Home Authors Posts by David Cornwell

David Cornwell

David Cornwell
35 POSTS 0 JOBS
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.

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.

 

Bringing the past to life

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Cinematographer Willie Nel, producer Johan Kruger and editor Warwick Allan chat to Screen Africa about the making of Die Verhaal van Racheltjie de Beer, and the starring role played on set by the Sony Venice 6K RAW camera.

Die Verhaal van Racheltjie de Beer is a new feature film based on the historical figure of Rachel de Beer, the young Voortrekker woman whose story remains a folkloric tale of the value of family loyalty.

With the film’s release set for later this year, Screen Africa chatted to cinematographer Willie Nel and producer Johan Kruger about the unique challenges of making the film, its visual style and the pivotal role the Sony Venice camera played on set.

“THE PAST IS A FOREIGN COUNTRY”

As Nel – who, in March, won a SAFTA award for his work on Meerkat Maantuig – explains, “This is set in 1890, after the goldmines were established and when things started modernising, but where [the action unfolds] was still pre-electricity. It’s a great challenge for a cinematographer to explore. Immediately, you ask yourself – how am I going to do this? And, luckily for me, we find ourselves in 2019 where we have access to cinematic tools like the Sony Venice to allow us to explore new ways to create cinema.”

Nel continues: “We wanted to create the right authenticity. Even when I watch back big-budget period films, the authenticity is ruined for me in moments – because I can see they’ve lit the scenes with film lights, mostly out of necessity because of the cameras and film stocks available to them at the time.”

Rather, Nel and director Matthys Boshoff – whose collaboration Nel describes as a “beautiful symbiosis” – developed a visual aesthetic that pays “homage to PT Anderson’s films like There Will Be Blood, with its shot selection and mature, simplified approach,” but at the same time explores new ways to create authenticity through the extensive use of practical lighting and low-light shooting conditions.

Nel describes filming scenes lit only by campfires and lanterns; moonlight that had to be created by the smallest LED sources. “I had to learn so much about my craft in the process. Things like lanterns and candles – they weren’t props anymore, they were my lights. We had to work with the actors, exploring different effects and how we could affect the storytelling by how they used their lanterns or how they interacted within a candle-lit scene.”

While, of course, this sounds like a solid visual concept in principle, how did Nel’s team manage in conditions where their lighting was effected by every flicker of wind, and by every element they were exposed to on set?

BULLETPROOF CAMERA PERFORMANCE

Nel says that, long before shooting commenced, “I was convinced [the Sony Venice 6K] was the only camera to make this film.”

He explains, “It has a lot of attributes that made it perfect for this project. For starters, it has a full-frame sensor – kind of like a homage to films from the late 1950s and 60s – with an ‘epic’ nature and that beautiful, spatial arrangement this format allows.”  The way the camera’s focus works is very particular – it is known for dramatic drop-off in the background of the frame – and, as Nel puts it, “we wanted to create a kind of time-piece, and so the look and feel of the images was perfect for that.”

Even more importantly for this project, the Venice also has two base ISO levels. Its sensitivity ranges from 500 to 2500 – compared to the range of around 800 ISO that most modern cameras have. This is almost three times more sensitive and proved to be exactly what Nel and his team were looking for on set.

Expanding on the quality of the Venice’s sensor, Nel says: “It has a very filmic quality. But, really, in terms of the way the camera perceives the world – the sensor is the intermediary, it is what represents the world on camera – and this one, I think, most closely represents what the human eye sees. The quality of the sensor is amazing; the science of it is so balanced and natural-looking.”

Another key feature of the Venice camera Nel talks about is the flexibility of its range of in-built ND filters: “Some modern cameras put these on the inside, but there are always gaps in the gradations. But not this camera – it has all the different stages going from ND3-ND2.4, so if a cloud goes overhead you can just flick to the next ND and you stay consistent in your exposure levels and control your depth of field.”

