Craig Freimond Interview

In the film, Gums and Noses, James is an under-achieving advertising copywriter who discovers that cocaine can help give him the ideas he needs to survive in a ruthless industry. An industry where a lack of creativity can swiftly lead to your downfall. SAfilm spoke to the filmís director and writer, Craig Freimond, about adapting his play for the screen and making films in South Africa.

 



SAFilm: Hi Craig.

Craig: Howzit.

SAfilm: Thanks for chatting to us at SAfilm.

Craig: Itís an absolute pleasure.

SAfilm: Could you just tell us a little bit about the film Gums and Noses, and how did the adaptation from stage to television screen come about?

Craig: Years ago, about five years ago, I had this idea for this film. Well it was between a film and say a one-hour TV special, and it was about some of the issues that are in the thing (the film) now. A bit about cocaine, a bit about the cocaine industry. This story about this copywriter. And I tried to write it as a film but Ö (pauses, contemplating) it kind of got stuck at a certain point, round about 30 pages (laughs). It sort of hit a wobbly, but I was really keen on some of these story ideas and because I work in the theatre as well, I just sort of thought what would happen if I wrote it as a play.

And it was like (wild clicking of fingers) da, da, da, da Ö this thing just started coming. Three actors Ödoosh, doosh, doosh Ö lots of characters, particular style, particular kind of humour, particular Ö everything just came in a play like that. And then put it on, and obviously refined it a bit more and the play was quite successful and had a very nice following, and a nice response.

In the back of my mind I knew it could be a film. Then when we finished kind of our last sort of run of the play I just sat down with nothing, with no brief or prospective, whatever, and I just said, ďOkay now, now that youíve seen this thing what would happen if it were a film?Ē Just that simple.

And then this M-net thing came up. Iíd heard that M-net had wanted to do these movies and I just thought, but you had to have a screenplay, so I thought, ďWell fuck let me have a look at that (the Gums and Noses first draft).Ē

And I read it and I thought, ďFuck itís not bad actually, it needs work, and it needs to become more of a screenplay but shit!Ē I was busy doing an MA at Wits at the time and doing a screenwriting course, and trying to write a new screenplay from scratch and I was so aware of how bloody difficult it was. And I read this thing and I thought, ďThis is much better than the bloody thing Iím working on at the moment.Ē So I handed it in to the M-net thing and they bought it. I then went through the process of finding a producer.

But essentially, once I had a commission from M-net I then went back to the script, really kind of made it more of a movie, and then we made the movie.

SAfilm: What was your inspiration for writing the original story? Have you worked in advertising?

Craig: No, Iíve never worked in advertising but Iíve worked in very affiliated industries like Iíve written a hell of a lot of industrial theatre, corporate video. So Iíve been in that cycle of taking brief, coming up with creative idea, selling it to agency and client, deadlines. That whole thing, Iíve done it. Iíve won Loeries; you know Iíve won several Loeries (laughs) but never through advertising, always through something else. So it was a world that I understood well, but the filmís not about advertising.

On one level itís about the pressure of being creative, and whether you work in advertising or whether you work in graphic design, if you work in the creative industries you generally, at some point or another, are going to be forced to be creative. In other words, by five oíclock you have to have a clever idea. This notion of trying to win awards. Itís a whole thing in advertising, particularly, thatís how they sell their business, so winning awards is massive. Itís a massive, massive thing as you learn when you go to the Loeries. Itís the closest thing weíve got to the Oscars. Itís huge. When you go up on stage and you collect that award you sort of think, ďFuck.Ē

You know advertisingís got this glamour to it, itís like, ďWow, yeah baby!Ē You know you really feel good. You feel like you really are very important, and itís an industry which does that particularly well and people often think I hate advertising, and I donít at all. In some ways I envy it. I envy its money and its ability to self-publicize itself as an industry. Itís amazing. So that was one of the influences of the story.

Another one was this idea that, after 1994 cocaine was just so accessible in Joburg, I donít know what it was like in other places. It was just like everywhere. Everyone was just having a thing with their dealer. It was just like this whole system had pervaded life and it didnít have that whole thing of, if you wanted drugs you had to go to some dark dodgy street corner, put yourself at risk. It just skipped all of that.

SAfilm: So itís exactly like we see it in the film?

Craig: Exactly. And it was like, you could be sitting at a dinner party and ten minutes later a guy could be at your gate, bringing you drugs. god knows where he comes from, god knows what that drug has been through to get there and thereís this little interaction between this sort of like very middle class normal world and this criminal underworld.

