I was struck by the image of a photographer photographing a suicide victim moments before falling to his death. I’m not quite sure where that image came from or why it popped into my head, it just did.
An intention that I had right from the start was to create a film that showcased the beautiful city of Cape Town. As the film is about an urban photographer it allowed the city to take on a character-like form, with it being one of the main subjects of [main character] Riley’s work.
We wanted The Fall to address the moral dilemma of the media being observers as opposed to participants in their environments and the implications that type of ethical ambiguity can have, similarly to Steven Silver’s work in The Bang Bang Club.
‘On a human level the film is somewhat of a cautionary tale.’
The film also speaks to the sensationalism of tragedy in modern day media. On a human level the film is somewhat of a cautionary tale. The main message of the film is about reaching out to each other and the potentially tragic consequences that not doing so can have. In Riley’s case, this is both literal and figurative.
I think that in today’s times people don’t connect or expose themselves to each other enough. We’re all so closed off and bombarded with distractions and obsessions that prevent us from letting each other in. If even one person who sees this film decides to open up more, or reach out to someone they suspect to be in need, then I think that we’ve achieved what we set out to do.
As the characters of Riley and John (played by actors, Andrew Jones-Davies and Jaryd Pillay) are in many ways polarised, it made sense to me to cast two actors whose on screen presences could easily juxtapose each other’s. Andrew was capable of communicating a passiveness in Riley’s character that contrasted the activeness of John’s character. That being said, I saw in both of them the common ability to deliver extremely nuanced and believable performances.
I had seen actress, Gahlia Phillips’, emotional authenticity and range as an actor after being on set with her a year or two ago, so when it came to casting the character of Alicia it was a no-brainer. Although Alicia’s character has the least screen time of the three, it’s her character that provides the film with its emotional core.
‘We’re having this identity crisis as South African storytellers..’
The cinematographer, Nick Riley, and I really wanted to approach this film with a distinctive shooting style. We drew from Tod Campbell’s use of negative space in the USA Network series Mr Robot as well as the work of David Fincher by keeping the majority of the shots static and veering away from any handheld camera work.
Shooting almost exclusively on wider lenses (18mm-35mm) -barring a few 50mm cutaways- allowed us to place the camera much closer to the characters. This also allowed us to create a greater sense of presence and at times discomfort as opposed to the sense of detachment that a longer lens often creates.
My friends over at Gambit Films are doing some incredible things in narrative film and television lately. One of their directors, Daryne Joshua, was behind the recent biopic Noem My Skollie that was made South Africa’s official selection to the 2017 Academy Awards. It seems as though every time I speak to them there’s something new in the pipeline.
A local filmmaker whose work I really engaged with is Sibs Shongwe-La Mer, who wrote, directed and acted in Necktie Youth. I found it to be novel in the manner in which it interwove the stories of multiple characters, whilst touching on extremely pertinent social issues.
A notable shift that’s been taking place over the last few years in film is the ease of access to not only technical resources, but to each other. The internet and social media has made the world a much smaller place and getting your content out there is a lot easier. It also means that the amount of content being put out there is that much greater. Whether or not this is a good thing is debatable.
‘[Social media] means we no longer rely on the commercial studios to dictate content..’
Creative marketing prowess has become so essential for independent filmmakers. The upside is that we no longer need to rely on the commercial studios to dictate the content we have access to. We can produce films that speak to us as storytellers and not just what seems marketable to a mass audience, although finding a balance is still important.
We are growing and progressing as an industry but we definitely still have a long way to go before we reach the heights that we’re capable of. There’s a reason that so many foreign productions come down here to shoot and it’s not just because it’s cheaper, it’s because our country provides a beautiful backdrop for film. This is great for local technical crews because it provides them with the opportunity to work on some exceptional, big budget films and series, but it doesn’t increase our countries creative capital or expand our own industry.
It all comes down to story. We’re having this identity crisis as South African storytellers, trying to find a voice that is uniquely our own yet still globally marketable. In this search I feel as though we keep regurgitating similar narratives. We need more variety in the types of films that we produce, and I don’t just mean making more Afrikaans rom coms.
‘[We need to] tell stories that are universal whilst still being rooted in our local setting.’
The onus is on the new generation of filmmakers more than ever. This whole mentality of ‘I’ll only make it if I move to [insert country name here]’ is part of the problem. We need to show the world that we’re capable of creating films that meet the technical standards of international cinema and tell stories that are universal whilst still being rooted in our local setting and not being derivative.
I’m currently head writing a mockumentary pilot for Gambit Films that we hope to have in production sometime next year. I’ll also be directing some music videos and commercials with my production company 33’ South Films.
The Fall is a proof of concept short, and I’m in the process of extending it into a feature screenplay. I’ve just finished the first draft.
Featured images courtesy of Nick Riley and Ethan Storm.