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A South African Horror: Man Makes a Picture on the making of 8

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Despite having only just completed their second feature, the team at Man Makes a Picture is already quickly rising to stardom. Their first film, The Recce, won best foreign feature at the Idyllwild Film Festival in California in March and a Silver Remi at the Worldfest in Houston in April. Now their second film, 8, has been taken to market at Cannes after being signed by LA-based sales agent, Rock Salt Releasing.

Playing on African folklore and mythology, 8 has been described as horrific on a primordial level: it portrays what happens when an old man, fated to collect souls for eternity, seeks atonement after trading his daughter’s soul. The film stars award-winning actor Tsamano Sebe (Of Good Report), Igne Beckmann (Escape Room), Garth Breytenbach (Troy: Fall of a City) and upcoming star, Keita Luna.

To find out more, we caught up with the team behind the film about everything from why they chose the horror genre to the way they designed the cinematography, sound and post on an indie budget.

What made this project – 8 – important to the team at Man Makes a Picture?

Jac Williams, producer: The director, Harold Hölscher, and I have been developing this project for the last two years. It’s a proper South African horror story – a period piece that takes place in the late-70s. We liked the script and the whole Man Makes a Picture team was very excited to jump on this project. The horror genre seemed like a good route as we were looking for a project that would be quicker to distribute internationally than The Recce – an Afrikaans film that is much more difficult sell abroad.  I think we made the right choice seeing that we recently signed a world-wide sales deal with a company in Los Angles and attended The Cannes film market with them in May.

What cameras did you use on the film?

Jacques van Tonder, technical producer: We worked with BMD URSA Mini 4.6Ks on The Recce and, as far I was concerned, they were battle-tested in terms of reliability. We were very pleased with their performance then, and our opinion was validated with a nomination at the Cameraimage Film festival in Poland in the best Cinematography in a Debut Feature Category.

Budget is always a concern on independent projects, and with the BMD being really cost-efficient, we were able to have two camera bodies shooting multicam scenes, as well as have a gimbal pre-rigged at times or have a splinter unit to go out and pick up shots. The 4.6K resolution also gave our VFX team good resolution to work with. Considering it is a totally independently-funded film, we had to keep all options on the table for possible distribution and the camera being on the Netflix-approved list was a big selling-point. Through our experience we knew that shooting RAW would give us a lot of flexibility in the grade. These cameras really provide excellent value for money.

Dave Pienaar, director of photography: In the end, the Blackmagic cameras made sense. Two cameras gave security as the shoot was far away from any backup rental house. It was handy to have a second body available for gimbal and second-angle setups. I’m not really a fan of shooting two cameras on character-driven scenes, as I feel the lighting and composition suffer, but on more technical scenes it definitely helped. I felt they handled the shoot well and was quite pleased with the cinematic quality they lent to the picture.

What lenses and rigs did you use on the cameras? What effect did this bring to the final cinematography?

Pienaar: We used the new Sigma Cine range of lenses, which actually complemented the Blackmagic cameras really well. I was worried about the combination of a digital camera and super-sharp lenses. But they somehow seemed nice and organic on the Blackmagic. The lenses have a great range of focal lengths and are nice and fast, which helped with the night scenes. I was able to shoot them pretty close to wide open, and they still kept it together. I quite like to fog the lens a little, as I feel it takes the edge off the super-clean modern lens and adds an emotive, organic quality to the picture.

I also used a long ARRI Alura Zoom which was a lot of fun. Originally I thought it was going to be more of a technical lens instead of a storytelling lens, but I loved using its slow, creeping zooms to build tension.

Could you describe the shooting style that you opted for?

Pienaar: We went with a more classic operating style on this film. Tripod and slider most of the shoot. I felt the ‘grounded’ feel of the camera with long, eerie shots added to the suspense. A gimbal was used on some shots to move the camera without it looking too handheld. I really loved shooting the more intimate character-driven scenes with just one or two characters, as opposed to the larger, more technical scenes with many characters.

Tell us more about how the cameras were rated, and whether a LUT was used during filming?

Pienaar: We acquired in RAW in the lowest compression to get the best out of the cameras. But, I was terrified of underexposing the dark contrasting night stuff. I rated the cameras 800 ISO on the day scenes and quite often rated them to 200 ISO on the night shots. I felt that as long as I didn’t overexpose the highlights, which is a real danger when shooting at 200 ISO, there would be more information on the rushes as I would effectively be overexposing by two stops. 

van Tonder: The cameras in combination with Resolve software make it really easy to create and load LUTs for custom looks straight out of camera. We ended up with a generic shooting LUT that worked for both day and night scenes. On a tight schedule and with a small crew, it was great to be able to customise the look without additional crew or equipment apart from our DIT setup.

What was the approach to lighting and audio?

Pienaar: I had a lot of fun on this film. I almost exclusively shoot commercials and so quite often feel restricted by client and agency on a commercial job. It was liberating to be able to light it the way I wanted to. Toby Smuts, the gaffer, was great at coming up with suggestions and had an amazing wireless LED DMX system which was a treat on a budget-restricted shoot like this. I loved shooting the Shed Night Interior scenes.