I think Iíve also always had issues around self-esteem, and the whole notion of kind of wanting to be great. Wanting to be better than you are, or wanting just to be good has been such a big issue in my life that a lot of that sort of went into the script. Whatever people think of the script, actually itís a very personal story (laughs). In a way for me, itís a personal story about a guy who Ö not the drugs so much because I donít think Iíve ever had that sort of relationship with drugs and work, but certainly the notion of like, ďgod if there were a pill, if there was something I could take that would make me fantastic Iíd take it.Ē Even if thereís a bit of risk involved, Iíd take it.

SAfilm: What format did you shoot on, and how long did it take to shoot and edit the film?

Craig: We shot on a Panasonic HD. Panasonic had just brought in this camera and were quite keen to try and get into the market. So between Frank Myburg, at Digital film, and Panasonic they put together a deal for us which was fantastic. I mean they gave us this camera for absolutely nothing. I mean Iím talking Ö I saw the figure once it was like we paid seven percent of what the camera was worth.

We shot for 18 days. A lot of the stuff we had to do on that budget was a bit guerrilla, in the sense that we didnít really have money to pay for locations and stuff. To a large degree our schedule was dictated by that sort of thing. Like the ad agency we had to shoot on the weekends, that type of thing. So we shot kind of, I think, Tuesday to Sunday for three weeks.

Editing is harder to actually sense. We had four weeks initially. Basically our editor, Charlie, was on the pay roll for four weeks. That didnít mean it took longer than that but I would say between four and six weeks because there was a lot of fiddling. And then sound, obviously, was at least another two weeks. Call it six to eight weeks post.

SAfilm: Are you happy with the final product?

Craig: Ja I dig it. When I watch it now I realise the problems with it, I realise that there were certain things I couldíve done better, but what I like about it is that it feels fresh and it feels new and it feels at least like someoneís fucking a bit with the medium. Because Iíd done the play I was able to be much more creative with the film. If Iíd try to write it as a film it would have been much more conventional it would have been much more serious probably. Whereas this just gave me an opportunity to say, ďFuck it worked as a play, this mad style, this voice over and you know, maybe itíll work as a film?Ē So from that point of view Iím very pleased with it. I think itís having, in a way, the kind of effect that I wanted it to have, which was (A) for people just to enjoy it and have a laugh but (B) also just to try and break this fucking thing of what type of films we should be making. You know like smash it. And it has done that, I think it has. I think a lot of people are kind of saying, ďWell hang on this isnít fucking about anything vaguely what we would normally associate with a South African film.Ē And, ďFuck thatís amazing!Ē And actually maybe that is the future.

I think in some ways itís a disadvantage. I think internationally, in a kind of festival circuit or whatever itís a disadvantage because I think there are layers of people who want South African films to be a certain thing for their purpose. This film is tough for festivals because itís not earnest, and itís not about our past. In a strange sort of way itís not really an emotional film. Or is it?

SAfilm: For me itís more a piece of entertainment and, I donít know about you, I think we kind of need more of that.

Craig: Iíve been engaged in various debates and stuff since the film and itís actually kind of made me realise that there are these different schools of thought about film in this country. And I think one is, certainly mine is, that the only way we can compete is to make better films. And by that it means films that people relate to, that they enjoy. It mustnít become like a big sort of commercial imperative, but just enjoyment. Enjoyment doesnít mean it has to be funny or whatever. Films can be incredibly moving and highly enjoyable if you think of a lot of kind of art movies or foreign movies, you know thereís not a lot of comedy going on there. But god you can really enjoy those films, in terms of you relate to them, you weep. When you weep in a film youíre showing a strong connection to the subject matter. And I think what happens with our films often is that itís difficult to get into them.

And certainly Iíve had quite a baptism, in a way, since the film was made because Iíve suddenly been thrust into a whole kind of industry that I didnít really know that much about. Going to Cannes, just checking out this industry, itís quite a mad industry. And in a way itís a global industry, and in a way weíre not on the map. We are more than we were ten years ago but weíre not really on the map in terms of, ďFuck thereís a South African film youíve just gotta see!Ē And I donít think weíre very far off, and itís gonna happen, but weíre not there yet.

Thereís no reason that we canít be, thereís no fucking reason in the world. If you look at our literature, if you look at our theatre, if you look at our advertising, if you look at our sport, we are players in the world. On all those fields weíre fucking out there but with film Ö (Long pause) I donít know what it is. Itís such a complex set of circumstances.

SAfilm: Itís very complex.