This is in addition to its “bulletproof performance” on set, which saw the camera experience extreme swings in temperature; be submerged in water; take rough rides on an ox wagon; and survive weeks of dusty conditions. “By the end of a shoot, you know what a camera can or can’t do,” Nel says.  “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.”

From a producer’s perspective, Johan Kruger says he was “very impressed” by the camera’s performance in temperatures ranging from -6 to 35 degrees Celsius, and comments that a huge benefit was “its ability to shoot in low-light conditions or at night with minimal artificial lighting required. From a production perspective, it meant a much lower-than-usual lighting budget, with the added value to move quicker between setups.”

He also echoes Nel’s thoughts about the suitability of the Venice camera for Die Verhaal van Racheltjie de Beer: “Most of the time when shooting night scenes, we made use of natural light only – using lanterns or candles. This was a huge benefit to the actors, some of whom commented that it assisted their performance in the sense that they weren’t surrounded by the more traditional, ‘artificial’ lighting setups.”

DELIVERING IN POST

An often-overlooked aspect of any camera’s performance is how it processes data, as well as the ease and ‘freedom’ with which the images it captures can be manipulated in the post-production process.

According to Nel and Warwick Allan of Mushroom Media, these are other important areas where the Sony Venice 6K RAW OCN ST camera excels.

“OCN is Sony’s version of a RAW file,” Nel explains. “But the kind of detail you can get out in the grading process is phenomenal – it has far more flexibility than I’ve seen before.”

Nel also points to the practical benefits of the OCN file format from a data-wrangling point of view. “OCN is a very smart RAW file – it allows you to do more, but still keeps file sizes manageable. Which helps with speed and security when you’re dealing with data on set, where you need multiple backup copies of everything for safety.”

From Allan’s perspective, “There is incredible detail in the shadows and the footage feels very similar to an Alexa in terms of its responsiveness in grade and overall feel. We have found the files to be very easy to work with in post due to their efficient RAW format. We see very clean images, but with a very filmic and organic feel, too, which I find very pleasing to the eye.

“At Mushroom Media,” Allan continues, “we have re-built our grading suite to handle 4K+ material and to work in uncompressed 4K in real-time, so we are seeing pixel-for-pixel what we will be delivering and the images are really impressive at this resolution. The film will be mastered in full 4K DCI for international delivery specs, as we are expecting the film to travel far beyond the South African borders.”

Die Verhaal van Racheltjie de Beer is set for release in October 2019. Audiences can look forward to a rich historical story visually inspired by Paul Thomas Anderson and classic movies of the 50s and 60s, and in which – in the eyes of the film’s technical crew – the Sony Venice 6K RAW camera plays a starring role.

Movievision unveils new showroom

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Movievision, a leading supplier of television, theatre, studio and film lighting equipment for the last three decades, has recently installed a state-of-the-art new showroom at the company’s Wynberg offices, where customers can get a hands-on experience of the latest gear to hit the South African market.

Kierryn Harris, media and marketing liaison at Movievision, says the showroom contains “what we consider to be the most impressive fixtures from all the brands we represent. The idea is that when the client comes in, they can see the equipment – touch it, use it, interact with the fixture – and come to a more informed decision about what they need.”

With fixtures such as Spotlight’s new Hyperion Fresnel LED and Filmgear’s 1000W LED Spacelight attractively suspended from the ceiling on pantographs, John Harrison – CEO of Movievision – explains that the fixtures are connected to a dedicated mixing console to allow customers “to try out the different lights, and different combinations of lighting effects.”

At the moment, the rig is connected to a Chamsys MQ500 Stadium console, but Harrison explains that this will change as new consoles come in – and he demonstrates two brand new options from Zero88 (the FLX S24 and S48) which will soon have their turn to be the hub of the rig.

