Inspired by what he saw and liked in Love Jones and after many attempts to kickstart the project that has been formulating in his mind, the opportunity to film a love story finally presented itself to Akin in 2010.
He received a grant from The African Women’s Development Fund and come 2015, we will get to partake in the fruits of labour of Akin, his cast and his crew once Tell Me Sweet Something is released.
After the funding was granted, he was then asked to “get a bunch of actors together” to create a film. He wanted the initial stages to be an organic process so he hired the actors and worked with them for a month (at first). He then went off and wrote some more and received another grant in 2011 with which he was able to add more actors to the project. That workshop preceded a two-year writing process and the hunt for more funding. “Obviously someone has to write the script, so… me and my partner Robbie Thorpe… the film you watch, we wrote the script. But the ideas and everything stemmed from an organic process” he says. The film was also funded by Mvest Media, Red Pepper Pictures, The National Film and Video Foundation, PANA TV and some crowd funders like David Kau.
The idea of a love story set in Johannesburg amongst a creative community of people was the initial vision and that always remained the same. How the characters were developed and what situations they faced, that is what changed over time. “It got better as we went along” he adds.
Researching the film led me to conclude that the entire project was well thought-out. When asked about that, Akin said after four years in the making “you are thinking about something, working with people who are creative and as we went along, those ideas just got stronger and stronger… so yeah, it is well thought out. That is why I brought in someone like Victor (Dlamini, the onset photographer) because apart from the fact that Victor is a talented guy we have to start to take pride in the work we do. So, the short answer is, Yes. Alll those things are very thought out.”
Rififi Pictures (the production company started by Akin and Robbie Thorpe) is open to anything in terms of going international but the emphasis will always be starting on our own continent first because Akin believes that it will be good to keep on telling stories, African stories in particular. They are story-tellers after all so they would never say no to an opportunity to expand and explore. The team has not yet decided on whether they will be entering the film into any festivals but Akin says they are exploring all avenues. Ultimately, the film is being made for local audiences.
On the flipside of local audiences, he believes that our “small” industry has potential to grow and says that “if being part of South African media is what you really want then you will make it happen. Nothing comes easy and no one is going to hand you anything. I studied drama. I didn’t go to film school. When I wanted to become a film-maker, I went and I did the work to get there.” He also considers the role that youth culture plays in the media to be very exciting and believes that it should all be encouraged. It allows him to work with people like Nomzamo Mbatha and Maps Maponyane and that is always good.
Bang on schedule, I arrived on set on day 23 of a 24-day shoot and ended up scoring a ton of unexpected but awesome interviews.
Rapper, producer and The Principal; Ammunition was the first in that line of unexpected interviews. On set to shoot a little cameo of sorts and true that Amu humor, he described his very short role “the highlight of the movie.” He described a day on set as involving “massages, which I didn’t get today so I assuming that is still coming… and it a lot of rushing and waiting. And more waiting. And more waiting.” When asked what his 18-year-old self would say if someone told him – with 100 percent certainty – that he would be where he is now, he responds “Amu would say yeah, he was destined to be that guy. [At that age] I always thought of myself as an entertainer so whether it was music or film – which I am still trying to decide if I want to do – I could always see myself kind of doing this.”
What followed was an interval of me letting everyone do their work seeing as a movie set has a very tight schedule and everyone is pushing to get their work done on schedule. “Time is money people!”
Jack of all trades (and judging by the rise of his career) master of them all, Maps Maponyane has mastered human interaction too. Mr. WeChat arrived on set a little while after we all had lunch (sidenote: movie set lunch happens a little later than lunchtime in everyday life). Excited to his coworkers, especially Victor Dlamini, Maps started by doing the rounds, dispensing hugs and handshakes. He is extremely chatty and quite a breeze to interview.
In the film, he plays the role of Nat Masilo; a model who has never read a book in his life but despite the superficial industry he works in, he wants to be seen as more than his looks. That is why Maps believes his character falls for Moratiwa – a character that he describes as an aspiring writer who is insanely intelligent and has an incredible mind. “She is known for her brain long before her looks besides the fact that she is strikingly beautiful” he adds. To him, what makes it such a beautiful story is the connection between how they affect each other, how he finds everything in her that he doesn’t have and how that is what makes her beautiful to him.
He describes Akin as “the cream of the crop, the best possible director that you can imagine.. so chilled, so cool… he’s like the MAN.” He also described how Akin has managed to build relationships with and amongst the set before doing the most eerily accurate impression of Akin.
