Siklus: South Africa put a boer in space!
If you’re a fan of great South African music and, by extension, music videos, chances are very good that you’ve come across the work of Louis Minnaar, a South African visual ninja. Apart from creating the stunning visuals and being one of the beatmasters in the popular Afrikaans hip hop group Bittereinder, Louis is also responsible for creating iconic music videos for artists such as aKing, Van Coke Kartel, Jack Parow, Straatligkinders and Die Heuwels Fantasties.
He made some time (and space) to answer a few questions.
In the very early days of South African television, shows such as Mannemarak and Mielie Malie Maantuig toyed with the idea of space exploration, but the ultimate Afrikaans series, Interster, was miles ahead of its time and in a sense showed the world that South Africa is right up there with the best of them. Growing up, what do you reckon influenced you to such a degree that you felt it necessary to bring out your own science-fiction short film in Afrikaans, which plays off in deep space?
Thinking back, Interster had such a profound effect on me. It was the very beginning of my love for science fiction. I guess the fact that South Africa had not really seen Afrikaans content playing off in deep space since Interster gave me a good enough reason to try and make this. There were other amazing series in the science-fiction genre – like Woestynroos – but it was more of a post-apocalyptic sub-genre. I guess I just needed to see a boer in space.
The interior and set design for your space ship was crowd-sourced. I know that people donated old tech such as keyboards, wires, speakers and bits and bobs. Did you use all of it and if not, what are your plans with the leftover “e-waste”?
A lot of the materials for the interior of the ship were cloud sourced (about 30%), which really helped a lot. The rest we scavenged from salvage yards and second-hand stores. I have already redistributed the materials and pieces into the world of second-hand stores like Sungardens Hospice in Pretoria.
Still on the subject of crowd-sourcing (or cloud sourcing as you like to call it) – how much did you rely on friends, family, strangers and kindness in general to successfully complete Siklus? Did some people offer their services as well?
Initially I imagined the crowd-funding campaign would cover the entire budget but it proved to be really difficult to get enough people to commit. What I got out of the crowd fund was an additional budget that allowed me to take the production that 10% further. Somewhere in the emails I sent trying to get the crowd-fund going, an old school friend and amazing artist Lionel Smit stepped forward and simply offered to contribute the entire budget. Apart from the money, a handful of friends and acquaintances offered their services on set and other parts of the production, which I am eternally grateful for.
Although Siklus is only a 25-minute short film, it’s evident that a tonne of work went into it. You worked on this project for more than three years, right? How much time could you actually put into this, seeing that you still had your normal schedule and workload to put food on the table?
I wrote the plot for the film at the end of December 2014. It ended up being shot in 2017 and completed in 2018. So a total of three years were spent on the film. I had to work mostly before work hours (everyday bread-and-butter work) and after hours to get the job done. Looking back it was the biggest project I have undertaken so far and also the most emotionally draining. But I cannot describe the joy I got out of the process.
We ended up only being able to afford a non-sound studio, which turned out to be disastrous. The audio was a complete mess … I ended up learning quite complex audio clean-up software and did it myself.
You always get the typical “Do you have any regrets?” or “What would you have done differently?” questions. You are welcome to answer those as well, but let’s phrase it differently: If you woke up one day halfway through production and you found a silver suitcase full of R200 notes on your doorstep with an anonymous letter reading: “Here is R250k for your movie. A Friend”, how would you use this cash?
If I received an additional 250K for the film (which is less than the film’s original budget) I would definitely have spent it on not doing all the post-production myself. The animation was one thing, but doing 90% of compositing and visual effects work myself was an extremely time-consuming process. There was zero rands for post production after shooting the film, so I could also not rely on anyone to do it for free. I had an offer from a big production house to do it as a favour, but I ended up waiting almost six months and decided to just do it myself.
The sound design was also another mountain of work that I was not able to outsource. I have no regrets about this, however. I ended up learning so much and am really grateful for the process. Oh, and I would have rented a soundproof studio. We ended up only being able to afford a non-sound studio, which turned out to be disastrous. The audio was a complete mess. I had to decide whether or not I would do a re-dub with the actors afterwards, which would’ve cost too much, or try to clean the audio using a professional service. All of this fell flat due to budget restraints, so I ended up learning quite complex audio clean-up software and did it myself. Also super grateful for this learning experience!
