HENK PRETORIUS TALKS ABOUT BAKGAT 2
NOTES BY WRITER-DIRECTOR HENK PRETORIUS Read interview with Henk Pretorius
With this movie I wanted bring across a universal theme in Afrikaans. This goal was shared by producer, Danie Bester from the start. We basically wanted to make a Hollywood-type movie in Afrikaans. Each character in Bakgat! is someone that the audience can relate to. The plot development in Bakgat! is also relevant. The story takes place in high school and the search for individuality and identity becomes a relevant theme. I wanted to make a movie that everyone can enjoy, understand and identify with. I wanted a movie that would fill theatre seats and entertain the audience without demanding too much soul searching. I believe that people go the movies to relax and Bakgat! provides pure enjoyment.
To create a commercial movie like Bakgat! was a lot harder than I initially anticipated. It's so important not to underestimate your audience, therefore I had to ensure that all the elements of a good story is present in Bakgat! The script needed a strong theme, believable characters, a couple of surprises and a whole bunch of hot guys and girls! I really needed the rehearsals, which went on for over six months. I'm from a theatre backround and I have a huge amount of respect for the actors' opinions and suggestions. We rehearsed more than any international production I've ever heard of, and I really think a lot of the movie's success thus far can be attributed to our extended rehearsal time.
I wanted to create the movie around the actors and, together with my director of photography (DOP) Tom Marais, planned all my shots around them after rehearsals. The camera was blocked around the actors, so to speak. This method helped the actors to forget about the camera and to concentrate on the moment. Tom Marais was very patient and explained everything to me in great detail. We decided to stick to really simple shots, which gives the movie a really organic feel. One never gets the feeling that the story is controlled by the medium. Tom has a good understanding of drama and is able to focus on character development in stead of ambitious camera tricks. He also reblocked characters to create depth a couple of times.
My Production Designer, Michelle Venter was my saving grace on set. Danie gave her clear instructions to give me advice, should there be something that I don't understand. I only shot two scenes without her. The two of us discussed everything in detail before and after each scene. We wanted the movie to have a progressive feel and we wanted the audience to really relate to the characters. We gave each character a little something special. This had to come across visually too, and we took great care in finding the right types of houses and locations for the shoots. Each screen had to say something about the character and where exactly he or she was in the story. Sometimes it took over an hour to set up a shot, which had the producer sweating bullets, but I do believe that it was worth the effort.
The sound design in Bakgat! was done by Basiami Segola. She also recorded on set and was quiet as a mouse throughout. She worked really hard and put me in my place if I laughed while filming. I was in trouble a lot! At the moment she's working on Bakgat! in studio and I really look forward to hearing her work. We decided to keep the sound as natural as possible. We intend on giving some of the action sequences a little weight through clever sound design. Soundwise, the rugby scenes are the hardest to do. It takes a lot to make a rugby scene sound realistic. The actors were battered and bruised after each tacle and I also ate some dirt when Ivan Botha tackled me. See if you can spot the scene.
CA van Aswegen edited the movie. His natural feel for rhythm and the shots he selected impressed me from the word go. We had to cut a scene here and there, but he really hit the nail on the head throughout. He was involved in screenplay development and casting and knows the story inside out. CA also chose most of the music. We decided on an alternative, contemporary soundtrack, which will eventually be on sale at all major retailers. CA also came up with the idea to make the final scene a television broadcast. The commentary added drama, raised the stakes of the game and improved the tempo of the scene.
Benjamin Willem composed all original music in Bakgat! According to Danie he is the new Danny Elfman and we can count our lucky stars that a Hollywood producer didn't get his hands on Benjamin first! I realized that Benjamin is a musical wizard when I listened to his compositions. He's currently working on Bakgat! and I'm so excited to see what he comes up with. We decided to stick to an alternative feel, with a little classical music here and there. I slept like a baby while Benjamin and CA met at 2am to discuss the music. Strange bunch, these film-types!
Bakgat! is exactly what I hoped it would be, and so much more! I'm really proud of everyone who helped in making it a reality. I'm positive that this movie will be a landmark in the local film industry!
