2 Thirds of a Man – Writer-director Earl Kopeledi’s passionate “love letter to the Coloured community”

“There are many social ills that befall and challenge the Coloured community,” says Kopeledi. These themes are often explored in movies and rightly so, but they are not the only stories worth telling. 2 Thirds of a Man aims to show an alternative side to the Coloured experience, that is as valid and frankly more uplifting and hopeful. This story is my love letter to the Coloured community. Our stories are diverse, and we have an opportunity to tell them in ways not seen on screen before. I believe that when everything is said and done, the only thing that will shift this world is our ability to inspire through compelling stories.”

Having won acclaim on the international film festival circuit, including awards at the Amsterdam International Film Festival, Las Vegas Independent Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Awards, and the IndieFest Film Awards, Kopeledi’s uniquely South African film was co-produced by published fiction author Lester Walbrugh, with cinematography by renowned music video director Dale Fortune and scored by O’Ryan Winter.

In 2 Thirds of a Man Justin (Mario Ogle) returns to Cape Town as a first-year student at Rocklands University after spending most of his teenage years living in Beaufort West where his mom took up a teaching job after the untimely death of his father, a musician on the brink of success. Justin makes the transition from the small town to the city, leaving his mom and quirky friends behind. He moves in with his uncle (Van Lee Johnson), a 40+ Marketing Professor at Rocklands University, who lives a fun-filled existence as an eternal bachelor. Justin meets G (Ernest St Clair), a street-smart kid from the Cape Flats that might be able to help him transition back into city life and help him meet the girl of his dreams.

Daniel Dercksen shares a few thoughts with Earl Kopeledi about 2 Thirds of a Man

Tell me about what inspired you to write 2 Thirds Of A Man

It started out as just wanting to write something to challenge myself and to find a creative outlet. After exploring the how and the why, the consistent advice for novices was to write what you know. I felt I understood how a kid with a small-town upbringing feels and how overawed you can be by having to navigate a foreign space while still figuring out who you are. The second component was that I wanted to write something that I would want to see on the screen. It had to be entertaining as opposed to being preachy or hitting you over the head with some grand message. Having said that, being Coloured and growing up pre-democracy inevitably influenced my perceptions and created a perspective

In 2018, Earl Kopeledi wanted to explore his creativity beyond his actual day job. Even though his job in marketing had definite components of creativity and brand story telling he needed more. Without any formal training or a specific skillset lending itself to arts, he was looking for an outlet that he could do part-time and without any conflict to a high-stress environment of heading up a marketing department for a global player in fashion retail. Deciding that writing a book was not an exciting prospect he decided to have a crack at writing a screenplay with the sole purpose of satisfying his curiosity about being able to complete a script.

The film is a love letter to the Coloured community

I am a positive person that always errs on the side of optimism. I also subscribe to the idea that Believing is Seeing. This is a stubborn streak that I’ve developed over the years and smacks in the face of the Seeing is Believing theme that’s been the narrative that I’ve been exposed to throughout my life. I think we underestimate the power of stories and how they can influence people. If you can show people an authentic and believable narrative with positive themes, featuring people that look like them conquering dire situations through self-belief, it can be powerful.

Earl Kopeledi and his team

Was it a difficult process from page to screen

The short answer is yes. As an enneagram type 7 I am an extreme optimist with a glass half full mentality. As I matured, I realised I often lied to myself when I look back on how challenging certain endeavours were. Surely it can’t be that difficult if I was able to do it. The Coloured curse😊

You mentioned that amazing movies like Four Corners and Noem my Skollie were able to capture the impact of socio-economic challenges on the Coloured community. These movies are amazing stories and absolutely needed to be told. But it is also important to remind the world of the talent that comes out of these communities. That the Coloured experience is too rich and diverse to pigeonhole, and 2 Thirds of a Man sets out to balance the narrative around the Coloured experience.

It is very important for me to make this point because I really enjoyed those movies. As a Coloured person, you don’t often see yourself on a screen. When you come from a small town that also has a lot of social and economic challenges you can’t escape certain stories or images whether you lived through them or maybe know someone that could relate to it. I grew up in a household where my dad was a teacher and in a coloured community that was seen as a privileged upbringing. My opportunities to play sports, and go to school and university like some of my peers unlock different challenges and avenues and those stories matter.

Van Lee Johnson and Maxine Ceasar in 2 Thirds of a Man

In the film, Justin’s uncle talks about the Coloured curse – always needing to prove yourself?

I cannot effectively speak for the younger generation of coloured kids but certainly growing up we were confronted by the idea that you don’t have the same abilities or talent as a white kid. You would see that playing sports, you would see that at the start of your career in the opportunities available, but more importantly, it would echo amongst the people within your community. That belief or lack of belief seems to be the Achilles heel more so than the lack of opportunities. Lack of opportunity is not always controllable, but your belief that there is another way to get it done is a very powerful mindset.

I had long conversations with my Editor and fellow producer on where and how that scene fits into the movie. (The one thing I was adamant about was that it needed to be in the movie) When I wrote it, it was a longer scene and felt a bit preachy, but I was able to get it more concise with the assistance of Lester my co-producer. As a published writer, who had many a back and forth with his editors, he advised me to not patronize the audience.  “You don’t have to spell out everything.” That is my favourite scene in the movie and I was fortunate to use YoungstaCPT’s song Kleurling as that rallying cry to Coloured kids to believe in themselves.

