READ INTERVIEW WITH WRITER-DIRECTOR JOSHUA ROUS
Monique, a high class escort, has always been able to give her clients exactly what they want, while clean cut Thomas has always been exactly what everyone has expected. But tonight Thomas' curiosity is going to get the better of him while demanding of Monique the one thing she's reluctant to offer… Honesty, costs more.
Sometimes the greatest journey is the distance between two people. For Monique, the prostitute, and Thomas, the Christian, that journey begins tonight.
Discreet explores how well two people from complete opposite sides of the moral spectrum can really get to know one another in 80 minutes of real time. How honest can two complete strangers really be with one another, and what would the effect of that honesty be on their lives?
In a society that promotes sexual promiscuity and where true honesty is a rare commodity, Monique and Thomas take the audience on a funny, poignant and brutal journey of self-examination.
Director's Statement: Joshua Rous
Directing Discreet was the opportunity for me to start a discussion about the two topics our society is obsessed with: sex and honesty. Sex has become commonplace.
We use it as a punch line in advertising, music, films, and everyday conversation. Honesty is the opposite. We've become a society embarrassed by honesty. It's the dirty secret relegated to the hopelessly naïve who don't know how to cut it in a world run by sarcasm, wit and duplicity. I wanted to make a movie that pits these two issues against one another in an attempt to show how closely linked they are.
Adam and Eve's fig leaves have been moved from below the waist to in front of the eyes. No longer is shame associated with nakedness and sexuality. These days we are afraid to expose our souls to one another.
Discreet was just the vehicle to explore this fascinating paradox. Set almost completely in one location and playing out in real time, the film is an exercise in placing one very pertinent issue under the microscope and then peeling back layer after layer of it. After all, who better to talk about sex and honesty than a prostitute and a Christian, the two people most often thought of as hypocrites in their own field of expertise?
The thrill of directing a film like this lay in it never being just a theoretical discussion. The questions Thomas asks about sex are interesting, but they become riveting when he's putting them to a prostitute whose primary defence to answering them honestly is to tempt him into having sex with her. In the same way, Monique's overt sexuality is provocative, but it becomes intriguing when it's constantly revealed as nothing more than a performance by Thomas, an innocent whose only defense is blunt honesty.
The challenges for me as a director lay in intricately mapping out the power struggle these two diametrically opposed characters would travel together whilst all the while drawing them closer and closer to each other. After all, what greater directing challenge is there than a love story between two people unable to fall in love with one another?
How it started...
Having won 6 SAFTA's (South African Film & Television Awards) in the TV category (including Best Writing Team and Best Sitcom) and with Joshua Rous having scooped up the award for Best Director in the Short Film category, Black Brain Pictures are confidently venturing into the full length feature film arena.
Joining them on this exciting endeavour is the Scramble Productions team comprising of celebrity couple, James and Anel Alexander. James (Project Fame, Binnelanders, Isidingo) and Anel (7de Laan, Amalia 2, Binnelanders) took time off from their busy shooting schedules to commit their performances as the characters Monique and Thomas to film.
The story so far...
In early 2005, James Alexander and Joshua Rous started working on an idea for a play which had been in James' mind for a couple of years. It was the simple concept of a conversation about love & faith, honesty & deceit between a cynic and a romantic.
After spending a great deal of time researching their scenario and more importantly the characters, they started putting together a story which offers a voyeuristic, revealing glimpse into the minds of both the characters, Monique, a high class call girl and Thomas, her conservative, Christian client.
Not many people are familiar with the world of high class escorts. As opposed to the typical girl on the street, these ladies are generally intelligent, high earning courtesans who have entered this line of work
by choice rather than by circumstance.
Dr Elna McIntosh, a renowned clinical sexologist, who worked for 5 years with the ladies at the notorious 'Ranch' in Johannesburg, and sexologist, Marlene Wasserman, were a vital gateway of insight into the character of Monique. The team also spent a lot of time talking to working girls in Johannesburg, most of who were very willing to share some of the more intimate details of the life of Monique. They also offered insightful views into the minds of their clients, having encountered more than one Thomas in their careers.
3 months and 12 drafts later, Discreet Upmarket 24/7 hit the stage and was an instant success. The play went on to tour Pretoria, Grahamstown, Kimberley and Oudtshoorn in both English and Afrikaans, consistently reaching into the hearts and minds of audiences with its poignant honesty.
