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Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za

Menings | Opinion > Onderhoude | Interviews > English

Tim Greene, writer and director of the feature film Skeem, in conversation with Janet van Eeden

Janet van Eeden - 2011-11-01

Untitled Document

Tim Greene

Tim, Skeem seemed to burst on to the scene out of nowhere. As a film writer I know this can’t be true. What inspired this film and how did the script come to fruition?

It’s been a two-year journey so far. We shot the movie exactly a year ago, down at the old Aventura Resort on the banks of the Gariep Dam. It was actually the resort that provided the initial inspiration when we overnighted there on the way home from a wedding in the Karoo.

It’s a strange place. Although it’s well maintained, with plush green lawns, there’s something distinctly creepy about it. An old-school energy. They say the old National Party used to hold their bosberaads there, and I can believe it!

We were having a braai, kind of keeping one eye on the people in the adjacent chalets, and we noticed that they were watching us watching them. We started chatting about what would happen if a couple of Cape Flats gangsters rolled in … I immediately started thinking this could make a great a story for a movie.

Can you give the readers of LitNet a brief idea of what the story’s about? What is its main premise?

Halfway home from a drug sale in Joburg two wannabe gangsters run into trouble when their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. They are forced to spend the night at a creepy old holiday resort, and their problems escalate when, as they unpack the car, their box of cash splits open, spilling a million bucks in eye-catching bundles all over the driveway.

They scoop it up, head inside and slam the door, but the damage is done. Greedy eyes have spotted the cash, and in five neighbouring chalets people begin to skeem …

How did you raise the money to make the film!?

When he read the script, producer Zaheer Goodman-Bhyat from Light & Dark Films in Cape Town immediately saw the potential, optioned the project, and started raising finance. The National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) were the first in, and with some of the production finance secured, private equity investors were brought on board. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has a rebate incentive scheme to encourage films shot in South Africa, and with those three parties in place, production began.

Where was it filmed and who was the DOP? How long did you take to film it?

We shot for 19 days down at the resort, which was an extraordinary time. It was wonderful to be away from the day-to-day distractions, allowing cast and crew to focus exclusively on the work. Director of photography Tom Marais was the man who made it look so beautiful. Because we were shooting mainly at night, Tom was able to control the lighting, and he took the chance to create a beautiful colour palette, blending colours to make something rich and enticing, quite unlike the desaturated tones that have become typical of South African film-making.

Skeem: Wandile Molebatsi and Kurt Schoonraad

Who is in the movie and how did you find the right actors to play the right roles?

We managed to assemble what is arguably the strongest ensemble cast for a South African movie to date. From the moment we sent the script out, the response to this project has been overwhelming, allowing us to secure people like Casey B Dolan, Terence Bridgett, Zikhona Sodlaka, David Isaacs (Meet Joe Barber) and funnyman Kurt Schoonraad, as well as the legendary Kenneth Nkosi, Rapulana Seiphemo. We got these great actors even though we were on a really tight budget.

The film also introduces some fresh new faces like newcomer Lilani Prinsen who plays the love interest, Jana. A name to watch!

Skeem: Terence Bridgett

What are your hopes for this film? Do you see it making it internationally?

My strategic gamble when writing Skeem was to put any thoughts about an international audience out of my mind. I think we second-guess ourselves too much here in South Africa, so I decided to do just the opposite, and trust my instincts to write a movie that I found funny, which I hoped my friends and their friends would appreciate. [Totally agree with you about this. Write intrinsically real stories and in the specific lies the universal. JvE]

That made for quite a nerve-wracking evening as we held the international premiere in Abu Dhabi last week, in front of an extremely cosmopolitan audience. Would they get it? Would the humour come across? I was overwhelming relieved and delighted as the auditorium shook with gales of laughter, and when we won the Audience Award, beating out films by Scorsese, Soderbergh, Clooney, Wenders and so on. I realised that the film does have international potential. [Congratulations! That’s a huge honour. JvE]

I guess it is an object lesson in trusting oneself.

Why should notoriously South African-phobic audiences go and see this film rather than the usual trashy Hollywood-formula film?

I must say, I share that cynicism about South African product. Our track record to date has not been great. By and large we’ve put out a lot of films which range from turgid self-flagellation on one hand to low-brow humour on the other. Skeem is neither. It’s fast-paced, witty and, at the risk of blowing my own trumpet here, quite clever.

Bottom line is it feels fresh. Or so I’ve been told by people who’ve seen it. Quite unlike anything that’s come before.

Did you have a message with this film, or was it made just for the sake of entertainment?

On a thematic level the film is riffing on greed and what it does to ordinary people, but from my side the primary intention was to entertain. That’s something that South African film-makers have only recently started to pay attention to.