Henk Pretorius matriculated from Hoërskool Waterkloof in 2000. He studied at AFDA directly after school, where he directed more than 15 theatre productions. He graduated with distinction in 2003. He was nominated for best theatre director, best scripwriter and best actor at the AFDA awards. He acted in various soaps and television series such as Egoli, 7de Laan, One Way and Ietermagö. At the moment he's working on three feature films - a drama called Golfish, the comedy Jiving Jews and the teenage comedy Bakgat! Somervakansie. He acted in the short films I got rage and Four Days. In 2007 he was screenplay assistant on the soap opera Villa Rosa, where he developed fresh story ideas. He is one of the directors of Piheno Investments PTY, an investment company that specializes in property development. He is currently working on Bakgat!, a teenage comedy that will be released in local theatres in 2008. Henk is determined to become an internationally known filmmaker and will focus on commercial movies.
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY
It was one of those hot summer days. I just received feedback from my latest film screenplay, Jiving Jews, which I gave to Danie (Bester) to read. After a year and a bit of writing, planning, contemplating, wondering and rewriting I was positive that he would like the screenplay; I was also optimistic about it as it was the second screenplay I had pitched to him. I had pitched my first screenplay to him about a year and four months before and according to my naïve opinion it would be the first South African movie to make it into the international market.
Well, like I said, it was a very hot day and the last thing I needed was yet another rejection. However, that is something rather unavoidable when you are nuts enough to choose to dedicate your life to the entertainment industry. And here I am sitting in my Tazz, an old model without aircon, wondering while waiting for the light to turn green" "How did I end up here?"
Danie had rejected Jiving Jews - for more or less the same reason as Goldfish. He wasn't sure the movie had a market. He thought an Afrikaans market would rather watch a 100% Afrikaans film than something in between. The big problem with Danie's reasoning is that it usually makes sense and that he rejects you so diplomacy (and with empathy) that you can't help seeing his point. After that you look at your 'masterpiece' and can almost see the imaginary phrase: "Nice try, but not there yet!" written on it.
I was thinking that all my friends have secure jobs with big companies; they go on overseas holidays and drive luxurious cars with beautiful blonde babes as passengers. And here I am sitting, alone, in my Tazz - not that I am complaining about Toyota, the car has more than 150 000km on the clock and it's still has a whole lot of 1300 zoom left in it! But this is not how I expected my life to turn out. I at least thought I would have owned a mansion with a swimming pool and a whole lot of girls in bikinis serving me cocktails by now! I mean really, is that too much to ask?
That's when the idea hit me! What about writing a story about a normal guy who has a dream to become something nobody expected of him thinks he would be. And that is how Wimpie Koekemoer was born. The biggest geek in 'Hoërskool Waterkloof' who becomes the school hero - naturally with the help of the most beautiful girl in the school - Katrien Swanepoel. Throw in a couple of unexpected surprises and twits to the story and there you have a recipe for a hit movie: a Hollywood storyline in Afrikaans. The best of both worlds!
When that traffic light turned green, I made a daring U-turn and went back to Danie to harass him with my new concept. He immediately saw the potential in the project and helped me develop it into - Bakgat - the first Afrikaans teen comedy ever! Middle next year you can go and share my joy in making an entertaining movie when you will have the opportunity to see Bakgat on the big screen.
WHAT IS BAKGAT?
Bakgat is the first Afrikaans feature film that were primarily produced for a youth market. The movie was released countrywide in cinemas in 2008.
Bakgat is a contemporary Afrikaans teen movie about the lives and times of a group of students in high school. Schoolboy rugby is used as a backdrop and instigator for comedy, drama and romance. The movie is set in the present day.
"Before Bakgat I looked at two scripts written by Henk Pretorius. Both times I felt that the projects were not suited for the specific market I wanted to target. It became very clear that Henk was very determined and that he was not going to give up. We discussed a couple of ideas and together we fleshed out a high school teen comedy. We both realised that the project had great potential and immediately started with its development phase. The project has gone through various stages of development since June 2006. We selected a very exciting group of young actors to play the lead roles and were lucky enough to attract a few "old hands" to round of the cast.