Adriaan Drotsch, sound recordist and audio post supervisor: It was an absolute honour to work on my very first horror film, as sound plays such an important role in this genre. We recorded on a Zaxcom Nomad 10 and used a Zaxcom ZMT3 wireless kit with Sanken cos11-D microphones. The Zaxcom kit comes with a never-clip function, which literally means you can’t overdrive the input. Never-clip helped us to get around tricky scenes where a performer is whispering and then, all of a sudden, goes into a frantic scream.

For the on-boom microphone we went with a more vintage feel – a Sennheiser Mkh416, a Sennheiser Mkh816 and, for all the inside scenes, the trusty Sennheiser Mkh50. The biggest challenge on the production was to minimise post-ADR recording and trying to get as much on location as possible while the whole of the crew spent 24 hours a day on location.

The real fun started in post: we played around with awesome ideas to see which one will give the biggest fright, while still keeping you interested for more. The director was very involved and had specific ideas about what the caricatures needed to sound like.

The awesome team from Sound and Motion Studios really intensified the film through sound and did a brilliant job creating it. 

How did you approach the post production for 8?

van Tonder: We started our post process with a DaVinci Resolve-based lab for dailies and offline processing. We had daily rushes viewing in the lab. It is a great combination, working with the URSA Minis and Resolve. With our setup, we could view rushes in the native RAW format with LUT applied and retain full image quality while working on looks. Our editor could then begin assembly and QC within a few hours of the scene being shot.

Jacques le Roux, editor & Harold Hölscher, director: Editing was done in Premiere Pro with the camera originals being transcoded to ProRes proxy at HD resolution. We spent a lot of time shaping the performances so that the characters were believable, and ensured we always got the pacing and suspense just right. Next, we removed redundant scenes or parts of scenes: sometimes what works great in the script is not necessarily reflected on screen. We wanted to keep the suspense and horror elements as real as possible, so we did most of the effects techniques in-camera, with minimal SFX in mind. We had to focus more on classical cutting to convey emotion and fear. The style of the film is very romantic and old school, so the editing and post production had to keep that style intact.

The Recce scoops Camerimage nomination

The film The Recce and its cinematographer, Jacques van Tonder, have been nominated and will be running in competition in the Cinematographer’s Debuts category at the 26th edition of the international film festival of the art of cinematography, Camerimage, from 10 to 17 November 2018, in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

The Camerimage festival is dedicated to the art of cinematography. It creates and contributes to the growth of cinematographers’ prestige. It awards films according to their visual, aesthetic and technical values.

The Recce was selected out of 200 entries worldwide and is running alongside 7 other films in this section. Last year, it attracted 72 000 attendees, featuring 610 cinematographers from 45 countries. It is said that Camerimage has become a trendsetter for the Academy Awards.

The Cinematographers’ Debuts Competition was initiated in 2010 due to the Festival’s increasing openness to the noteworthy artists and the new film phenomena they create. The Cinematographers’ Debuts Competition also brings new discoveries: great movies of high artistic value and great filmmakers whose new ventures will surprise not only the Jury members but all audiences around the world as well.

The Recce tells the story of how the South African Defence Force wrongfully declared young recce Henk Viljoen dead behind enemy lines and how it’s up to him alone to use everything he’s learnt to make it back to his family. Add to this the fact that the enemy is hot on his trail, it’s clear that this is no ordinary story of survival across the treacherous war torn African landscape. This is also one of the first films in decades to explore issues regarding not only the Border War, but also the pain and suffering families had to endure during and after the conflict that lasted almost 20 years.

Written and directed by Johannes Ferdinand van Zyl, The Recce script came out of his personal connection to the story, “Having grown up with family members that were sent to the border war, I have a fascination with that era in our history.”

“I am thrilled with the nomination” said Jacques Van Tonder, “It’s a proud moment for South African cinema” he concluded.

The film was produced by Jac Williams through Cape Town based production company Man Makes a Picture, and is the first in a slate of independent features from the company. The Recce is distributed by Gravel Road Distribution in a multi-territory deal.

The Recce promises to defy genre

Cinema audiences are waiting in anticipation for the release of what promises to be this year’s biggest war drama The Recce, set to release nationwide on 28 September. However, the director, Ferdinand Van Zyl believes that the film will provide a cinematic experience that is beyond the genre, a tale of survival, love, duty and sacrifice.

“Filmmaking is a cathartic process for me. The idea for the film started in my head when I visualized a soldier dying in a tree, holding a photo of his wife. My fiancé was pregnant with our son at the time, and I drew a lot from that. I knew that our main protagonist had to make his way back to his pregnant wife, who was also named after my fiancé Nicola. So on a personal level, I drew from my family for inspiration, but all in all, this film is also an ode to men an woman who sacrificed body and mind during the border war. I subsequently met with producer Jac Williams, who believed in the dream. That was almost three years ago,” said Van Zyl.

