Dare to dream big.
Daniel Dercksen shares a few thoughts with screenwriter Stefan Enslin, who is also a producer of the new South African film Verskietende Ster, an inspirational tale about the power of compassion and forgiveness.
Verskietende Ster is based on Enslin’s novel and tells the story of a 15-year-old pianist whose genius is threatened by the weight of the world.
What excites you about being a writer?
The ability to express oneself. We as writers must use this tool to let a voice be heard. That is very powerful. But with this great power comes great responsibility, hence me focussing on stories that inspires, motivates or are family friendly.
When did that moment happen that you knew: ‘’I am A writer?’’
It might sound cliché, but I knew from an early age that I want to become a writer. I loved school subjects where we had to write essays. Telling stories and expressing myself was the best. No wonder I always scrapped over the pass rate thanks to my essays! But the reinforcement most certainly came the day I forced myself to sit down and write my first screenplay. Magic was felt and ever since there is no stopping.
It is a story that I walked with for almost 14 years when I finally decided to make a career change and start living my dream; for which I believe I was born. It is a story inspired by true events. Although I initially singled out one event on which I based the screenplay, I came to realise that this is actually happening globally on a daily basis.
Tell me about adapting your novel into a screenplay? Was it a difficult process?
It actually started out as a screenplay. After completing it I started to look around for funding. It proved to be more difficult than I anticipated. Although most people liked the story, the one thing that made them uncomfortable were the Christian elements. In the end all doors closed and I was left with only the screenplay again. Out of total desperation, in the hope that I could let the story survive somehow, I wrote the novel based on the screenplay. I was lucky enough that a local publisher saw the potential in it. It became a bestseller which led me to Philo Pieterse and ultimately kykNET Films.
How did you get to write the screenplay for the film?
I studied screenwriting and passed my course with merit. Afterwards I became an assistant screenwriter, then a script editor and finally wrote my first screenplay. Through this I gained invaluable experience which I could apply to Verskietende Ster’s screenplay. I basically locked myself in my study for a few weeks and just wrote the first draft, which was basically a vomit draft. But it formed the solid foundation on which I could built up to the final draft.
Was Verskietende Ster an easy story to write?
Not at all. It required a lot of research in the field of Social Working. I also spoke to a Social Worker to ensure the events are accurate. It is also a story with so many messages that it became difficult not to stray from the right story but to incorporate the backstory in a powerful way but obviously stick to the structure of screenplay writing. However, I think the most important aspect for me was to adhere to screenplay writing rules, but not let that keep me from telling a story, which I felt was divine inspiration from above.
What do you think is the major difference between writing the novel, and writing the screenplay?
With a novel you have the ability to climb into the characters’ minds. You can explore and articulate them in a certain way. Through that, you as the writer, dictate how you want to convey them; how a reader should see and feel about them. With a screenplay you only have sound and visuals to tell the story and basically 90 pages. One of the most difficult things can be to let go of your “darlings” by entrusting the Director with it. It’s as if you can cling to your darlings a bit more through writing a novel.
Did you write the screenplay with any particular actors in mind? If so, how did this influence your writing of the screenplay?
The only actor I had in mind was Hykie Berg as the father. It made it a lot easier to write that character as I could visualise Hykie Berg as the father. I could literally just react off of this and words started flowing of the page.
Tell me about your cast and how they influenced the film from page to screen?
Luckily Verskietende Ster was not my first screenplay being adapted into a film. By then I was able to let go of my darlings easier than before. It was a great experience working with our cast as they would come to me and tell me that they feel their character would say or do things differently than scripted. In most instances I agreed and we made the changes and I was thankful for them initiating it, because it really worked.
Verskietende Ster explores people having a talent for a specific reason … tell me about this?
I believe we are all born with a talent for a reason. Why having a talent in the first place? So many people, myself included, were stuck in a position where life was not at all what I had hoped for. I believed I was born to tell stories that inspires. So if I believed that then, I had no choice but to put it to the test. It paid off and although I would love to take credit, all credit goes to God.
It’s sad when talented people waste their God-given gift? Your views on this?
It is sad because I can almost experience the brokeness and sadness through these people – I was there too. I always try to imagine a world where people are left to be themselves, to become who they were created for. I can see a happier world! Hence me trying to inspire people to live their God-given talents.
Talent can also be a curse, don’t you agree?
Oh, but of course. I’m sure this curse if different for most people, but if I have to apply this personally I can tell you that this curse is restlessness. I find it extremely difficult to switch off.
Do you think writing is a talent or a curse?
To me writing is a talent. It is like running – I can train all I like but no matter what, I’ll never be able to compete with Usain Bolt. I don’t have the talent of running. But the more I read and the more I write the better I get at writing. Just like Gary Player once said: “The more I practice the luckier I get.” Practice to exercise those God-given writing muscles – it is a talent that should be practised all day. But it can most certainly become a curse when you start using this writing talent for all the wrong reasons. Focus on what’s asked of you and stick to that no matter what. Otherwise, you might just end up with this curse that should have been a talent and find yourself back at being unhappy.
It’s also an inspirational tale of compassion and forgiveness. Tell me about this?
I believe that one of the biggest obstacles in South-Africa is that, all is not yet forgiven and forgotten. I don’t want to talk politics, but although I know we’ve come a long way as a country, I still believe there is a lot of forgiveness necessary. In Verskietende Ster I used a narritive visual medium to explore the power of forgiveness, but I really believe this demonstrates how it can set us free. Imagine if we can achieve this as a country!
It also focuses on the dynamics of a father and son relationship? Tell me about this?