It seemed a simple step to the next logical conclusion: "Let's allow this be what it was always supposed to be: a full length feature film." All heads around the table nodded and it was agreed that in April of 2007, Discreet would be filmed.
Raising the Finances...
Raising financing for films in SA is no easy task. With far more pressing issues facing the country, the government's attempt at supporting and developing the arts, although gallant, often seems quite token. Couple that with the fact that SA represents approximately 0.5% of the world's cinema going audience and it appears there is little hope for the local movie industry.
Fortunately though, film-makers are tenacious and determined by nature and the producers of Discreet, fall slap bang into the middle of that pool. Not prepared to wait for a hand out, the producers secured private funding in order to make their dream a reality.
It was trial and error though. From showing the piece in theatre form to potential investors, to cold calling individuals they thought may have more money than they know what to do with, the producers hit brick wall after brick wall. Eventually, they decided to go for broke and borrowed money to put together an impressive evening of tv and film showreels, in a large cinema. The idea was to show the investors what this team of highly talented individuals had already been able to achieve in their various skill areas, and then promise to do it again in a feature film, with the investors money.
The idea worked! Hugely impressed by what they saw on the big screen and sold by the teams passion and professionalism, investors couldn't wait to have their named attached to the compelling story which would be Discreet. The model was then repeated in smaller, more intimate settings fewer select individuals. The result though, was always the same: people wanted to be a part of this dream.
Of course, it wasn't all emotional. As far as investments go, the producers made the offer very attractive. High risk, yes, but also very high reward.
Believing that their efforts would reap rewards, the producers agreed to defer all their own costs and only recoup their spend once investors had received their initial investment plus interest back.
Even then, the producers profit would be split 50/50 with the investors at this later stage.
So far the team has had nothing but support and encouragement from the investors behind them.
There's something magical about being involved in the world of movie-making and there isn't one producer who isn't excited about seeing their name up on the big screen or being able to say at a dinner party, 'I made that film happen'. For the producers it was also a clear sign that people are still are keen on supporting and developing local talent. Even more than that though, they want to see their stories on the big screen.
Whatever their motivation for investing, one thing's for sure: the model allows for local films to actually get made. By smartly managing their budget, the producers have been able to make a local art house film which looks and feels international.
What the box office will bring in, remains to be seen but with an 80% positive response from independent test screenings, the producers (and investors) are hopeful. It's a model the producers hope other independent film-makers will employ to help us put more local stories on our and the world's silver screens.
JOSHUA ROUS: DIRECTOR & WRITER
Joshua Rous is an award winning Writer/Director who has worked and studied in both theatre and film in South Africa, Oxford, Boston and Los Angeles.
Having attained his Master of Fine Arts in Film Production from the University of Southern California, he worked for a year as an editor and director in Hollywood.
Joshua's music video Tragic Laughter, commissioned by Yo Yo Ma, was released by Sony Classical in May of 2005.
Other achievements include winning SAFTA Golden Horns as Best Director & Best Short Film at the Durban International Film Festival for his short film Sibahle. He has also received a SAFTA for Best Writing Team and Best New Sitcom for City Ses'la. Joshua also won the audience award for his short film The Atkins Angels at The Los Angeles Instant Film Festival. He gained experience working with Adam Schroeder Entertainment at Warner Brothers, and has been personally mentored by Oscar winners Robert C. Jones and Mark Harris.
Josh returned to SA in 2004 and has become a Head Creative and In-House Director at Black Brain Pictures. He is currently directing a new sitcom series for SABC, Ekskuus.
About adapting the stage play to a screenplay
It's always tricky making a film out of a play, but was made significantly easier on Discreet because it was always originally conceived as a film rather than as a play. Once we moved it out of the theatre, it became the very intimate story we'd always wanted it to be, and had always struggled to maintain in theatres which seated more than 100 people. While it presented an interesting challenge to re-block and choreograph interesting movement out of a relatively static play, the benefits of getting to take the audience right up close to the actors, into the very sweat and tears of what they're going through, far outweighed the difficulties we faced.
About the research
We spent considerable time speaking to sex workers and sex professionals including prostitutes and sex therapists. We also read a fair number of books, both fiction and non-fiction accounts of prostitutes and their everyday lives.