The Recce was shot in various locations across South Africa. “We couldn’t go to Angola, so we had to opt for locations that mimic the warzone. We shot a big part of the film on the Bergrivier farm, in the Eastern Cape. That location was both beautiful, with indigenous forests and tough. Many of the exterior scenes were filmed in the Kouebokkeveld, with its expansive empty vistas. We also shot in the Cedar Mountains, on a private game reserve which burned down, and obviously worked well for a war-torn landscape. We also shot in Kersefontein, which is a very popular location, due to its hauntingly beautiful dry and arid terrain, but also because of its beautiful manor house, which doubled as our protagonist’s childhood home. Other than that, we shot in Worcester, which for the better part, is somewhat of a time capsule, with plenty of 70’s vintage looking buildings and neighborhoods that worked perfectly for the era,” Van Zyl continued.

The film hosts a star-studded cast, who impressed Van Zyl with their abilities to bring the characters to life. “Greg Kriek, played the lead (Recce really stands out to me). He was perfect for the role. I believe that Greg is one of those guys that would’ve made the cut back for special forces training back in the day. He is so enthusiastic and professional. He has the physical and emotional range to play almost anything. And we haven’t seen him in this kind of role, which gives me a kick. Christia Visser was perfect for Nicola…. She was born to act for the screen. She makes it look so easy, and she makes it real from a very deep place. She is one of the best, and is going to be one of the greats. Marius Weyers plays the general. Marius Weyers is Marius Weyers…he comes in and nails it on the first take, and just keeps on nailing it. Grant Swanby was perfect for Le Roux. He has a lot grace and charm. He is such a sincere person, which makes him perfect for the moral centre of the story. Albert Maritz is also one of the greats. He is always one of the first people I think of when I write. He has such a warm presence, and an interesting face. He was perfect for the father. Elsabe Daneel played the mother. She is perfect in that maternal role, and also is one of the sweetest human beings alive. They don’t make them like her anymore. Maurice Carpede was so awesome. He has such an incredible presence. His voice, the cool and suave manner he conducts himself. Contrary to his welcoming and warm voice over the radio, or for me at least, he had a very dark presence, but that was because his character was dark and foreboding. He channelled Impi so well. It was probably the most layered and difficult character to play in the whole film. Again, we’ve never seen him in a role like this.”

According to Van Zyl, there has never been a local film like this. Never. “People will be presented with a new cinematic language, to a personal cinema that has, for a long time, been lacking locally. We are experiencing an incredible new wave in local cinema at the moment, with so many incredible local artistically driven movies coming out. The Recce falls perfectly in that mold. The Recce is a film that defies genre, it’s a personal film about survival, love, duty and sacrifice.”

This war drama, scheduled for release on the 28 September 2018, tells the story of a young Recce, Henk Viljoen, who is wrongfully declared dead behind enemy lines. He must use every resource he has to get home to his distraught wife and family, who are, in turn, fighting their own emotional battles. This is also one of the first films in decades to explore issues regarding not only the Border War, but also the pain and suffering families had to endure during and after the conflict that lasted almost 20 years.

The film was produced by Jac Williams through Cape Town based production company Man Makes a Picture, and is the first in a slate of independent features from the company. Executive producers are Jac Williams, Johannes Ferdinand van Zyl and Jacques Le Roux. The Recce is being distributed by Gravel Road Distribution Group, in a multi-country deal.

The Recce was selected to screen in competition at the prestigious 2018 Durban International Film Festival in July 2018. This follows the film’s directors cut being selected to screen at both the Cape Town International Film Market and Festival in 2017 and Rapid Lion Festival this year.

View the movie trailer here. To view the exclusive behind-the-scene video of The Recce, click here.

The Recce set to release this September

Scheduled for release on 28 September 2018, The Recce tells the story of young recce, Henk Viljoen, who is wrongfully declared dead behind enemy lines and must use every resource he has to get home to his distraught wife and family, who are in turn fighting their own emotional battles.

This film explores issues regarding the Border War, as well as the pain and suffering families had to endure during and after the conflict that lasted almost 20 years.

Written and directed by Johannes Ferdinand van Zyl, The Recce script came out of his personal connection to the story, “Having grown up with family members that were sent to the border war, I have a fascination with that era in our history.”

The cast includes Marius Weyers (The Gods Must be Crazy, Paljas, Die Wonderwerker), Albert Maritz (Invictus, In ‘n man soos my pa, Modder en Bloed), Greg Kriek (Samson, Momentum), Grant Swanby (Beyond the River, Invictus, Troy), Christia Visser (Tess, Hollywood in my Huis), Maurice Carpede (Chappie) and Sonni Chidiebere (District 9, Blood Diamond, Hotel Rwanda).

The film was produced by Jac Williams through Cape Town based production company Man Makes a Picture, and is the first in a slate of independent features from the company. Executive producers are Jacques le Roux, Jac Williams and Johannes Ferdinand van Zyl.

Watch the trailer.

 

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