By Jaco van Bosch - 13 April 2020
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FILM "PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT".
If you haven't seen the film yet, click here before reading.
It seems strange writing about a film called "PUBLIC Engagement" in a time when going outside should only be limited to essential shopping and to those on the front lines. And to all our medical workers, shop attendants, delivery personnel, farm workers and all other essential workers, thank you so much for doing your job in a time when it is risky to do so.
Public Engagement came to me one day, mid June 2019, after attending a church service. I'm not sure what exactly it was, perhaps I saw a recently engaged couple leaving the building, but it took me back to 2013 when a good friend of mine, also named Jaco, asked me to help me propose to his girlfriend. He had the idea to film a fake trailer and have it play in a cinema where his high school girlfriend would be sitting. I was completing my final year of matric and he knew that I was planning on attending AFDA to study film, so he thought it would be good practice for me and cheap enough for him, to ask me to film and edit the trailer for him. Long story short, we got permission to do the proposal in an actual Ster Kinekor theatre and it went great! She said yes, I filmed their wedding and they're still together.
Now what struck me on that evening so many years later, was that doing an engagement in public, is kind of like blackmail. We've all seen the trope in movies and especially on TV when the clueless guy proposes to his girlfriend in the most public and "romantic" space possible to try redeem himself and not actually deal with the issues they had in their relationship. And we've also seen it time and time again when it does not work and the poor embarrassed girl walks away, but forgives him anyways coz, "Ag shame, that was brave ey." I realised that proposing to someone in a public space, while yes could be super romantic and appropriate, is used a lot of times to blackmail the person being proposed to. So I wanted to investigate what would happen to the couple once there aren't any more camera's rolling and they now have to live in the real world.
When I pitched the idea to Mark, he loved it as well, and we added it to our concepts list. We didn't actually get round to writing this film until nearly a month later. At this stage, all I had was the concept, none of the beats of the story were anywhere near completed. At first we couldn't decide where they should have the proposal and how could we ensure it be as public as possible, while still keeping our tiny budget in mind. I then remembered an episode of the Amazing Race that my brother had shown me a while back where someone actually proposed live at one of the pitstops when they won. And thus, Public Engagement and the world of The Spectacular Journey was born. Once we had the setting, the script started flowing. We wrote the entire first draft of the film in 2 hours and then wrote Big Sip, another film that will be released on the 1st of May 2020, straight after that.
When we had finally done enough revisions on the script, we started sending it out to actors we already knew who would be great in these roles. Lolo said yes immediately, so did our first choice for the role of Siobhan, however she had to drop out of the role due to scheduling conflicts. In my final year at AFDA, I made an advertisement for the Ster Kinekor Vision Mission project and we got Justin Strydom, a veteran South African actor to play a role in that. I really wanted to work with him again and thought that he would just be amazing in the role of Jerome, the fake show's host. I sent him an email with the script and waited. 2 weeks later he called me back and accepted the role!!! I was driving at the time and knew that I had to pull over and take this call and I'm so happy I did.
Public Engagement is the only one of our 6 films that had a Production Designer as part of the main crew. I knew we needed someone to make sure the set looks authentic and would get the job done. Mark knew an amazing production designer, Raquel Delgado, who loved the script and brought a whole nother dimension to the idea. I had a meeting with her, gave her some references and she ran with it!
With a full crew, a set being built and the story done, we only had one more obstacle to overcome - getting permission to shoot in the park. We visited many parks around Johannesburg, but as soon as I arrived at the Rose Garden in Emmerentia, I knew this would be the place. But getting permission proved to be more of a challenge than simply claiming it. We went back and forth with the parks department trying to convince them to let us shoot for a reduced price since we would only be there for a single day, but they were not having it. First they sent us a quote for R5000 then suddenly R20 000. Things were not looking good. Finally, I borrowed some money from my parents and they agreed to give us the permission for the original R5000 with a R1000 refundable deposit. It's more than I had hoped for, but at least we had the park. I have to give a huge shout out to our producer Bre'anne Holz who really wrestled with them to finally let us shoot.
The day of the shoot was getting close, but then we learnt of the scheduling conflict that caused our original actress to pull out from the project, no hard feelings, but we immediately started looking for a replacement. We must have called 10 of our actress friends, but no one was available on such short notice. Then, out of the blue, Mark asked our actor, Lolo, if he knew anyone. He said he didn't know any actresses who would be available, but his girlfriend Bella, who is actually an editor by trade, could be willing. He asked her and she agreed! 2 days before the shoot, I setup a rehearsal with them just to make sure that Bella would be fine on the day, and damn man, she was great!
The day of the shoot arrived, but what we had not planned for, was the Springboks making it to the Rugby World Cup Finals. I mean we should have expected it. But honestly, neither Mark nor I nor Bre'anne are big rugby fans, so it kind of slipped under our radar. Not to fear, we had everyone we needed and we could use the quiet to shoot the film - or so we thought.
So just a tip for anyone who wants to shoot a film at the Rose Garden, it's a pretty popular photo taking spot with couples who just got married. I guess they saw the same thing I did when I picked the spot as a proposal location. So we had quite a couple of interruptions during the day with wedding parties making their way through our set, making a bunch of noise and generally causing us to have a lot of breaks, nevertheless, when you have an outstanding cast and dedicated crew, anything is possible. We finished the park scenes within 7 hours which gave us a lot of time to move to my apartment for the last house scenes.
When we got to the house, we were again almost ruined by our lack of planning for not only the Springboks competing in the Rugby World Final, but also winning it! Congratulations to our team, but yoh, the parties going on. Luckily our main scene takes place in a car, which is actually really well sound proofed. I was impressed, but we needed to get the phone-scenes done in a quiet spot. I ended up doing a lot of denoising and overlaying music in the same key as the music from upstairs. It worked pretty well. The car-scenes flew past. Lolo and Bella are such great people! Not only as actors, but as a couple. They were great!
The final hurdle we had to cross, was getting the shots of the competing team. I only needed them for around 6 shots, so they asked to be excused from the shoot on Rugby day, and then we could do a pickup with them during the week. I figured that since we already paid for the one day to shoot at the park, that they would let us just go in for an hour and film our couple of shots. I figured wrong. Security was not having it. We ended up having to go to the head office, where we discussed it with a lady for a couple of minutes, who finally let us in after an hour and a half of trying to get in, leaving us with only 30 minutes before my actors needed to be somewhere else. Luckily though, I could cut the amount of shots down pretty low and get the most important stuff quickly. Leon and Bethel were absolute champs!
Post production went really smoothly, although Mark had some colour shift issues with the clouds passing continuously. After the first cut I realised that the film was missing something that you would find in every episode of Amazing Race - Ad breaks! And not just ad breaks, ad breaks just when things are getting spicy! I added those in with some stock footage from Storyblocks and bob's your uncle. I even found an after effects template on the site as well to do the ad-transition. All the music in the film was found on Artlist as I wanted something that would be super specific and yet oddly generic. I've used Artlist for years and it's by far my favourite stock music site, not to mention that all Artlist music licenses extend to film and TV for personal or commercial use. Ok, non-sponsored ad read over :)
All in all, I had a great time working on this film and I hope to work with everyone again super soon!