He too is thrilled about the fact that our industry is producing and putting out more local content as well as how that bodes well for media and the youth in the long run. “It’s great that more and more of the youth are starting to look to themselves and their own personalities for inspiration for motivation.” He uses his work in the fashion industry as an example as elaborates on how frustrating it is for him that despite how great our designs are, we are always a season behind the rest of the world. “We should actually be ahead and doing our own thing instead. Like why can’t I just rock my suit with a dashiki and my blazer and do more of this sort of thing and do different versions of these and make this the trend going forward? … I never want to do something and have people say ‘Oh! He’s just like (insert reference here)’ even if they are amazing, you never want to be ‘just like’ someone else”
After a mad dash to get her scenes recorded on time, Nomzamo Mbatha whisks me off to where she changes into her next outfit so that I can complete my interview. 18-year-old Nomzamo would say that it would be better to be a politician [as opposed to being an actress]. “She would say that I am here to change the world and be an ambassador for the United Nations. I don’t think that I would make a good actress and frankly, I am not interested in the entertainment industry. 18-year-old Nomzamo was a very different girl.” All of this said as she rushes to get changed behind the grey curtain.
We move on to discussing her character, who she says is a very independent woman who owns a bookshop. She is smart, witty, flirtaceous, funny, and she has a great set of friends. She then goes on to say that “she meets this guy called Nat who is the exact opposite of who she is – an intellect who is all about her books. And Nat is a model who has never read a book in his life, unless it was a textbook of course. Through him, her perception about men and life in general is changed. And through that relationship, she also gets inspired to write again. She was a child star in the literary world and had won a major prize for a short story she had written. A publishing deal was given to her based on that short story but the publishers rejected the final novel she handed in and she has been unable to write ever since…” Through the journey depicted in the film, she rediscovers her passion for writing in addition to finding another reason for living.
Nomazamo – like Maps – only has good things to say about Akin. She doesn’t do any impressions of him though [sad face]. She called him a “good teacher” and to her, it is his great leadership is what brings the cast and crew together. I found this to be very true after a conversation I had with Bongani Dlamini (the Unit Assistant) and President (the Sound Man). They both say that working on film is very hard work but they have never lost the passion for what they do. They also said that even they are exhausted after a long shoot day, respect for Akin and the entire project keeps them coming back.
I felt absolutely terrible about momentarily taking Thembi Seete out of “the zone” for my mini interview but she shed a ton of light on the entire project, her character and her 18-year-old-self. At that time, she was already working/performing as a member Boom Shaka but she says that if anyone told her at that age that she would be where she is now, teenage Thembi would agree with them. She may not have been able to imagine that her career would get to the level it is at now but she would be certain of her life as a singer and actress.
Thembi plays the part of Lola in the film, a supporting character who works for Moratiwa (Nomzamo’s character). She calls Lola “the pink flower of the movie” because according to her “she brings the lighter side out of all the other characters in the film. Her way of thinking, how she does things and how she views life are all different and that is what makes her so special. She has an equally positive view about the film because she believes that it will show-case the lighter, prettier side of Johannesburg as opposed to the darkness that we are usually shown. She reiterates that she is not against all that, she just appreciates the beautiful side of Joburg getting a platform too. “Jozi isn’t all about waking up in the morning and running for the money. This movie shows more of the softer, more social side of Jozi. The side with all the cool, love, romance and disappointment.”
To Thembi, working with Akin is “something different that she thought she would never even get to experience” even though it’s something that she has always wanted to do. “He cares about his artists, his work, his fans and people that are going to come watch the movie. That really says a lot about him.”
I was lucky to find Thishiwe Ziqubu confined to a make-up chair so she couldn’t escape my questions (I am kidding) but I certainly enjoyed speaking to her. She has a mesmerizing voice, a smile worthy of the big screen and a presence that is just so welcoming that when she says that her 18-year-old self would be in disbelief about where she is now, I can honestly say that I believe her. She does add that her younger self would be so grateful that all that she has desired has come true though. Her character “Tashaka is a bubbly, lively, spirited and passionate young woman who believes in love 100 percent and the passion that is there.” This belief in love is what makes her encourage Moratiwa to pursue it and find that passion. She adds that “Tashaka is just a lover of the urban trends in Jobrug at the time and that is why she has writen [her own] book called “Tashaka’s Top Fifty Tips for Surviving the Modern World.” So she’s like a commentator on the modern world and is very excited about it and that is kind of her passion in life.” In that same vain, Tshishiwe herself is very excited that “we are living in a time where young people are free to express and explore themselves artistically and creatively.” She leaves me with the note that “the identity of each creator should be his/her own.”
As a young person, living and working in the very place that this movie is set, I for one am very excited to see just how much of the urban jungle the end product has managed to capture. The cast is gorgeous, the crew is a tight unit and the captain(s) of this ship have their sights set solely on success.
Photos by : Bongani Mokhine – follow him on Twitter