10 January 2020 - Jaco van Bosch
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FILM "SURFACE TENSION".
If you haven't seen the film yet, click here before reading.
Mark & I wrote the script for Surface Tension one day in July 2019. We had just had the idea to make as many films as we could before the end of the year and to accomplish that, we decided that we need to set some constraints for ourselves to make sure we only come up with ideas that we could feasibly accomplish.
We decided that these films should be limited to only one of two locations and that it should be about subjects that we know about. Both Mark & I have brothers, I have a younger and Mark has an older, so we knew we wanted to do something about sibling rivalry. We took that idea and looked at what we had available. Mark has a swimming pool in his backyard and thus an idea was born.
After writing the script and getting the crew together, it was time for pre-production to start in earnest. We realized that the Mark's swimming pool, the one we had envisioned at the conception of the script was too small and likely would not work. We also noticed that Mark's backyard is completely covered with a huge tree, which would give us problems with lighting. So the search for a new pool was on. Luckily, one of Mark's friends was gracious enough to let us shoot in her back yard and the location was perfect.
While doing preprod, Nardus van Niekerk, the DOP, and I decided we weren't going to do a shotlist. A shotlist is literally just a list of shots that you want to make sure you get on the day of the shoot to make sure you tell the story in the way that you want to tell it. This is what we are taught to do in Film School, but when I was in first year at AFDA Film School Johannesburg, Sean Bobbit came to do a talk for the whoever was interested. This was the year after "12 Years A Slave" was released, a Film that he was the DOP for. Needless to say I was very excited to hear what he had to say. During that talk, someone asked how in detail he goes with his shotlist and he simply replied with "Who does a shotlist?" The room went quiet.
So anyways, eventhough he had said this, I was always afraid to try it. What if we don't get the shots we needed? But with this project, I had full faith in Nardus. I've known him since day one of film school, but we had never worked together as the DOP/Director. I knew that if I was going to try it, it would be with Nardus. So we the only prep we did shot-wise, was go to the location 2 days before the shoot to scout it out and do a basic plan of how we would go about it.
Mark had been interested in trying his hand at acting for a while now to, as he puts it, "gain the experience so I can understand the discipline better." He approached me to ask if he could play the character of Alex in this film and I said "Sure, if you pass the audition." I had him read the lines to me and act it out the way he saw it in his head, and it was perfect. This was the perfect character for him to play and being the co-writer, he already knew what the intentions were. To find his brother Gary, we reached out to our friend Kelton Smith, who is actually also a trained writer/director who also acts sometimes. Together, they would be unstoppable.
I think I was probably the most nervous having these two directors, be my actors taking my direction. I kept wondering what they were thinking of my direction. There is nothing more nerve wrecking than having two people, who you respect deeply, listen to your ideas and try to bring them to life. It was also great listening to their ideas and finding the best solutions for problems we would encounter.
Finally day 1 of the shoot had come and we were ready to start. The shoot went perfectly, except for two very important things. Firstly, there were planes flying above us constantly. This meant that we would have to do take after take just because of a plane flying by, sound is 60% of your film. If that wasn't enough, it was a mildly cloudy day, and when you're shooting outside, moving clouds can destroy the perfect performance in an instant. We ended up shooting some shots twice, once with sun, and once with cloud just to make sure that it would cut together in the edit room.
Other than that the day went smoothly. We were lucky enough to be catered for by Catering Edge who provided delicious lunch for the crew so everyone was in a good mood the whole day. The value of good food on a set cannot be overstated. Make sure you feed your people properly!
Day 2 was a half-night shoot. We started at 6pm and planned to finish at midnight. We started off well, getting the final shots with Kelton and then had lunch. Somehow we got so behind time that we only had 1 hour left to shoot all of the pool montage shots. Nardus set up the lights, and we went for it. The most difficult shot to get on the night was the shot of the worm on the leaf. He did not want to stay on that leaf, and that leaf did not want to float properly. Luckily though, we got it sorted and wrapped only 10 minutes late.
The whole crew was truly amazing to work with and true experts in their fields. I was so happy to work with them and I hope to do it again very soon!
Then post-productions started. I was the editor and sound designer on this film, Mark the colour grader and Alex Verbaan the composer. During the editing process, I was pretty nervous about the footage we had captured. Since we didn't have a shotlist to cross off, I had my finger tightly crossed that we didn't forget anything. Luckily I didn't need to worry. As I said, Nardus is a great person to work with and he KNOWS what he's doing. The edit went swimmingly (pardon the pun, I couldn't resist). Early on in the edit, I found a version of "Dance of the Sugar Plumb Fairy" on Artlist. Alex was to use it as a reference for the scene and the rest of the film. It ended up staying right there as both Alex and I agreed that it worked perfectly for the scene.
The biggest challenge we faced during grading was the fact that I had chosen to keep some of the sun shots next to the cloud shots as I felt they were the best takes and maybe you wouldn't be able to notice it all that much. I think Mark did an excellent job! It's not easy to notice at all. And with that done, there was nothing left but to upload it to you YouTube for all of you to enjoy!
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