I’ve done a lot of research on this topic as well as part of the screenplay. One thing I found is that in most cases, the cause of a broken person comes from a broken home. If we narrow this down even further in most cases this brokeness comes from the absence of a father figure. This is a huge problem globally. I wanted to explore this theme to show how this relationship, if not cherished, can continue to cause hurt from generation to generation.
How much of your personal life is reflected in the story?
A big chunk! But I actually want to go as far as to say that probably 90% of all people’s personal life is reflected in this story. I always knew I wanted to become a filmmaker, but the way the world believes, forced me in a totally different direction. Try to think of one person you know who does not do what they want? I think you might find it difficult to mention just one! You probably know a lot. It took me 14 years of unhappiness to realise I have been called for something different. I have a talent to tell stories. To make a difference and to inspire people. I have a responsibility. So I took this leap of faith and I’ve never looked back since. Now I living my talent.
How difficult is it for writers to get their screenplays turned into films in South Africa? Do you have any advice for screenwriters?
Read. Write. Repeat. The success of anything comes in the practice. The art of writing is in the rewriting. And don’t be afraid to write a horrible first draft. I believe it is more difficult to get something on page than it is to start refining it. That blank page syndrome can be horrible. Write whatever comes to mind but just get the first draft done. From thereon it becomes easier. But read a lot of screenplays. You can learn so much. In terms of how difficult it is to turn your screenplay into a film in South Africa: I want to say it can be difficult but it also depends on how willing you are to take defeat. And don’t be arrogant and believe you are God’s gift to screenwriting. We all believed that and it hardly gets anyone anywhere. But until you’ve proven yourself stay humble, show you are eager to learn and are a team player. In fact, always stay humble, no matter who you become. Period!
Your views on the local film industry and the future for screenwriters in South Africa?
We are entering some exciting times. We are slowly but surely catching up to the rest of the world in terms of the more advanced and daring stories we’re telling. We can see this through Sink, Dis ek, Anna and Free State who are competing at international level (film festivals) with some of the best. Now is a good time to enter if you believe this is your calling in life. And write what you know and believe. That is the only way you can keep it authentic and have that all important voice.
Tell me about Trailer that was picked up for worldwide distribution.
A few years ago myself and two friends set out to make an international film on a shoestring budget. We wanted to shoot in South Africa but use American actors to allow us access into the US and Worldwide Distribution network. Again it is a father/son story whereby the father, a failing screenwriter, is forced to come to South Africa to research his new script. His wife asks him to take his son along in the hope that it will help them to reunite. Through the power of imagination the boy helps his dad to complete this all important screenplay and restore their replationship. It was produced on this low budget with some stunning visual effects. Producer Pieter Pohl took it to AFM November 2014 and it was picked up by Heritage Films International. It has also been picked up by MNET and will be broadcast in June/July 2016.
What motivates and inspires you?
Seeing someone live life to the fullest and achieve great success motivates and inspires me. And I’m not necessarily referring to financial success. Financial rewards is the fruit of the success. But stepping out of your comfort zone, and dare to dream big, that is success to me.
Who is the man behind the words, what do you do when you are not writing?
I enjoy spending time with my wife and daugther. Going to the beach with them and watch our girl enjoy herself… To me that is like those MasterCard adverts; priceless. Otherwise I like to relax with either a good book or movie. But most of the time I’m filling my arsenal with ideas whenever I’m not stuck in front of my PC. Listening and watching people makes for good ammunition when working on the next big story idea! Learn to listen more; very important.
Tell en about Faith In Motion Productions?
I founded it in 2012. It ties in with the leap of faith I took, probably where the name originated from. We focus on films that inspire, motivate and are safe for those little eyes and ears. One other important element is that quality is a top priority as well. Feel free to visit our website at www.faithinmotion.co.za if you want to get in contact with us.
What do you hope audiences will take home after watching Verskietende Ster?
We had a special pre-screening at a school in Johannesburg a couple of weeks ago. The children we showed it to varied between 14 – 18 years of age. A few days later I received hundreds of messages written on small pieces of paper from most of the children telling me how this film inspired and changed their lives. Everyone with a different message. So, although I initially hoped that audiences would realise their God-given talent and start living it [which I still do by the way!], I never could I have anticipated all the various inspirations and revelations audience members would get from watching the film. The same happend after the premiere. Inspiration and revelations that I never even anticipated or thought of when writing the screenplay. So I guess what I now hope for is that the audience will allow themselves to watch with an open heart and let the Spirit tell them what they should take home after watching Verskietende Ster.
I am currently working on three feature films. The first one will be directed by Morné du Toit (Hoofmeisie). The screenplay is written by Lizé Vosloo (remember this name!) and based on the book: Oor ‘n Motorfiets, ‘n Zombiefliek en lang getalle wat deur elf gedeel kan word; written by Jaco Jacobs. If you liked films like A fault in our stars, Me earl and the dying girl and Stand by Me, then this film will be for you. We’ve changed the name to NUL IS NIE NIKS NIE with production to commence June 2016. In September/October 2016 I’m producing a film Liewe Kersfeesvader, written by the extremely talented Etienne Fourie (Klein Karoo & Die Windpomp). Etienne will also be directing. I like to describe this as Little Miss Sunshine on steroids. Liewe Kersfeesvader and Nul is nie Niks nie will change the Afrikaans film landscape as we know it! In the last year or so I wrote another screenplay titled; ONTHOU MY, with production to commence March/April 2017. I wrote the novel at the same time and will be published by NB Publishers. We will however only release the novel at the same time as the film (provisionally set for February 2018 release). It is pretty much The Notebook meets Brooklyn. A period romantic drama which explores love from an early age. The tagline: How willing are you to forget your first love?