"The movie is set in Waterkloof High School in Pretoria and uses school rugby as the backdrop for drama, romance and comedy. Since rugby plays such an important role in Afrikaans culture and because there are lots of pretty girls in the movie, I think guys would want to see the film. The cute boys, drama, romance and heartthrob Ivan Botha will make the female audiences' hearts' beat faster. Everyone, whether in South Africa or somewhere else in the world, will be able to identify with the characters, their daily activities and the pressures they face as young adults."
"Even though Bakgat targets predominantly a youth market, we realised that we will be able to interest a slightly older market as well as the parent market who wants insight into the lives, culture and activities of their children."
FROM THE DIARY OF HENK PRETORIUS
We just watched Bakgat! with distributors Ster Kinekor and I'm so incredibly proud! I'm so excited and I'm not sure if I should laugh or cry. This is exactly the type of feeling that made me fall in love with movies as a teenager and why I'm in the film industry at the moment!
Pre-production I remember the day, over a year and a half ago, that I took the first draft of Bakgat! to Danie Bester. He must have been quite sceptical when he saw the bunch of papers. No international production house would have given me the time of day. We went through the heap of papers together and I had to go back to the drawing board, so to speak. This was a process that we repeated for three months before I had the first proper draft. Danie wanted to do the casting before we approached investors. According to him, your project had to have a couple of faces before you ask for money. We did audition after audition for two moths and eventually decided on nine fresh faces. In the months that followed, we approached everyone that we know and their aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends. To get money is always a challenge and we needed a business plan of note. Danie came up with a plan that impressed even the most ardent businessmen. The screenplay kept developing during rehearsals thanks to the input from actors and eventually everyone realized that Bakgat! is a reality. Some of the actors had so much faith in the project that they actually invested in it. This was the biggest compliment that anyone has ever given me and I promised myself that I would do anything in my power to make Bakgat! a success.
Danie told me about Michelle Venter, a talented Production Designer from Cape Town. He described her as "a miracle who will constantly oppose you, but who will make your movie a visual feast". Michelle and I met and clicked instantly. She was so excited about the screenplay and even made a few suggestions, most of which I ended up using. I re-wrote the last 20 pages of the screenplay on her request and everybody was happy with the screenplay by the sixteenth draft. I started planning shots with DOP Tom Marais, while Production Manager Danie and Co-Producer Lucia Meyer started putting the pieces of the project together. We were finally ready to start shooting and I'm as proud as I am relieved to say that we started shooting Bakgat! on the intended date.
Production After shooting the first scene of Bakgat!, I suddenly realized that this project no longer belongs to only me. I was sharing an idea that formed in my head ages ago with a whole group of actors and a production team. My story was suddenly everyone's story. It's such a privilege to be the captain of such an enormous and important creative ship.
The production of Bakgat! presented us with a whole bunch of challenges and we constantly had to think on our feet. Scenes had to be planned out thoroughly and the lead actors rehearsed for over six months. Rehearsals make a huge difference, especially when one is pressed for time. We stuggled to finish on time and the production team worked overtime every day. I think everyone on set knew that they were involved with a project that has the ability to exceed everyone's expectations. To be honest, most of the shooting of Bakgat! is a bit of a blur. It felt like I was in the army and it was my responsibility to ensure that my unit survived the ordeal without too much damage. Danie accused me of focusing so much that I completely lost my sense of humour. I do remember that I wouldn't stop shooting a scene until it was perfect and I was completely happy. The longest scene took 23 takes. We shot half of it on one day and then had to work on it again the next day, because I changed the scene. On our small budget, it was an enormous amount of takes, but we refused to compromise on our standards. The toughest day was shooting the matric farewell. I fell ill the previous day and had to shoot for 18 long hours. I also did an interview on Kwêla and I can't remember a single word that was spoken. After the matric farewell scene, everyone started taking heart. The last week was loads of fun, except for the last day. We had to film a whole bunch of pick up shots and a big part of a rugby match. We finished before dark and went to Hatfield to have a couple of drinks with a friend. It was so weird to wrap up a project that you've been dreaming of doing for years. I had my first movie in the can, as the saying goes, but I didn't really want to think about it. I went to bed early.
