straight 8 shootout SOUTH AFRICA 2018: CAB Films (cape town)'s story
the first ever straight 8 shootout on the african continent is now on!
only 20 creative companies from south africa will be able to compete at this straight 8 shootout for charity
read CAB Films' story, from their straight 8 @ CICLOPE 2017 entry, below. then, for more info and to sign up, head here
I have been in the industry for most of my working life. I wasn’t born into it, but my inclinations in early life pointed me towards it and I have been blessed by serendipity.
I studied acting and drama. not film. But in the academic process I got a taste of the magic that happens as a consequence of knowing how to surrender to collaborative effort.
That which if honestly embraced offers the potential of an incomparable sense of group accomplishment accompanied by the satisfaction of knowing that without one’s own contribution the whole would have been incomplete.
In my final year at drama school 4 years of studying and practicing what seemed to be dreary technique started to make sense. At the hands of committed teachers and directors I experienced the power of surrender. I became attuned to the magic of collaborative dramatic art.
After graduating however, a couple of years of children’s theatre, sporadic voice and radio work and slogging my guts out as a waiter, thoroughly thrashed that utopian ideology out of my system. Without the casual restaurant work I would have been destitute and the harsh reality of the suffering artist became an unromantic reality.
Serendipity came to the rescue.
In the mid-seventies against prevailing political will TV was launched in South Africa.
By 1978 the masters had to allow advertising and TV became commercial. Advertisers wanted the best and were prepared to pay to shoot 35mm and for the post production technology.
I could work at what I loved, make more money and not have to wait on tables.
I had no knowledge of film making other than what I had experienced in front of the camera, so it stood to reason that I would have to start at the bottom and learn.
At that time it was a tough process. Nothing was regulated and since I was such an eager bunny I gained access to every department. I learned to accept the good with the bad.
The most important thing however was to do what I was told. And very often even although I had done exactly what I had been told to do it turned out not to be right. Because in the advertising business there is no absolute right. One person’s right may very well be another’s absolutely wrong. And as long as you are being paid it is your job to keep delivering until hopefully you produce something that everyone kind of likes.
It is ironic then that for as long as I can remember when people ask me what I do I say that I am a filmmaker.
Granted, I am a highly competent executor of ideas which demand that expert filmmaking skills are used to cryptically convey them to a viewer. But the scope for creative adventure is severely limited by the expectations of a completely separate set of experts who have had to meet a multitude of other stringent demands on their own creativity in order for the resources to be made available for them to actually make a commercial.
It also used to be a lucrative industry to work in.
The demands that accompany the notion of assembling a feature film size crew, at the top of their game, for a shooting day along with all the high-end ingredients that are needed to produce a mini movie executed to industry standard perfection is a big enough ask to start with.
Not knowing whether or not the negative is correctly exposed until the day after the crew are on their next job and everything else is as good as wrapped means that the need for expert specialists becomes self-apparent.
In addition to years of accumulated knowledge they need to have nerves of steel! A different breed of human being. A little different from the breed who make long form movies.
This is all commissioned work.
When I received the invitation to enter straight 8 it seemed at face value to be no different from any of numerous other calls for short films addressing social responsibility issues or even as invitations to impress content producers of the viability of particular proposed projects as investment opportunities.
What was really tantalizing in the call for entries sent out to creatives accustomed to commercials was Ed’s promise: No script, No Brief.
That was at least worth consideration. After all that is exactly what it takes to really make a movie. Nobody to answer to and nobody to blame if it doesn’t end up the way you expected.
It required an idea, converted into a script, which would have a strong enough narrative to make sense and which had to be relatively short.
It also had to be comprehensible beyond spoken language. So no ‘Show and tell’
To really turn the screws it had to be shot in continuity, onto a tiny strip of film, which you would never get to view, never mind edit or post produce.
Every competitor’s little strip of film would be processed and transferred to a projectable format in exactly the same way and an international panel of highly critical viewers would see each movie once and decide which ones they liked the most.
If you think you’re a filmmaker and you want to prove it to yourself this is the most challenging way to do so!
My initial reaction was to think that this was too big an ask. Coming from a commercial background shooting ratios of hundreds to one are not uncommon. 1/1 seemed out of the question.
To describe all of the other perfectly rational reasons that spring to mind which emphasize the folly of attempting such a thing would require writing a book.
And that is exactly what makes it so awesome!
There is an event that takes place in a remote part of South Africa once a year that is quite unique. The event has come about due to the efforts of people in the area aimed at constructively manifesting their social conscience.