About raising funds
Basically by begging the average man on the street to invest in our film. There was a lot more finesse involved, and most of those average men tended to be close personal acquaintances, but ultimately we
sold them a great idea, a ton of commitment from our side, and the possibility to be involved as Associate Producers on a locally produced South African Feature Film.
About working with your best friend
Well if I didn't hire the guy, who the hell would? No, it was great. It was fun, frustrating and hugely creative all at the same time. There's a degree of trust there that takes a life time to build up with other people. Also, there are things you can ask for, that you couldn't maybe ask from just anyone, like a back rub after a long shoot day. But seriously, communication is faster, jokes are funnier, and risks can be bigger.
Is there a future for independent films in SA?
If there is it is hugely dependent on Filmmakers wising up and making movies that build audiences. As it is we have a minute theatre-going audience that simply can't support the cost of making films. Unless
we can grow that audience base, it's unlikely the South African independent film will ever escape the very limiting bounds of stories about Aids and Apartheid.
JAMES ALEXANDER: PERFORMER & WRITER
One of South Africa's up and coming leading men, James Alexander, is a versatile performer in both English and Afrikaans. A natural talent, he has honed his skills over 6 years of working professionally and involving himself in exciting and challenging projects.
His theatre career has seen him perform in comedies such as Alan Ayckbourn's Damsels in Distress for Pieter Toerien, to the timeless drama Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen, playing opposite the great Trix Pienaar.
On TV he has done everything from live presenting on the hit M-Net reality show Project Fame to acting in popular soapie-dramas like Binnelanders.
Film though, is where James' real passion lies. Having played the leading role in The Eastern Bride, a Dutch / SA co-production and appearing in the BBC's most expensive mini-series ever made, To the Ends of the Earth, James showed himself to have a captivating on-screen presence. Continually developing himself, James started to hone his writing skills with the popular play Discreet Upmarket 24/7. He subsequently enjoyed being a part of the writing team for the hugely popular SABC comedy series, City Ses'La. He continues to develop stories for both theatre and TV whilst pursuing his primary passion, performing.
James is currently on Isidingo playing opposite the infamous Barker Haines aka Robert Whitehead.
Adapting the stage play to a screenplay
Discreet was always destined to be a movie and I guess now I look at those times in the theater as worskshops which prepared us for the filming. The big challenge with the adaptation was to find a way to tap into the visual aspect of film, to keep it interesting. A lot of creativity was called for. Other than that, the most work went into deepening Anel's character, who we felt we had previously shortchanged. Lots of interesting reading, meetings and interviews with working girls! I really feel we presented an interesting version of the character in the film. It's great to see it become what we always felt it should be.
Where did the idea for the story come from?
The basic concept was to write a story which first of all challenges people on the issue of honesty and secondly to confront stereotypes that exist in our society. After hearing of an event similar to what happens in the movie, I decided that it would be a great vehicle for exploring very pertinent issues in our society. I shared the idea with Anel and we decided that to really be able to do it justice, we would put it on ice for a while and wait until we had been married for a couple of years before we chose to explore it. I shared the idea with Josh after he got back from studying film in Hollywood and after many, many initial drafts, we felt we finally had a story which people would be able to identify with.
What type of research did you do?
We read a lot and watched a lot of doccies and movies. Sexologist, Dr Elna McIntosh was invaluable in supplying us with interesting info on the industry and the girls. We met a lot of working girls and strippers too and that was where the real depth regarding Anel's character came from. It was eye opening! Thomas, my character was pretty much a reflection of a lot of the guys that Josh and I grew up with, so he wasn't as difficult to get a handle on. We also had the privilege of talking to some couples who had been through a similar experience and they were very helpful in pointing us to the heart of a lot of the issues the film deals with.
Working with your best friend?
I would do it again, tomorrow. On the one hand it was really rewarding cos we know each other so well and trust each other. On the other hand, it was sometimes difficult to rise above the expectations and pre-conceptions we have of each other which have developed over the years. I think it's dangerous to work with people you are good friends with, it can really screw a relationship up. Thanks to God's grace and a few heated, honest conversations, I feel the relationship only benefited from the experience.
How did you raise the funds?
