What is it, sweetheart?

Philosophical ponderings in the shadow of District 9 won't do; African  film must needs redesign the  future and the feature if it to have a hold on the present.  Be Phat Motel has volunteered, and will not go gently into that dark night...

Africa is not well known for film. Well, apart from Nollywood, the Nigerian budget film empire sibling to the brash, wealthy Hollywood and the bold, beautiful Bollywood.

Then, in 2009, District 9 was shot on home turf and took the world by storm with South African accents and alien sightings. Its focus on othering had universal appeal and the film it covered its costs in the first weekend at the box office. The question is, is there life for local film before the box office?

Down in the dirt, budgets are basic, if they exist at all. If you're not making a feature from a best-selling book, like Spud, for example, due for cinema release November 2010 with John Cleese (of Faulty Towers),  you're probably not rolling in enough rands to write, shoot, edit and distribute much more than a home video on your cell phone. And hey, that can work too.  For you and your friends on Facebook. For wider appeal, keeping eyes glued to the big screen with locally conceptualised and created content necessitates a compromise.Not on quality, on quantity.

The problem with making movies is that time equals money. The longer the film, the more moolah you need. Cut it all down to size and you might be able to manage independently. At least, that's what Be Phat Motel's latest creative project suggests. They've just produced a short film entirely envisioned, shot and edited on home soil, and part of me suspects the Cape Town creative team is pioneering a trend in the 'short film-as-audition-for-feature film financing' with it.  Have a look: 


You may agree from watching the trailer that it's hard to figure out just which genre this film falls into. Even Be Phat Motel's Screenwriter/Producer, Sean Drummond, isn't sure. At first he called it “a retro style genre-bender” and then “a thriller". Finally he admits the truth. "We have very different opinions about what it’s about." Michael Matthews, the company's film director, says he thinks it's about "people realising they don’t have to do what they think they have to do." Sean tries again. “It’s … an awakening. A new beginning. Or a reboot.”  We chatted about it and the industry over coffee and cream.

CTMag: If celebrity spotting and model parties are anything to go by, South Africa is a popular location for stills and moving images. Why the general reluctance to investing local film, then?

Sean:  Money is always money oriented. People won’t put money in unless they know they’re going to get money from it.

CTMag: But District 9 was a financial success.

Sean: Peter Jackson produced it. He immediately has a global market; made it on $30 million. But they did that knowing they were marketing to the world. So much of it is a safety game; people are churning out what they think people want to see, so that’s what they get. [Locally] people are afraid to take risks with putting out progressive content. Especially in film. If you get it wrong you’ve sunk a hundred grand. Then District 9 comes out, and we realise people are looking for decent stuff; if you do it well you may pull it off.  We’re lucky because we’re a team of four, and when one of us flips, the others hold him up.

CTMag: Tell us about shooting from the script, or not, as was the case.

Mike (smiling dryly, but his eyes are serious):  We shot the film two weeks after coming up with the idea. Without funding.  Mainly because my creative bones were dry, brittle... and desperate.  I got the last part of the script on the morning we started shooting.  We shot the whole thing in eight days.

Sean:  We got so much in those days; it was insane; it was so nice to be shooting something everyone was into. The four of us have worked together so long, we gel. The cool thing was that nobody was doing it for money. We had help from Public Pool, Richard Keppel Smith Photography (lighting), Media Film Service (equipment), The Propfather - we actually shot in their warehouse – the vibe that came with it was great, a real collaboration.

CTMag : Inge Beckmann, the lead vocalist for the band Lark, and a solo artist in her own right,  is compelling on stage, but the public doesn't know much of her on-screen work. Tell us why you cast her in the lead role?

Mike: She’s got a really good presence. I couldn’t imagine any other actress I know.

Sean: We worked with a bunch of great actors on the film. Tireless, they all gave way more of themselves than they could have. Was a great energy. Inge centred it all.

CTMag: and the future of Be Phat Motel?

Mike: We’re slowly compiling a team of people we always work with. That was the original idea, that’s why we called it the motel. Eventually one day we will have one big company.

Sean: we want it to be fun. We want to enjoy what we do as well. Being a film maker is a 24 hour, all-consuming job. You don’t work till you’re 65 then retire; it’s a life decision.


When they get where they want to go in life, Be Phat Motel will show all their films in "a giant cinema. In our motel.  With naked girls and whiskey. People would be allowed to smoke.” it is, after all, an industry built on make-believe. If you believe in make believe, add your support to their dedicated Facebook group and you might have a new full length feature film to feast your eyes on, sweetheart. In the interim, we await the release of its virgin short film version at festivals in the near future. Keep an eye on http://www.bephatmotel.com/ for updates and announcements.


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