Daniel Dercksen Shares A Few Thoughts With Screenwriter Carl Roddam
It’s been a long journey since the workshops you did with The Writing Studio. Now it’s payback with Safe Bet. Your views on this?
It has been a long time since my first workshop and it’s been quite a journey too. Back then I knew I wanted to be a screen writer but I was so unaware of the hard work and dedication that would be required. People look at your successes but don’t realise how many failures and disappointments you had getting there or how hard the work involved.
Tell me how Safe Bet happened?
After Mr B produced another movie of his called 48 he came to me with an idea of turning it into a TV series. He asked if I would be interested in writing a few episodes and I said yes. The series fell through but he liked one of the episode ideas so much he asked if I could turn it into a movie and it become safe bet.
How would you describe Safe Bet?
A fast pace action comedy with a unique style.
What inspired the story?
Its hard to say were the inspiration came from. The original idea came from having to find stories that could happen in 48 hours. Then story developed around the characters of Khaya and Frank. Khaya came from working with Godfrey Thobejane on 48 and knowing what he as an actor could do and Frank was the straight act for him. The other characters were built around them to balance the story out and finally others were formed as the story needed. I think the comedy inspiration came from years of watching British comedy, the likes of lock stock and two smoking barrels and maybe some Monty Python sneaked in there.
Was it a difficult screenplay to write?
No, it took a long time because it had to be right, the screenplay is the foundation that any movie is built on and if it’s not right the whole movie can come crumbling down. But thanks to the fun characters and story it was a pleasure to write.
Tell me about the process from page to screen. Was it a smooth process?
No not at all. I myself was not involved in the producing but I know what Mr B has gone through to get it onto the screen. It was only thanks to his persistence and never say die attitude that we have a finished film. It took 4/5 years to get it from an idea to the screen. It took a year or so to get the script right and then another year to get into a position to shoot it. And the post production has seems to taken ages. But the whole project has had funding problems all the way through and ended up way over budget. But if you watch it I’m sure you will agree it was worth it.
How difficult is it to get your writing on the big screen in South Africa? Some writers think it takes a few weeks.
A few weeks! No chance, if you forget about the years of learning the craft you still will have to build up your name and make connections. We don’t have agents here so you have to try and sell your work yourself. There are a few company’s out there looking, join the writer’s guild they can help get you connected to them. You can also go to festivals, network and a few other options to help you work your way up.
I think a lot of people don’t appreciate what goes into writing, it’s an art form and like any other you need to develop it and put time in. You wouldn’t one day say you want to be a painter and tomorrow you going to re-paint the sixteenth chapel. Writing needs the same respect, start it as a hobby and build yourself up.
A lot of writers become writer/producers as its one of the ways to get your work made and seen. I started by writing short stories and producing them myself. Then if you get lucky you might get seen or known and asked to write for other producers. It tough and you will probably spend more money than you make to begin with, but like everything you start small and you build up. Keep at it and then one day you might have your writing on the big screen.
Did it make it easier working with Mr. B, a director you have had a good working relationship with?
Well yes of course, if you don’t have a good working relationship it’s hard to work with anyone. We have built up a level of trust over the years and can be honest with each other. The best thing about Mr B is he knows I like working on my own so we can have a chat about whatever he needs or what the problem is and he leaves me to go off and solve it.
How do you feel about the end result, seeing your words in action?
The end result is a little different to how I wrote it, Mr B went for the fast pace action and some of the story and build up tension had to be sacrificed, as well as a few of the jokes. Act 1 is now about 3 minuets long and the whole movie has a little bit of a pulp fiction style to it. Never the less it is still the story and characters I had in my head and seeing them up on the big screen is a delight. It doesn’t matter who you are or your background you will enjoy it the finished film I’m sure.
Your views on the state of the local film industry?
That’s a difficult one, we have lots of good talented people, we are attracting international productions and it is getting bigger. But it is still hard for anyone new to get into, it’s very much about networking, been known and getting known. Also if you are not up the top then it’s difficult to make a living. That’s why a lot of writers are producers too, as having just one job just doesn’t pay the bills. You find it with the actors too, very few of them can afford to be full time actors the money just isn’t there. So yes it’s growing and its getting better but it still needs more support so we can start paying our artists a liveable wage and start producing local films of a higher quality so get down to the cinema and watch the local productions and don’t buy pirated DVD’s, only buy original.
What do you hope people will get from watching Safe Bet?
Enjoyment, if people watch it laugh and enjoy the ride then our job is done.
Lots of plans but a lot will depend on how well safe bet does. If it’s popular and the demand is there then we may make more of this type of film. A talk of safe bet two is kicking around and I do have an idea or two but that will only happen if safe bet is a big success. I know Mr B has other movie ideas he would like to explore but for him a lot will be down to financing.
For myself I have another movie “Had better days” that has just been produced. I also have two sitcoms and a police drama I am pitching to broadcasters along with the co-writer/producer Deon Van Der Merwe.
Apart from working on some other movie screenplays I have a main role in a mzansi movie called “Eldorado” coming up, as I also like to act whenever I’m giving the chance to.