A couple of years ago I had intended to make a film about the event and along with my business partner at the time we harnessed our resources with a view to doing something that would be more meaningful than helping to sell products to people.
In spite of a considerable investment of time and money the project never gained traction. But the event continues to this day and it is visually unusual enough to build a script around.
At the time I was witnessing one of my own children negotiating the uncomfortable reality of early puberty and realizing how vulnerable humans are at that stage. My kids all have the benefit of relatively affluent middle class lifestyle and so have the luxury of engaged parents and teachers to see them through.
That is not the case for a huge slice of our population. The legacy of social imbalance combined with the prevalence of alcohol and drug abuse in less fortunate communities makes it more difficult for kids at their most vulnerable.
So my script would be a dramatized documentary tale of how recognizing creativity in children assists in them finding their own way through life against the odds.
A very rationally motivated film script.
I confirmed my entry into straight 8 and embarked on the process of making my very first un-commissioned movie.
I had strong support from the folk who had invented the event so I drove out to the location about 800 KM from where I live in Cape Town. They were as helpful as they had been in the past so I had the blessing of no resistance from the locals.
I came back with a clear idea of the date when the event was to take place so I was able to schedule pre-production and the shoot dates.
I had also been able to cast and identify locations in broad terms on that trip and so I had the basics with which to write.
My script was quite elaborate to start with but my experience in making commercials assured me that with accurate shot-listing I would be able to tell the story in 150 seconds.
That might have just been the case with the benefit of all the bells and whistles I was accustomed to. And I was convinced right up until I started shooting a month later that it could be accomplished.
What was clear from my recce and casting efforts however was that it was going to take the best part of a month to shoot. With the best goodwill in the world it was unrealistic to expect crew to donate a month of their time on a location 800Km from home to a project aimed solely at proving a mad-man’s theory. I would have to do everything myself!
Now it is important to note that straight 8 does not require that the project is a one-man affair. For me however in addition to there being No script, No Brief, No Agency, No Client I also had no need to take into account the opinions of other film makers.
Of course it also meant that I did not have the support, knowledge and experience of other filmmakers so in my case I guess I took the straight 8 idea a little beyond what its instigators had envisaged.
But here’s a thing. In retrospect I would not have it any other way.
After the first day of shooting the amount of film I had used made it clear that my script would have to be shortened. That meant radically simplifying it. In fact every night after that I found myself having to reduce the shot list. So as the shoot progressed the script became simpler and simpler and the cast smaller and smaller. (Because of the inaccurate footage counter I actually run out of film stock 4 shots before my scripted ending without knowing it. So the original 10 shot conclusion which I eventually wrote down to 5 shots ended up being one shot. Without that one shot my movie would not have made sense!!)
The experience has left me convinced that straight 8 is a film making art form in itself.
Throughout my unremarkable creative career the notion of a creative force that is greater than the individual which is often referred to by leading artists has eluded me. That seemed to be quite mysterious and supernatural. Nothing about my career had seemed supernatural except the serendipitous manner in which I transitioned from actor to film maker.
In the making of my straight 8 film however I definitely experienced that mysterious influence at play. I cannot accurately recount the number of occasions upon which the ideal circumstances and indeed physical artifacts presented themselves to me without any effort on my part.
That in its self is miraculous. But even more gratifying is the fact that the young people who appear in the film were genuinely moved by the experience.
Within a very short time they seemed to have been seduced by the process of making a film.
These are kids living in a tough environment who often had to endure 05h00 call times in order for us to travel from base to location. They were always on time.
Before I knew it the three little on camera artistes in my movie had watched everything that my ‘one car with a trailer’ unit was capable of providing and at every set-up they had figured out how to break it open, deploy the necessary equipment and even have a reasonable grasp of how I intended to lens the shot.
Towards the end of the shoot I would find myself, stressed under time pressure associated with catching the best light of the day on locations over a hundred Km apart, looking up from the camera to find one of the kids presenting the clapper board to me whilst the other was beside him ready to place focus marks.
As already mentioned I could spend a considerable amount of time detailing a multitude of inexplicable coincidences as well as remarkable examples of how people with no prior knowledge of film making engaged with the process.
It is unquestionable though that in the right circumstances with the right amount of commitment filmmaking can have a miraculous effect.
Making a straight 8 movie drew my attention to that consequence of creative effort more vividly than anything has in a long time.
watch CAB Film's straight 8 and other previous entries to straight 8 shootout for inspiration:
for more info and to sign up to straight 8 shootout south africa 2018 head here
just some of the companies that have braved straight 8 shootout so far...
some of the charities that previous straight 8 shootout winners have donated their prize pot to include: