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Big Fellas, Big Names, Big Laughs

2007-07-19 18:43
Set for release later this year (Ross hopes it will out in November) Big Fellas is a comedy about the SA experience. Two white guys go on a crazy road trip to close a deal on a film they are making. But before they can do so, and get the girl, they need a BEE partner – fast!

Most people will remember Ross Garland from the award winning movie, uCarmen eKhayelitsha.

He took a break from post-production to answer some questions.

What research did you do to create these characters?
Whilst a few of the characters are based loosely on specific people I have encountered over the years, the process was more one of combining imagination with a dialogue with the actors as they came on board. Cokey Falkow’s albino character, for example, was a wild idea I threw at him which he then took to another level. Only Cokey would be brave enough to do that!

Where did the funding come from, and was that a challenge?
The film was funded by private investors. Although it is a low budget movie, it was ridiculously hard to put together. Much harder than films I have done with budgets ten times as big. There is no formalised system for getting film funding in South Africa outside of the government agencies. In other countries, distributors, established production companies or film investors exist. But here one searches for maverick investors who can see the potential in film. My company Rogue Star Films invested in the movie and that was probably the catalyst that brought the rest of the investors on board. The turning point was hearing a very successful American producer say that until you are prepared to take the risk yourself you are not a serious player so why should you expect anyone to take you seriously? It’s just a basic investment principle really.

Was the outcome of the movie affected by funding?
The only money challenge was that if we had more money we would have had more time and more toys. I am not sure the film would be much better though. It was meant to be a performance driven film made with the charm that comes with independent film. Oscar Wilde said that the best art has tight parameters, and I really believe that. Our budget constraints forced us to think and work harder before the shoot and to use all of our creative tools to make the film work.

You have put together an impressive cast of well known actors, comedians and celebs, how did you do it?
From my early days studying drama, I have friends who have gone on to successful careers in entertainment. That was the starting point. Colin Moss came on board first. We used to run around on stage in Durban in the early 90’s. Then there were people I knew in the film game like Hakeem Kae-Kazim and Kagiso Lediga. Some people I just called, liked Cokey Falkow, Louw Venter, Marc Lottering. But once the ball started rolling, it gets easier. Executive Producer Costa Theo brought in Gina Athans. I approached Minki through Gina’s agent. Director Philip Roberts brought in Grethe Fox. What was great was that these celebs all read the script and immediately would call up enthusiastically and say they were on board.

What issues - if any - did you have to resolve around South African identity in order to make this film universal in its appeal?
One thing I think we do here with films is obsess about universal appeal and aim to make films at the outset for the world market. The reality is that most films do not travel, and that is okay if you make them on the right budget. But if you make authentic stories that ring true in some way, then there is universality. So the key for me was to be authentic about this story, as off the wall as it is. The few foreigners who have seen the film got it, they got the jokes. So I think we have been accurate in some way about South African identity today. I didn’t try to resolve anything, more to just put a story with raw heart on the screen, one where South Africans will recognise the situations and characters. I have never travelled to Mexico but when I saw Y tu mamá también I was completely engaged as were people throughout the world. It had a very pure creative spirit. That is what I was going for.

What's been the funniest moment you've experienced during the scripting and/or production?
In a crazy comedy like this it’s hard to single out a moment. There were so many fall down funny moments, given the people involved. A favourite moment was when we snuck a polystyrene model of a rock into the Cango Caves for a scene where one of the main characters Zed accidentally breaks off an ancient piece of rock. We couldn’t explain to the German and Japanese tourists that it was just a joke, and they were looking at us like we were committing a war crime. And we were also trying to dodge the tour guides. Hakeem and I were running around the caves giggling like kids.

What is/was your biggest ongoing frustration with this project?
Independent filmmaking is tough. A very lonely pursuit. There is often a feeling of overwhelming forces persuading you why your film shouldn’t be made. You develop a thick skin, but never thick enough. The most frustrating specific aspect are the people who put down your film without having even seen it. Especially, when their viewpoint is contrary to any half decent analysis. A few people have said to me you can’t make a film about race or BEE, let alone a comedy, even though Schuster has been doing that successfully for a decade, and it’s the hottest topic in the country right now. If you don’t want to make films that are actually relevant to our lives, then I am not sure what the point is.

What do you hope to achieve with this movie?
I want a chunk of South Africans to go and have a good laugh about themselves, and have that great cathartic feeling when you have watched a good comedy film. And I want a bunch of hugely talented young entertainers to be profiled in a positive way. I think there is a new generation of talent coming through in all the cultural industries, and I would like to believe our film is a part of that wave. But I think it’s just the beginning. There are a lot of great projects around that will break the mould.

Who is this movie for (audience)?
The core audience for the film is probably younger (16-35), but I have shown the film to a wide range of people, of all ages, and they have laughed. I hear the same thing from a 22 year-old guy from Khayelitsha as I hear from a middle aged white woman in Joburg. Across the board - race, age and gender - there is a desire to not be subjected to politically correct and anxious films parading as entertainment. It isn’t entertaining and it shouldn’t pretend to be. So I think any South African with a sense of humour will enjoy the film, especially people who can laugh at themselves/ourselves.

- Interview by Nomfundo H. Mbaba+Tshabalala


  • Bee - 2007-07-19 10:07

    I love the chicken Pse. don't send him to the abattoir

  • Harmun - 2007-07-19 17:26

    Looks like fun ! Heck I can't see why this film won't be great ( in SA and abroad) but the cast...WOW. I'm definitely going to enjoy this movie. Hope it doesn't have too much cheesy comedy like some of Schuster's though... See you in the movies ! :D

  • Paul - 2007-07-25 13:56

    Oh No More sefrican rubbish !!

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