In addition to the hanging fixtures, the showroom is fitted with plinths where smaller, portable fixtures (such as DMG’s Mini Mix) are showcased. Kim Reed, who is in charge of sales at Movievision, explains that the “items on the plinths are manually controlled, and every time a new product is launched, it will take the place of one of the older fixtures you see on display now. That way the showroom will keep up-to-date with the latest lighting solutions on the market.”

Reed explains that the new showroom will also operate as a place to host “training sessions, for students or for anyone who is interested in learning how to operate these fixtures and controls. We start on the 17th of May with our first workshop with students. These training sessions will be free and we will try run them twice a month going forward.”

“We want this space to be very interactive,” Harris says. “We want people to come in, have a chat and a cup of coffee – and then actually work with the fixture and see how it functions. Instead of us just telling you about it, it’s so much better to experience the solutions for yourself.”

Visit Movievision’s beautiful new showroom in Wynberg, Sandton this month to test out the company’s premium selection of lighting solutions, including the Maxi Mix from DMG and the 1000W LED Spacelight from Filmgear, two fixtures that have recently scooped awards at April’s 2019 NAB Show in Las Vegas.

A closer look at Seriti Films’ new CI campaign, A Seat at the Table

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Johannesburg-based television and commercial production company Seriti Films recently launched an internal corporate identity campaign, meant solely for social media, that foregrounds the plight of women in contemporary society and highlights their intrinsic strength as individuals. Titled A Seat at the Table, the commercial uses striking imagery and bold textual overlays to emphasise the uplifment of woman’s voices.

BOLD AND FEARLESS

As Paul Ramaema, commercials director at Seriti Films, explains: “The intention was to create an internal online PSA around highlighting the struggles, injustices and inequities faced by women on a daily basis, with the intention of portraying woman who felt most marginalised in our society. We wanted to amplify and give credit to those who are bold and fearless in standing up for what they believe in, by using a female-written piece told by a strong female voice and seen through the eyes of strong women.”

Ramaema explains how the team executed the look and feel of the ad – which is notable for its frank, no-nonsense imagery and provocative rhetoric.

“The key idea was simplicity juxtaposed with the striking and almost-emotionless facial expressions from the different women, who would only move for the words in the voiceover – with the idea of making it seem like they are challenging the male narratives contained in some of the words,” he says.

MAGAZINE-COVER AESTHETIC

He continues: “The 4:3 aspect ratio and portrait framing style was to illicit the idea of still images, and this was reinforced by the simple art direction of the single chair – a representation of ‘the seat at the table.’ White borders were used to contrast the dark and infinite background in the space, as well as play into the notion of Instagram filters, where a lot of the time, white borders give the effect of a ‘portrait look’.”

As Ramaena points out, the textual overlays – which underscore important lines in the narrative, such as “Our Place to Speak” and “Stand Out and Be Seen” – do more than simply echo the speaking voice. “The titles are another play on the theme of ‘still images’, enhancing the effect of creating a magazine cover-like shoot, and giving off a sensual, dynamic touch to the visuals, which play against the heavy and hard-hitting words being delivered by the voice over.”

Shot on an ARRI Alexa Mini, with Sigma Cinema Prime lenses, Ramaema says that “it was an extremely quick turnaround time in terms of shooting the commercial, as we were granted a free day from Panalux Gold Island Studios because of an on-going shoot we had at the time. So I had to street cast and use cast members that were involved in the other current project, as well as bring in crew that were preparing to shoot the following day. So we owe a huge thank you to everyone who made it possible so quickly.”

SENSITIVE MATERIAL

With the overtly political nature of the advert, as well as its explicit treatment of the themes of identity and representation, Ramaema explains that the post-production period presented some unique challenges.

“Post was the most exciting aspect, as we had to be considerate of words we highlighted so as not to offend anyone, nor have it come back on us and be received negatively. I had to consult with some serious feminists and I’m glad that the process happened so naturally and worked out in our favour.”

Elaborating on this idea, Ramaema reflects that “this was a rather exciting and simple piece that I had to approach with sensitivity, considering the subject matter. Specifically, I needed to demonstrate sensitivity, not on the basis of it being about women, but because of the type of piece it is and the fact it is being told through the eyes of a man,” he concludes.

