By Jaco van Bosch - 10 June 2020
Mallemeule BEHIND THE SCENES
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FILM “MALLEMEULE”.
If you haven't seen the film yet, click here before reading.
On the 25th of November 2017, the first Looped Pictures short film premiered at Ster Kinekor Cinema Nouveau Rosebank as part of Jaco's Honours degree program at AFDA film school. Since that time, the film travelled to 5 different festivals around the world
The idea for the film was centred around regret. What happens when you suddenly wake up and realise that 20 years of your life has passed in an instant. This of course happens to many people when they reach a certain age and reflect on their lives. Quite often people tell the stories of how they wanted to be astronauts, or musicians, or artists, but never felt they would make it in those careers or to those for whom life just got in the way and instead settled for a standard 9-5 job with good pay and benefits. Of course there is nothing wrong with doing that. Making a decent living and supporting yourself and a family are very good and noble pursuits. After all, someone needs to keep our economy afloat. It is also important to note that this is not the only reason people go into the traditional 9-5 jobs. Some people enjoy the consistency and even the actual work (Crazy, I know)
So this idea was stuck in my head since around the middle of 3rd year, after co-directing my first proper film since giving it up in the first term of first year of film school. This was 2016, which in the scientific community was significant for another reason. LIGO and VIRGO just held a press conference to announce the discovery of gravitational waves! Me, being a massive nerd, found out this information and immediately started digging more and more into research behind these waves. I came across a couple of YouTube videos that connected this discovery to a form of time travel. I was hooked. I knew that the film idea I had could work as a time travel saga.
I wrote a 13 page script and by the end of that year, I had somehow co-directed two films even though I was only a Sound Design and Visual Effects major. Two of the directors that I signed up with to make their films had dropped out of their programs, giving me the opportunity to direct. I used this as motivation to apply for an honours degree at AFDA, changing my major to Writing and Directing. It took a lot of convincing and many meetings with school heads, but after seeing my work as co-director plus the story idea I knew I wanted to pursue in my honours year, they let me in.
This would not be an easy film to get made though. We were a tiny class of honours student in 2017. Only 49 students, with 8 directors. Meaning the rest of the students were quickly snatched up and became attached to certain projects. I had a good team though. It was myself, Caleb Lazarus (our awesome producer), Lauren Boy (our amazing Production Designer) and Claudio Leitao (the man who knows how to cut some footage). So we needed to outsource the rest of the crew. I stepped in to do the Sound Design (I have an undergrad degree in it after all) and together with Caleb, who also switched majors from Visual Effects to Producing, we would handle the visual effects. I reached out to Vince Boonzaaier and Dean Mbamba to be the cinematographer & colourist respectively. The team was growing.
As time passed I needed to deliver more and more scripts to the lecturers as assignments and to make sure we were on track. I got to around the 3rd draft when I realised that I needed help with the script. I got permission from the heads of school to co-write the final few drafts since and that's when Mark entered the picture. Together we wrote a few more drafts and really honed the story in to where it made sense as a short film.
As time drew closer we needed to start the casting process. There weren't a lot of actors in our honours class so again we needed to outsource. I had worked with an actor from undergrad in a couple of films and I knew he would be absolutely perfect for Chris and lucky enough, Wenzel Grobler was available and interested in playing the role. I had no clear options for the rest of the characters though, so I did some open auditions by just joining a few acting groups on Facebook and posting a casting call. We got some of AFDA's camera equipment to film the auditions and were underway. We had a great response to the casting call! Over 50 people showed up for various roles. Some were really great and others were... pretty nervous, so we won't hold that against them... Finally we decided on Tanja Franzsen as the eccentric Doctor Marié Loots and Adrienne Cameron-Ellis to play the role of Erika.
The only thing left was to organise some gear for the shoot. AFDA does let its students use their ARRI Alexa's with cinema lenses, but I really wanted this film to look different from every other AFDA film, so Vince & I went to Panavision Johannesburg and pitched them the film in the hopes of getting a sponsorship. They liked the story so much, they immediately agreed and allowed us to rent a RED Dragon package with some lights for only the price of insurance, which is 10%. We effectively got a 90% sponsorship and for that I am to this day extremely grateful. The 6k from the RED allowed us to crop in later in post and especially came in handy when we were doing the split screen visual effects shots since Wenzel was playing both Chris'.
I was incredibly nervous during the shoot window. We planned a 7 day shoot, which would be the longest shoot I had ever been on, nevermind directed. I psyched myself up every morning by listening to the La La Land soundtrack on my way to set, even though this film and that film have almost no similarities. But with such an awesome group of cast, crew and of course our many assistants, the shoot went incredibly well! We actually got ahead of schedule so much that Caleb and I decided to give everyone day 6 off to rest. This was MUCH needed. Day 7 was the exterior evening scenes, basically the start and the end of the film. This would be the day where Wenzel, Tanja and our youngest actress, Erin Prentice, would have to jump into a freezing cold pool in the middle of a cold July evening. We had only a single take to do these shots. We prepared a hot shower for the actors and did the shots as quick as we could. The final shots in the film were the first and only takes. And I absolutely love them. My cast and crew were the best!
Post-production was another area where we pushed AFDA's standards. We used Adobe Premiere Pro instead of the regular AVID Media Composer that was customary for honours students to use. This made our workflow tremendously easy. Toward the end of the year, I had gotten a part-time job in Pretoria, so I couldn't be on campus as ofter as I would have wanted. But, since we were using Premiere, I had a copy of all the footage so Claudio could send me the project file and I could open it on my side and easily make markers with notes for him to work on before we would get together on the weekend and go through it in person. When edit was locked, I could do the sound on Pro Tools and Dean could do the colour on DaVinci, although since we were using RED files, the final colouring was quite the mission to finish.
We screened the film in Ster Kinekor to a sold out theatre and people seemed to really like it. At the AFDA awards we were nominated for 6 awards, winning 2. The following year, the film really started it's festival run. We were nominated for best student film at the Zanzibar International Film Festival. At the Lake International Pan African Film Festival, we were finalists for Best Student Film, as well as being nominated for Best Editing and Best Writers. We screened in the Short Film Corner at the Cannes Film Festival and also at the KykNet Silwerskermfees as part of the AFDA screening block. Finally, we were selected as South Africa's candidate for the Student Academy Award for best Foreign Student Film in the Fiction category. After all the excitement of 2018, Mallemeule was made available to stream on Showmax along with 12 other AFDA films. And now that that has also ended, we are so happy to finally have put it on YouTube for anyone to watch freely.