Hello! Goodness- I have the honour of having known you (and your beautiful family!) for a quite a number of years and have been and continue to be, astounded at your level of mastery in filmmaking. For those who don’t know you, tell us a little of yourself.
Heya - well I was born in Pretoria, South Africa and raised in a "redneck" neighbourhood in the outskirts of Johannesburg called Kempton Park. My parents were missionaries when I was in primary school, so I learned a lot about the world from their stories and photos, and I think their passion for people and places were passed down to me. We moved to Dubai when I was 12, so I spent my teenage and early adult years in the Middle East. My parents now live in Barhain, and are looking to move to Saudi Arabia in the next couple of months. My wife and I moved to Sydney form Dubai when I was 25 and spent 3 years living in Balmain, before we decided to move to NYC with our 8 month old boy, Haryn. We've been living in NYC for the last 6 years, and have no intention of moving any time soon.
Where in the world are you as you answer these questions?
I'm currently in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York City, at my office - overlooking Manhattan in the distance. Its sounds like a dream - and I'm super thankful for it - but I just want to hit some waves post/mid COVID - so I'm looking for nearby tropical getaways that will allow US Greencard holders in ;)
What film project are you currently working on? (If you’re able to say!) Or what was your last project?
I've just finished writing a feature with a friend and we're trying to get it off the ground. The film is set in Brighton Beach/Coney Island, and follows three Russian Immigrant kids trying to hustle their way into the American Dream, by robbing other undocumented immigrants. We'll see how much love there will be for it, in this mental COVID landscape. I'm also developing another feature, and then working on a couple of shorts.
Working on film projects you are surrounded with a team and when they’re not personal projects you also have clients to deal with— how have you navigated working with others and the challenges that come along with that as well as the advantages of having a team?
Collaboration is such a pivotal part of the creative process. I'm VERY hands on, especially when it comes to post editing but I'm learning to let a lot of that stuff go, because there are so many people out there who are KILLER - way better than me. In my industry, communication is almost as important, if not more so, than your actual talent.
The ability to effectively communicate your ideas and concepts to your team, the client or artist, goes a long way for you to be able to realize your vision, and to get people on board and excited about what you have to offer.
As a director, how do you connect with the actors you are filming? Can you indulge us a little about working behind the scenes and practically what that has looked like.
A lot of my process involves trying to find people I have an honest connection with it. More often that not, I'm using real people - or actors with an ability to transform into someone more "real", less "stagey" I'm always looking for realism - and I find working with real people, gives the project that sense of authenticity and three-dimensionality. Thus I prefer doing street casting as opposed to conventional casting, as I think populating the world with authentic characters helps draw the audience in and it also produces a strange alchemy with the casted "actors". Its really important for me to have a set where it feels like actors have the right to fail - to try anything. It should be a place where they are allowed to "play" - when the creative environment becomes too "mature" or to "perfect", I find that I'll lose some magic from the cast. I typically don't like to over-discuss the material before we shoot, because I don't want to affect what they would instinctually bring to the table. The first take is always important to me, because I get to see what the actor's instincts are - and that take will often be the most surprising to me, because I've tried not to influence it too much. I'll then try and dial in the take if I feel like I need to. If I'm working with a good actor, I often don't have to say too much...it ends up being less of a creative conversation and more a technical one - louder, softer, faster, slower etc.
How would you define beauty?
That's an interesting one. I guess for me "beauty" has to be tempered with "broken-ness". I am not interested in perfection - I never have been. But for me to find something beautiful, there also has to be something vulnerable in it.
What are some of your biggest motivations as to why you create?
I think I've always been a rather curious person - and as I've mentioned, I think some of that came from my parents' early missionary years. Honestly, a lot of my motivations to create probably stems from that. I think these themes are pretty self-evident in my work - cultures, faith, family, meaning, suffering. I think I can pin a lot of my propensity for film-making or storytelling back to these themes, and back to my early years as a missionary kid.
Who would be some people you would love to work with, if you haven’t already?
Kanye West, Shia LaBeouf, James Blake, Joaquin Phoenix, Jerry Lorenzo
This is such a random memory but I recall you coming into General Pants when I worked there in Sydney years ago ( I was 19!) and you spoke of your film idea for anomaly and I remember just being absolutely captivated by your passion and your hunger to create. How do you maintain that passion and that hunger for creating? Especially in the midst of the trials and challenges of life.
Honestly, I don't know. I think people keep inspiring me, and it's a gift that keeps on giving. As long as people are doing weird, crazy, wild, beautiful, heartbreaking, surprising, stupid, horrible, shocking things...I'll always be inspired.
I think sometimes, the challenge is not to be overstimulated to the point of being aimless and direction-less. Focus is hard in this 100000000 mph social/ambition race. Avoiding burn-out is key to having a long-lasting drive and passion.
Who and what are some of your biggest influences?
Mmhmm, definitely Christianity, but I've been looking at a lot of early Christianity, the purer one, before the Crusades and that stuff. I hate the baggage that comes with faith - people tend to make it ugly. I do think there is something pure and beautiful in the message of Christ, and I think it got so distorted and messed with by people.
Other than that - Kanye, Shia, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, Paul Schrader, Jonathan Glazer, Young Fathers.
Every-time I watch one of your short films I am thirsty for more, I don’t want them to end! Do you desire to create feature length films one day?
Yeah, working on it - hopefully soon.
Okay, this is a tough question, but what would be one of your favourite film projects you have worked on thus far and why?
It's a tough one, but I have a couple for different reasons.
MEDICINE - I just fell in love with the two people in this film, and their story was very moving to me - they reminded me of my grandparents who, at the time, had just recently passed away.
MR MARTYR - I think from an aesthetic standpoint, this film is most closely connected to the type of work I wanted to be doing, and it was my first time shooting 16mm film for a project.
YOU WILL NOT HAVE MY HATRED - The Words of Antoine Leiris' Letter has impacted to me so much over the last couple of years.
What is one of the greatest challenges as an artist you have faced in the industry, that you can share?
Self-doubt. I think one inherent FACT about working in a creative industry, is that MOST PEOPLE feel like outsiders, and talentless frauds. That's definitely true for me. Second to self-doubt, is learning what it is that I want to/need to/have to say. Art is a vehicle for expression - so its important to try and crystallise your POV.
What advice would you give to those looking into creating films?
Similar to the ABOVE - find your voice - the thing you feel like you are put on this earth to say. Skill up in the technical aspects of film-making, by reading books, watching movies or gleaning from interviews with film-makers etc. Find a mentor - someone you admire who will be willing to be a guide and sounding-board to your ideas. But then figure out a way to put your own thoughts. ideas, life-message in a piece of fiction, or documentary.