Sunday 29 November 2020

Home - Academic - Seven Lessons I Learned From My Short Film: Tebogo Malebogo

24 Frames: In the third installment of Seven Lessons, we read from Writer and Director Tebogo Malebogo on his thriving film Mthunzi,” which had brought him an AFI Fest Award for Special Jury Prize (Live Action), along with its many other achievements, including a nomination for Locarno Film Festival’s Golden Leopard. 




Seven Lessons I Learned from Mthunzi

By Tebogo Malebogo





1. Understand your world


The experience of the film is amplified exponentially when you as the director have complete command and understanding of the world you’re creating. Not every film has to be autobiographical, but because I adapted a real event from my life, I found creating the tone of the film and communicating the themes we wanted to touch on relatively simple. It’s a lesson learned in retrospect as I branch into work that isn’t as autobiographical – your understanding of the world and space needs to be as visceral as if you’ve lived through it. 



2. The only way to get it out of your head is to make it


I sat on the idea for a few years before I ever imagined turning it into a film. I could write all the treatments and scripts I wanted, but ultimately all of that is in service of, and a blueprint for, the final film. My Co-Producer and I set a date to shoot the film because having a deadline to chase is one of the biggest motivators for us. Once those wheels begin to turn and you tell yourself that “come rain, sleet or shine, we will shoot our film in this window,” it demystifies the process and the checklist of what needs to be done. We put savings together and chased our vision. 





3. People are willing to help


We had Panavision and Panalux sponsor our project, and we received support from Priest Post Production as well. Our lead actors and DOP in particular also had degrees more experience than I. I was initially reticent to approach people I considered the best in their field for this particular project, as I had almost no previous work to show for it – I was just a young director with an idea. I think people are willing to help someone who has shown that they are a self-starter, and it’s a trait I’m constantly working to perfect. On the note of asking people who are experienced: 



4. Your crew probably has more experience than you


I was the least experienced HOD on set. My Producer / Editor had faith in me to bring this project home and to this day remains my closest collaborator. The fact of the matter is, you select people because you trust their vision and judgments. As a young director, chances are you’ve been in the director’s chair a lot less than your fellow HOD’s have done their job. The experience they bring to set is invaluable as what may seem like a big issue to you is just a Tuesday to them. This also doesn’t negate the fact that you should also network “horizontally,” by working with those who have the same aspirations as you. The other half of the crew were friends and recent film graduates who were eager to work on the project and learn as much as they could.





5. Never make films for specific festivals, the right premiere will find you.


Our initial plans for the film were surpassed by the eventual festival run. After playing in Locarno and New York, a whole world of possibilities opened up for us that we hadn’t planned on. If we had forced our initial release strategy onto the film, it wouldn’t have traveled as much as it did. There comes a certain point along with production where the film begins to grow legs and speak for itself. It’s important to know your product and trust your instinct. 



6. Know what to abandon


On day two of production, we decided not to shoot the original closing shot of our protagonist walking home reflecting on the events of the film. I felt that the emotion the actor had put into the penultimate scene of the film sufficed and adding any more imagery onto the film would have been superfluous. During our post-production phase, we found that a lot of the dialogue spoken in the first half of the film actually wasn’t necessary and over-expository. The actors’ nuance and actions carried more than the dialogue ever could, so we cut, cut, cut. The opening scenes of the film worked better the more visual they became, and spoke more honestly to one of the key themes of the story: Microaggressions. On the note of these details:



7. No detail is too small

On day two of production, we decided to add a jogger in the background of the opening shot of the film. The jogger’s action showed a microaggression towards the protagonist and even though the moment is two seconds and easy to miss, I felt it had to be added. Since first premiering, I’ve had people tell me that they notice this moment upon a second or third viewing, I think the fact that it isn’t apparent from the beginning enhances the experience as these microaggressions aren’t always noticed in real life either. I learned to trust that the audience is always one step ahead of you, so one should always reward their attention to detail.




On-set Photography by Gabriella Achadinha 

Poster Designer by Matthew Bradley

Portrait by Keith Virgo

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