OH MAN! Money! First, I tried to sell my body, and saw it as part of the research process. I made R250, having seen 125 clients and it was then that we realized there must be other ways… We started cold-calling people we thought might have money, be curious about an interesting investment opportunity and want to support local cinema ie, doctors and dentists. We had reasonable success. Of the approximately 150 we called, 1 said that he might be interested. We're still waiting for his deposit.
After a few more fairly uninteresting attempts at finding the elusive capital, we eventually went balls-to the- wall, hired a massive cinema, gave away free alcohol and food and screened the best we had of the movie and TV work which the team had done. We invited everybody we could and asked them to invite anybody who wanted free food or had money to give away. I don't know if it was the impressive presentation and showreels or the alcohol but we managed to secure a couple of hundred thousand rand and the dream looked like it could become a reality.
Exhausted by that rather taxing experience, we now only meet with small groups of people we think are serious about investing and schmooze them! At the time of writing this, we're waiting for feedback on support from some local organizations. The bills aren't waiting though. Enter the character of the Credit Card!
ANEL ALEXANDER: PRODUCER & PERFOMER
Anel Alexander is most known for her roles in two of South Africa's most popular, local daily soap operas. In 7de Laan, she won the nation's heart as the shy Liesl and then went on to show her versatility by playing the drug troubled Nina in M-Net's Binnelanders.
Believing that one must never underestimate the power of hard work, Anel started her professional career whilst still studying Drama at the University of Pretoria. She appeared at the State Theatre in the musicals The Witness and Jesu - An African Portrait and also joined theatre legend Nicholas Ellenbogen on stage at the KKNK in the play The Calitzdorp Passion. She graduated Cum Laude in 2002 and stepped out of varsity onto the books of one of the top agents in SA's showbiz industry.
Soon she was seen showing off her musical and dancing abilities in the cabaret show Blondes but it wasn't long before she found herself snatched up by 7de Laan to play their 'ugly duckling turns swan beauty', Liesl. Since then, she's been in front of the camera involved in well known TV shows like, Zero Tolerance 3, Amalia 2, City Ses'la and Hillside 1.
In between her TV work Anel's love for the theatre has kept her involved in many arts festival productions, of which a highlight was Bosryk where she shared the stage with Afrikaans theatre icon, Gys de Villiers. She also co-produced and performed in the popular Discreet, Upmarket, 24/7 at the Grahamstown National Artsfestival (2005 & 2006) and KKNK (2006).
At the end of 2007 Anel starred opposite Steve Hofmeyr as his wife in the Afrikaans musical Dis hoe dit was- Die Steve Hofmeyr Storie in the State Theatre. She also made another guest appearance on Binnelanders as, the hopefully now less troubled, Nina. Recently, Anel decided to try her hand at presenting and was seen as the female anchor for SABC 2's magazine show, 3:16. The presenting bug bit and Anel is currently presenting the spicy arts and entertainment program, Artcha, on SABC 2.
Anel's primary passion though is film, and together with her husband, James, and their company, Scramble Productions, she produced the soon to be seen independent film Discreet. Not only did she organise, promote and secure the funding for the film, but she also plays the leading lady.
In between her work in the local entertainment industry, Anel is a dedicated wife to husband, James, and places a lot of importance on her close relationships with family and friends. She realises that in an industry which is fickle and subjective, one needs to find stability elsewhere and for her, that stability is her faith and her loved ones.
MEREN REDDY: PRODUCER
Meren Reddy matriculated from the National School of the Arts with exemption after which he completed an undergraduate and post graduate degree from AFDA. He majored in Physical Performance, Performance for Film and Stage, Writing and Producing and believes that the world has too much information and that there's too much to learn for people to be interested in just one thing.
Meren co-created City Ses'La and worked as one of the core writers on the show. Currently brokering deals with Sprite, Renault and FNB for corporates and commercials being produced by Black Brain Pictures, he is fast becoming one of the power players in South African film and television.
With various hit theatre productions to his name, among them De Wet's Dream, Baie Nice, Reddy Steady Go, and Fly, Meren is one of the authorities on top class theatre. He
is currently developing The Big 5, an action adventure show scheduled to be launched throughout Africa in 2008 and will be seen as the villain in Mr Bones 2, starring opposite Leon Schuster.
PROUDLY SOUTH AFRICAN FILMMAKING