”I love that feeling of seeing something I wrote in my flat at 4am come to life on screen, and to then have an audience of complete strangers experience and hopefully relate to it. I know it’s corny, but to me that’s still magical.”
Daniel Dercksen shares a few thoughts with writer-director Etienne Fourie, who caused an uproar with his sensational Die Windpomp, and now wows us with his delightful Dis Koue Kos, Skat, based on the novel by Marita van der Vyver.
Tell me about Dis Koue Kos Skat, what is it about?
Dis Koue Kos, Skat tells the story of Clara Brand (Anna-Mart van der Merwe, a food writer who discovers that her husband is cheating on her with one of her best friends. As a result, Clara and her two kids move from Johannesburg to Cape town, where Clara attempts a fresh start. Here she is reintroduced – at the insistence of her best friend, Minette (Elzabé Zietsman) – to the world of dating. Clara undergoes this journey not only of healing, but of rediscovering her passions in life, all the while plotting her revenge on her ex husband and his new, much younger wife.
What attracted you to direct and write the film, based on Marita van der Vyver’s bestseller?
Besides for names such as Marita van der Vyver, Anna-Mart van der Merwe and Deon Meyer attached to the project, I liked the idea of doing something vastly different after Die Windpomp. I think it would have been all to easy to fall into a kind of pattern, where I might feel obligated to repeat that genre or style (which feels the most natural to me). I wanted to try something out of my comfort zone and Dis Koue Kos, Skat was certainly that.
Marita co-wrote the screenplay, tell me about the process?
The process of co-writing the screenplay with Marita – the author of the novel the screenplay is based on – was a surprisingly stress-free process. I didn’t know Marita personally before I signed onto the project and it is of course a scary prospect to go into something like that somewhat blindly. I mean, where do we draw the line? When are we being overly pedantic about staying true to the novel, and when does sacrificing certain story elements to make it work on screen become damaging to the project? Luckily we didn’t have much time to get it all done, so there wasn’t room for second-guessing. I’m truly grateful that Marita and I felt the same about the story – and what the film should ultimately be – from the get-go. I truly feel that we managed to get the best adaptation from the book that we could, which is all we ever really attempted to do.
Was it a difficult film to make? What were the obstacles? If any?
Technically-speaking, the film wasn’t a major headache. I mean, most of the time it’s really just people talking indoors, so as far as filming goes, it’s pretty straight forward (or at least for the most part). The most difficult aspect of this project, without a doubt, was the limited amount of resources at our disposal. We had a very limited amount of gear, a tiny crew and the production design was largely improvised on location, which is tough for me, because I’m a total production design geek, not to mention control freak and obsessive planner. Luckily the crew though on their feet and were more than creative enough to make up for the lack in resources. Miraculously, it all seemed to have turned out okay in the end, though. It was a tough process, especially towards the end of post production, but luckily I had Johan Prinsloo (editor and everything else possibly imaginable on this film) by my side the entire way.
How do you relate to the story?
It is, first and foremost, the universal themes of any story that attract me to it. The desire for revenge, the disorientation of overwhelming jealousy and the often difficult task of finding forgiveness is something I can truly relate to. Clara represents every person, really, in that regard. She doesn’t handle her situation perfectly and she often suffers some serious embarrassment along the way, which always felt true and honest to me. Clara’s flaws are what make her relatable. Personally, I could definitely relate to the story from the very first page of Marita’s book.
You mentioned that: ‘The desire for revenge, as a result of suffering an injustice, a betrayal, is something that we can all relate to in some way or another.” Tell me more about this?
I think the desire for revenge is a primal impulse that we all share. I think some of my earliest memories are probably my siblings and I fighting over silly (but, at the time, very real) injustices. If there are seven pieces of candy, splitting it three ways will inevitably result in two people feeling short-changed. The desire to then level the score would often lead to some seriously creative scheming. I wish this is something that one grows out of, but I admit that it’s a desire I have to regularly suppress. And I think most people can relate to that.
The film also deals with complex emotions?
The tricky thing about adapting Marita’s novel, is that we – as with any adaptation to film – have much less space and time to tell essentially the same story in. As a result, the events of the story are moved closer together, allowing less time for a strictly natural progression from one clear emotion to the next. Therefore, a brilliant actor is required to portray the character in a nuanced and intricate way, effortlessly conveying various (and often conflicting emotions) in the space of a single scene. The story deals with a serious subject matter, but with a sense of humour. And humour is perhaps the trickiest of all emotions in film, especially because we want the audience to feel in on the joke, yet at the same time be able to laugh at Clara’s failures without feeling like they’re betraying or belittling the character. It’s a difficult juggling act, but with great actors like Anna-Mart van der Merwe, my job becomes incredibly easy.
How much does your approach as a director to this film differ from Die Windpomp?
Die Windpomp, mostly because it was my own story but also because it originated at film school, was always very self-indulgent. It didn’t seem to be at the time, but in hindsight it really was. And I’m truly grateful for that experience, because otherwise I would have always wondered what it might have been had I not gotten the opportunity to write what I liked. On Dis Koue Kos, Skat there was much less planning, simply because of a lack of time. I normally like to plan every shot obsessively, but on Dis Koue Kos, Skat I had to quickly adapt – an experience for which I am truly grateful. So much beauty can be created from “mistakes” and I will, for all future projects, attempt to allow enough room for that to happen.
There has been a huge shift in the local industry since you made Klein Karoo. Your views on this?
To be very honest, I tend not to think about any of that stuff too much. I mean, I’m aware of other projects happening, but mostly because it’s almost impossible not to be. As far as the state of “the industry” is concerned, I’m just grateful that I still get opportunities to do what I love. When the opportunities dry up, I might have to sit up and have a good look around, but for now I just try to keep my head down and my hands busy. Actually, wait, that’s a weird visual – but I think you know what I mean.
What is your advice to screenwriters who want to get their stories on the big screen?
I think the only piece of advice I can really give, is to keep writing. The more you write, the greater the odds become that you write something that somebody wants to pay money for. Also, always have perfect formatting and spelling – don’t fuck with the format. No one will take your screenplay seriously if it seems like you didn’t.
Tell me about your next project?
My next project is a family dramedy about a father who seemingly loses his mind and his children’s journey to try and get him through it. It’s an anti-Christmas story, if that makes any sense at all. The working title is “Liewe Kersfeesvader” and we start filming in October.
What excites you about being a filmmaker?
I love that feeling of seeing something I wrote in my flat at 4am come to life on screen, and to then have an audience of complete strangers experience and hopefully relate to it. I know it’s corny, but to me that’s still magical.
Any comments you would like to share regarding Dis Koue Kos Skat?
More so than any other project I’ve ever been a part of, I have made some truly wonderful friends on this project. That, to me, makes all the scary bits totally worth it.