Key crew

Director: Paul Ramaema

Production House: Seriti Films

Producers: Jhadi Quinn & Yolanda Hlakula

DoP: Brendan Barnes

Editor: Jade Bowyer

Post-production: Post Modern post production

Tech Check

  • Camera: Alexa Mini
  • Lenses: Sigma Cinema Primes
  • Lighting: 20×20 soft box

“The exact moment the magic happens”: Behind the scenes with ZAP Speed

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

At the 2019 South African Film & Television Awards (SAFTAs), there was an unexpected star on the red carpet: the ‘Glambot’, a high speed camera robot operated by the team at ZAP Speed, which provided beautiful slow-motion shots of strutting celebrities to the live feed of the event broadcast by the SABC.

As Paul Thompson explains, this technology “first debuted at the Oscars about three years ago. I like to think of it as the ultimate selfie – these are glamorous people who love to perform, and so it’s a lot of fun for everyone.”

Peter Constan-Tatos describes the Glambot as “a bit of a show unto itself” and provides some insight into the technical rigours of the operation: “We were shooting 500 frames a second, three-second clips – that’s 1500 frames at 2K every second. We had to get that footage off the camera, cut together, graded and out to the OB van for the live feed. We accomplished this with just eight people – two for lighting, although Paul also got stuck in on that side, I had a couple guys to help me set up the robot, and there was a DIT and a focus-puller and that’s it.”

A ONE-STOP SOLUTION

Of course, although the Glambot was a showcase deployment for the company, ZAP Speed’s operations are far more extensive. Operating mainly out of Foghound Studios in Midrand, but with frequent business in Cape Town, the company provides a one-stop high speed filming solution.

Commenting on the origins of the company, Constan-Tatos says: “We looked at the fact that there is no dedicated high speed service here in South Africa. There is an equivalent that was started many years ago in Germany called The Marmalade, and what they did was bring in all the skills necessary to make high speed filming cost-effective. What often happens is that production companies hire in all the different parties, but they haven’t worked together before, or they’re not working as a team until they get to set – and this leads to costly inefficiencies.”

Thompson adds that “Peter has kept all his gear with Neil [Symon] at Foghound Studios, and we’ve all worked together over the years. Peter is the motion control expert – that’s his background, and that’s why he’s in charge of the robots – while I come more from a commercial and filmmaking side, as a director and lighting cameraman. I’ve also done a lot of tabletop work and Foghound has studios and edit facilities, so we collaborated our skills and decided to launch this new venture.”

As Thompson points out, having this pool of experience mitigates risk – a crucial factor because “any high speed filming is expensive. The robot’s expensive, the Phantom cameras come in at a price, and because you’re shooting at high speed, you need tons of light to fill the aperture.”

A BRIEF HISTORY OF HIGH SPEED FILMING IN SOUTH AFRICA

“Twenty-five years ago, a high speed camera was a big, bulky thing,” says Constan-Tatos. “The Photosonics must have weighed 50 kilograms, at least, and you’d burn about two hundred feet of film just to get up to speed. It was horrific from a producer’s point of view and it cost big money. We were the first to put a camera on a robot in this country. Purpose-built motion control rigs – like the Milo, for example – were the industry standard, but when we looked at it, it was just too expensive. Not only that, but in those days it was locked onto a Mitchell film camera – and we had a younger group of directors who were wanting to shoot video, they just didn’t have the budget to shoot film.”

For those who don’t know, the machines used by ZAP Speed are, technically, “Robots that weld cars. They are general material handling and welding machines which exist by the thousands on factory floors around the world, mainly in the car industry. So the specialisation comes in the programming, as well as in adapting them in certain ways – such as making them more portable, because usually they’d be bolted to the floor.”

