Johannesburg - It’s 1996 and democracy in South Africa is but a mere two years old. So why not make a candid camera movie about affirmative action and poke fun at it? That’s exactly what Leon Schuster, 65, did with Panic Mechanic (1996), a movie about a man who loses his job due to affirmative action and finds a job at a stress academy which is currently showing on ShowMax.
Leon says he remembers their budget was around R6m “This is small money compared to the R25-30 million you need today to make a movie in SA,” he says. But when he looks back, Leon adds that he didn’t worry too much about the money. “That was the producer Carl Fisher’s problem!” he laughs.
On the first day of shooting, they filmed all the office scenes at the Stress Academy with Jack Paddaman (played by Frantz Dobrowsky, who passed away in 2006) and Gloria (Dorette Nel), his secretary. “We were fortunate because in those days we just used some of the SABC offices in Auckland Park for those scenes free of charge.”
The rest of his pranks were shot mainly in Gauteng. The scene featuring the motorbike driving through the ‘historic’ painting was shot at the Union Buildings in Pretoria while Leon’s security guard prank, in which he dressed up as a security guard asking for toll money at a toll gate, was shot in Ventersdorp.
“That scene was one of the biggest scenes in the movie and it was extremely dangerous. Some of those boere [Afrikaans people/farmers] got extremely angry during the prank and in some cases they got out their machine guns and threatened to shoot. Then I quickly said it’s just a joke, it’s Leon Schuster. Unfortunately, not all the material we shot made the final cut because it was just too scary, rather than funny,” Leon recalls.
There are also quite a lot of famous South African personalities and actors in the film, like Desmond Dube (Dube in Hotel Rwanda, 2004), Pierre van Pletzen (Oubaas in 7de Laan 2000-current), Kobus Wiese (retired springbok player and now rugby commentator), John Robbie (Talk Radio 702 presenter) and many more.
“They were all fantastic but Tolla van der Merwe (the Afrikaans comedian who died in 2000) in my opinion played his role as a quirky speed cop who falls in love with Gloria the best. I remember telling him just be yourself – the Tolla we know – and he was brilliant,” says Leon.
Way back in 1996, green screens and computer-generated images weren’t on the cards for the stunts in this low-budget movie, so Leon and his crew made use of clever camera tricks.
In the famous scene where Paddaman is hit in the behind by a missile, causing him to be suddenly launched forward with incredible force, reveals Leon, “We had him sit on a track and used long grass to hide the mechanism he was sitting on that pulled him forward.”
Leon adds that he’s not yet finished making people laugh and is currently working on two movie scripts he hopes to turn into feature films in the near future.
Panic Mechanic is currently available on ShowMax.com. Sign up for a seven-day free trial to test out Africa’s leading video on demand service.
See a scene from the movie here:
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