The animation and special effects are world class. What really stands out is the way you played around with colours as opposed to the usual dark and black nothingness with a few stars and planets. What made you go for those specific colours and your choice of representation of what you think deep space should look like?
The reality of deep space scenes is that for most of the time you would probably only see black backgrounds and tiny dots of stars, which is also cool, but I wanted to do something more vibrant, even though it meant that the end result is not very “realistic” and more stylistic. I do think that it does set it apart a bit to have taken this stylistic approach and it works really well with the over-the-top grade we did.
The spaceship seems very compact and rugged, almost like a camping caravan or a bush trailer, which I think has a nice South African feel to it. Do you own a caravan or a Venter trailer that influenced your design?
No, haha, I do not own a caravan! But I imagined that the characters were an average, middle-class couple who would not be able to afford the BMW of compact spaceships.
The cast was a good choice, but what influenced your decision to use Neels Van Jaarsveld (Binnelanders), Reine Swart (Villa Rosa, Die Pro) and Laudo Liebenberg (aKing, Black Sails)?
Laudo was an obvious choice for me. He just has this deep, soothing choice that could melt concrete. Reine and Neels submitted their casting videos like many others and simply stood out. There were other, also amazing cast submissions, so it was a difficult task to select two but I am very happy with what I and my team chose in the end.
You did most of the work on Siklus – writer, director, (co)editor, production designer and you took care of music as well as the animation. Don’t you think this was risky? Or did you manage to take a step back and be steered, checked and advised by outside influences as well? Is it hard to hand over control when it comes to your own art?
I do think it is risky and I would not have done it if I had the money to pay for such services, but the budget barely covered the building of that set and the actual shoot. I simply didn’t have a choice but I learnt a lot. I did have a lot of people constantly looking from outside and giving me feedback, for which I am grateful. So I did have some outside influence to a degree. Doing the animation and music would still be something I would love to do on my own films, but ja, not all of the above, it was too much.
Siklus definitely has the potential to become a series with a few seasons but at the same time, it could remain on its own. What is the bigger purpose of Siklus? Where do you want to go from here?
I would love for someone to see the potential of Siklus and simply say, hey – here is a tonne of cash, let’s make a feature film – not necessarily based on Siklus, but definitely in the same vein.
What has the feedback been from the overseas audience so far?
I have had really good feedback from all the festivals to date. We won numerous awards and also ended up as a finalist in a couple, not that this determines any kind of success, but it does act as a kind of feedback on the film. I would have loved someone to write a review of the film, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Movies and series are getting make-overs and revamps. Just look at the whole superhero genre that is doing so well. It isn’t a sin to improve and update an existing idea – it has been done successfully for decades. Would you do a revamp of the Interster series with actors if you had the opportunity?
I do know of someone who has been trying to buy the rights to Insterster for a long time, but without success. If they did end up giving up on it I would love to do something like it, yes. Even if it is a once-off film. Someone give us money, please!
As a creator of movies and art, what do streaming platforms such as Showmax mean to you?
I love the fact that we have digital platforms like Showmax that allow us to distribute something like an Afrikaans short film even further. In the past you relied mostly on festival screenings and never reached the average Joe in front of his TV. Showmax has unlocked that door and I love it!
- Best Director – Catharsis International Film Festival (Belgium)
- Best Film – Short to the Point (Bucharest)
- Best Short Film – Catharsis International Film Festival (Belgium)
- Best sci fi short – Aphrodite Film Awards (New York – USA)
- Best Editing – Short to the Point (Bucharest)
- Best Actor – Catharsis International Film Festival (Belgium)
- Best Visual Effects – London International Motion Pictures Awards (London, UK)
- China Microfilms film festival (Beijing, CHINA)
- Canada Shorts film festival (CANADA)
- Jelly Fest – (Hollywood USA)
- Move Me productions (Belgium)