Post-production The day after the last day of shooting the team got together for the wrap party. A lot tends to happen at these events and it's probably wiser not to say too much about it. I remember that I had quite a few beers and discussed my next two movies with Danie. I was a wrek for two weeks after the wrap party and then started working on Bakgat 2. Why stop at one if you have something that really works?
The clever folks will keep working on Bakgat! until the sound and music is perfect. CA van Aswegen will keep cutting until Bakgat! kicks ass.
The first Ster Kinekor screening I've just returned from the first screening of Bakgat! at Ster Kinekor. The audience was made up of teenagers between 13 and 18 years old, from all races and language groups in South Africa. I have to admit that I felt quite nervous before the movie started. I wasn't sure if and how the audience would react to Bakgat! I always find it strange to see how different audiences react to the same movie. You can really tell the difference by the scenes that people laugh at. I literally counted the amount of times that the audience laughed when the movie started, but eventually I relaxed and was swept away by the story. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized how the atmosphere in the theatre changed after the movie. Everyone was cheery and talked about the scenes they liked the most. The Production Manager and Co-Producer, Lucia, overheard girls in the bathroom talking about how hot Wimpie Koekemoer is. One girl even said she wouldn't mind becoming Mrs Koekemoer!
Ster Kinekor handed out forms that the audience had to fill out. I'm proud to say the movie got incredibly high ratings. This is especially impressive when you take into account that 80% of the audience don't speak Afrikaans. We answered the audience's questions after the screening and I was once again surprised at how visually literate teenagers are. They immediately understood the story, skêr-ed one another after the screening and put forward some very good questions. We had a short meeting before we went back to the office to discuss the final touches to get Bakgat! ready for the big day!
11 April 2008 is creeping closer and I can't wait!
Why Hoërskool Waterkloof? I handed over the fourth draft of the script to Bromley Cawood. He gave it back to me with a whole bunch of notes and the words, "I hope you have LOADS of money" written in bold letters on the title page. I never commented on that, because both Danie and myself realized that this movie was an incredibly ambitious project that could only see the light of day if we worked with a high school. We approached Hoërskool Waterkloof and they were on board immediately. I attended Hoërskool Waterkloof and I wanted to give something back to the institution where I had some of the best times of my life. It was weird being back at school and for the first few days on set, I felt like I was bunking class. We had access to their kit room and we were allowed to film one of their rugby matches. We also used some of their drama students and shot scenes in the classrooms after hours. It was a great privilege and we will always be greatful for their support in making Bakgat! a reality.
The Bakgat Roadtrip! Danie came up with the idea to promote Bakgat! along the South African coast over the December holidays. We wanted to stop at beaches between Margate and Cape Town and hand out Bakgat! postcards, stickers, condoms and matchboxes. The tour kicked off on 17 December 2007 and we were only back home on 4 January 2008.
I realized that we have gold on our hands while we were promoting Bakgat! on the beaches. This is the type of movie that everyone wants to know more about. We handed out thousands of postcards and answered almost as many questions. The actors even got a taste of Hollywood when some happy beach-goers wanted to take photos with them and get their autographs. Visiting all those beaches was hard work, but we were determined to tell as many people as possible about Bakgat!
It was such an awesome feeling to see how people studied the postcards and enjoyed the humour. The feedback was incredible and everyone promised to go see the movie as soon as it's released. Everyone shared the Bakgat! spirit and I realized once again how much fun it is to make a local film in Afrikaans.
Finally I started dreaming about making a movie about ten years ago, when I was in standard eight. At the time, I had no idea how to make this dream a reality. All I knew was that I wanted to create something that would make people believe in magic. My dream became a goal when I started studying at AFDA, a film and drama school. I was unemployed for a whole year after school and my goal became an obsession. I wrote two movies, neither of which was ever made. I remember lying awake at night in that year, doubting my choices. I even considered studying something else for a while. My obsession finally became a reality when Danie and I started working on Bakgat! I started working on the first draft of Bakgat! three years after I completed my degree. Bakgat! was made possible through a group of brilliant actors, a passionate production team and a loyal Afrikaans audience. Today I believe that anyone can achieve anything if they really, really want it. Magic!
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