He also mentions that “the lie that the Coloured community are less is more compelling than the truth they are more …

This was written differently and speaks to the conversation I had with Lester. Uncle Mike had a long explanation when Justin asked “Why don’t we believe in ourselves” His answer basically popped into my head one morning contemplating that question.

The lie that we are less, speaks directly to the lack of belief in self. When you are told for years you are not good enough to be at this institution, be in that team, mingle with this group of people, that becomes your truth. But what happens when you stop looking for outside validation? Can you find a different truth internally?

It was important for me that Uncle Mike does not rush his answer. He also needed to discover that answer in its simplicity for the very first time.

Bronté Snell and Mario Ogle in 2 Thirds of a Man

You grew up in Beaufort West. The film must be a very personal story for you.

I always tell people that this movie is not a biography but very personal. I wanted to address feelings that I had about certain topics but also explore how certain themes could play out. I didn’t have a detailed story when I set out. I had a beginning and I had an end and I discovered the layers in between. I definitely borrowed some things and a few situations but fictional liberties abound.

How much do you think the South African Film Industry has changed in the last 10 years?

I must say this is a difficult question because I really don’t have any connection to the industry. When I started writing this script as a novice in 2019 the only thing I knew, was that I haven’t seen a movie that reflected a narrative close to my life experience. To be honest, as of today and barring 2 Thirds, I still haven’t seen anything.

Would you agree that the Covid pandemic has fostered the rebirth of the independent film industry?

I have no stats to back this up, but I do believe Covid gave people a lot of time to take stock. I think you had a lot of aspirant filmmakers develop an urgency to get their work into production. Tomorrow is not a guarantee. There is a quote that is used somewhere in the movie. (In fact, I have it as a tattoo in reverse so I can read it in the mirror) “ Don’t die with your music still inside of you” – Wayne Dyer

What tips do you have for screenwriters to get their stories produced

I think this is super hard. When I completed the screenplay, I sent it to a few producers and got crickets. I ended up funding and producing it myself.

I would suggest writing a character-driven short film and shooting it yourself.

Network, find an up-and-coming videographer, or director.

Watch a lot of Youtube. There are amazing channels like Indie Fim Hustle. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I wouldn’t have been able to make 2 Thirds without the internet.

Towards the end of 2018, he started researching all aspects of screenplay writing, including registering on Masterclass.com and watching hours of Youtube videos on the subject. Having always had an affinity for storytelling and his love for writing compositions at school level, the aim was to explore the structure and utilise The Hero’s Journey as a framework to write his first script. Four months later he had the first draft of 2 Thirds of a Man.

Ernest St Clair and Mario Ogle in 2 Thirds of a Man

What do you think producers are looking for in new screenplays?

Once again I don’t know because I produced my own screenplay. The one piece of advice I can give is to write something that only you can write. There are 7 billion people in the world, there is a niche audience for your story.

After sharing the screenplay with a few close friends including his co-producer and published author Lester Walbrugh, he decided to approach production companies. With zero success after a few attempts and having to do a stint in the UK as a secondment, Kopeledi was sure that the script will remain in a drawer and gather dust. While in London far from home and missing Cape Town, the local culture, and our unique way of doing things he realized that he needed to produce the movie or else it would never be made. Back at square 1 and in the same space as pre-script, he started a fact-finding and self-tutoring mission. Back on Masterclass, this time exploring classes by Spike Lee and Ron Howard, Earl was driven to learn as much as he could about producing and directing a film. Not knowing how to fund the project he signed up for a 2 -day course in Low budget filmmaking presented by Elliot Grove the founder of the Raindance film festival. Equipped with some much-needed insight and equal amounts of crazy and naivete, Kopeledi
felt the confidence to have a real crack at it.

Tell me about the importance of screening your film at multiple International film festivals

As a marketer by profession, I used this strategy to create marketing opportunities. It’s humbling that we did so well but the aim was to get into a festival, gain press exposure and have something to talk about on your social channels. Ster Kinekor reached out to me after hearing an interview I did on the radio that followed on press we received after winning a festival award.

2 Thirds Of A Man is a very gentle coming of age story that reflects on ordinary life .. your views on this?

I don’t know if it’s gentle and I don’t know if what we call ordinary is sometimes extraordinary. You often find people that have odds stacked against them and they go on to achieve amazing things despite certain traumas. Often these people don’t fit the traditional mould of what success looks like. So we end up saying things like….Yes, his talented but…..He is a bit rough around the edges….If only he was a bit more eloquent.

There is a beautiful poem by the late Tupac Shakur called the Rose that grew from the concrete. He explains the sentiment of that poem as follows:

“We wouldn’t ask why a rose that grew from the concrete had damaged petals, in turn, we would all celebrate its tenacity, we would all love its will to reach the sun, well, we are the roses, this is the concrete and these are my damaged petals, don’t ask me why, thank god, and ask me how”

What’s next?

I started writing an Afrikaans piece which I’m very excited about.