies with plans to co-produce Viu original content.

“Viu is different to most streaming services because of its original content. Creatives find themselves in a challenging situation where money and buyers are not where they used to be because the digital era has disrupted the market. Viu has an established track record of getting premium local content off the ground. It’s perfectly positioned to be the home for Mzansi’s most loved shows,” he concludes.

Click here to sign up; or visit the Google Play store to download the Viu App.

 

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