Craig: Itís very complex but I donít think itís impossible, but we have to go after it, we have to work hard, we have to rewrite scripts a hundred times. We have to raise our game. You know we have to realise what itís going to take for a film to get there. Thatís what Iíve realised I suppose. You know when I finished this film I was like, (Adopting a French accent) ďBut it must be in the Cannes film festival, it surely must be.Ē And then when you realise what that actually means, when you go to Cannes and you realise what that actually fucking means. You suddenly look at your little film and you go, ďOkay, maybe not this one.Ē But you realise also that itís just people making film, making stories. On one hand itís daunting because you have to be so good, on the other hand itís not daunting at all because it can be a simple story.

SAfilm: In 1995, you were promoting your play Jump Ralph, Jump in Australia and you said that South African plays were overtly political, to quote the article using ďthe political situation as background to the story, rather than the story itself.Ē Do you think the same could be said for contemporary South African film?

Craig: The best example of it, I think, is Brassed Off. Of this subject matter is Brassed Off. Which is a political film about Thatcherism, and about a whole lot of stuff in England, the closing of mines. And yet what this film was really about was a little brass band wanting to win a competition. Thatís a balance that some how I never felt we get right because the person undergoing the experience is the main thing. Whatever the experience is or what it means. You know thereís a spate of truth commission films coming.

Some how youíve gotta find the universal and the everyday in the subject matter rather than making a film about the Truth commission. Do you know what I mean? The truth commission was an amazing thing, but itís not about the truth commission itís about a person who has to Ö whatever. Face their past. I donít know if thatís making any sense?

SAfilm: So thatís a yes then?

Craig: Ja, I think it is a yes. You know they always say in scriptwriting things, ďI donít want to hear itís a story about greed, I want to hear itís a story about a man, who what?Ē A man, a woman. Itís a story about a woman who wants Ö whatever. Itís not a story about greed, you canít write a story about greed. Maybe thatís a theme.

SAfilm: Some people might argue that the acting community in this country is rather small, or rather, that the same performers get used over and over again. Usually bringing baggage with them from previous performances. The result is an audience not being able to completely suspend their disbelief when watching that actor in a new piece. I certainly recognised a number of actors in Gums and Noses, what are your opinions on this?

Craig: I donít think the pool is that small in this country. I think that there are not a lot of opportunities, particularly in film. There are not a lot of opportunities. You go speak to any actor out there, you know, grab any actor in South Africa, very very few of them will have had serious film experience. By serious I mean, big roles. I donít mean like two lines in a lot of movies, I mean big roles. Heavy time in front of the camera, you know what I mean? Itís a skill. And itís a skill I think weíre very very short of, because we donít have enough experience of it. And funnily enough the people who do have a lot of experience of it are the soap people. People tend to diss soaps but I think that in terms of training someone to be on camera, film acting, soap opera for a year. Beautiful. Obviously one of the better soap operas but I donít want to get into that because some of them, the acting is horrendous. But some of the better ones. When you work with those actors theyíve got an understanding of being in front of the camera that a lot of actors donít.

SAfilm: Your film is going to be screened on M-net within the coming weeks. What are your plans for the film once itís had itís run with the private broadcaster?

Craig: Basically weíre very keen to exploit the film overseas, because the rights for that are wide open. Theyíre jointly owned, in a way, between us and M-net. So weíre very keen to try and do whatever we can with the film.

So weíre obviously trying to find a distributor, weíre trying to find a sales agent; weíre trying to find opportunities to exploit the film. The film, if you look at it internationally, is a film that cost $200 000 to make. Itís not very much, to make in itís entirety. Itís 90 minutes, itís in English, itís funny, itís watchable. Itís as good as a lot of the films you see on television late at night, if not better. I canít believe that it canít find an audience overseas. It might not be a theatrical audience because we didnít have a theatrical release here, and I donít want to get into that because itís boring.

SAfilm: Any plans to do more films in the future?

Craig: Definitely. Basically Iíd like to carry on pursuing my own writing in the theatre and in film. I mean Iíve just finished a play, launched a new play called The King of Laughter, which would also make a stunning movie and Iím looking at that.

Weíve got the film rights to a book which weíre developing. Iíve got another screenplay that I wrote a couple of years ago thatís in development with DV8. So, my main focus in life is writing things that interest me and finding the right place for them to take hold. Whether itís a play or a film, or whatever. It doesnít really bother me. I like both mediums. If one can lead into the other, like King of Laughter Ö the theatre is a hell of a good place to test stories. Test stories, refine dialogue. You know what I mean? Itís a really useful laboratory.

 

Gums and Noses will be screened on M-net, on the 25th of October at 20:00.

Christo Oberholzer

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