In contrast, the company’s veteran Motoman robot – a popular unit still produced by the Japanese company Yaskawa – has been deployed “on a yacht, a fishing boat, up sand dunes in Atlantis and at the top of Chapman’s Peak.”

Constan-Tatos says that re-purposing factory robots has become the new standard in the industry, with companies such as the UK’s Mark Roberts Motion Control now selling these units pre-programmed with proprietary software, and he shares some information about technical developments in the field over the years.

“What’s interesting, is that the robot we had twenty-five years ago – we actually needed to slow it down. Its movements were too fast for the cameras of the day, so we geared it down to get smooth starts and finishes. But now it’s going in the opposite direction again – now the cameras are running so fast, we need faster robots and we’re doing what we can to speed them up.”

AWESOME AUTOMATION

Delving into the topic of technical developments in the industry, Thompson says: “The contemporary Phantom cameras are not only much smaller-format units, but the frame-rates are dramatically higher than you could get in the old days. The Mitchell camera could only go up to 120 frames per second – we’re now shooting 1500 frames, even up to 2000 frames per second.

“Another big development,” Thompson continues, “has been the automation of things like focus-pulling and zooming. Especially in the high speed environment, a focus-puller can’t do the job quickly enough – that needs to be programmed into the robot’s brain. So, we use a focus-puller to do a focus pull on a slow movement of a shot; the robot software then records and stores this data and repeats the focus pull at high speed. We can also program a zoom in much the same way.

“The advantage of this is that you can programme the robot to do the same move over and over again – making sure you capture the exact moment the magic happens. If you’ve got a very precise move, Peter programs that robot every step of the way – so it can do a curve, a twist, every conceivable motion. It’s like a wrist. That’s where the motion control aspect is so useful: you can repeat the same move again and again, but change the background or the action area. Meanwhile, with high speed, the value of having precisely-programmed moves is when you introduce a second robot – you can coordinate the two to work together, with one pouring a bottle at the exact millisecond that the camera moves to capture it, for example.

“To try and do that move with normal operations becomes impossible, because you’re shooting about ten or twenty times faster than the normal frame-rate. You might get lucky with a straight zap-pan to get the shot – but with the robots, we can build in the curve and convey the sense of smoothness of the pour.”

A SERVICE-BASED APPROACH

Thompson summarises ZAP Speed’s uniqueness as a company as follows: “High speed has been around for ages, but what makes our offering special is the camera integration and the ability to synchronise the robotic actions. So you can move the camera and the subject-matter around at the same time, which creates the possibility for some amazing shots.”

Constan-Tatos is keen to underline the service-based approach the company takes: “ZAP offers a specialist service to companies requiring any high speed photography, from tabletop to any form of live action. We have the equipment to move the camera at super high speed very precisely to create very dynamic and exciting shots.

“If someone has an idea, they can come in – we have the machinery here, we can do tests, very often at little or no cost so that we can provide proof of concept for them. Then, on the back of those tests, they can present to their clients and we can go forward into production.  It’s vital with motion control that we’re involved in the early stages – we can save a whole lot of time and money in post that way.”

Thompson agrees, saying: “We offer ourselves to the industry as a service, to help companies create interesting shots. We work as a team to develop that image. We have the skills to go from brief to final execution, but we are also happy to work within crews: work with directors and cinematographers to help them develop their ideas. We have great facilities here, two studios where we can test ideas and work out shots beforehand. Almost all the macro photography work we do requires special effects – perhaps a machine that will throw things around, or throw things up into the air – and so we work very closely with FX crews all time, they are crucial to our business. We have workshops here to develop this skill in the SA industry, we build sets – we are committed to supporting this aspect of the film industry in South Africa.”

Constan-Tatos concludes the interview by revealing the company has just purchased the latest model of the Motoman robot. “It’s a big, fast machine. We’re still in the process of developing its brain,” he says with a smile.

For more information about ZAP Speed, contact paul@zapspeed.tv or peter@zapspeed.tv.

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Pin It on Pinterest