Daniel Dercksen shares a few thoughts with writer-director John Barker, a proud graduate of The Writing Studio, who turned politics inside out and upside down with his biting independent mockumentary Wonder Boy For President and now brings us the fun, poignant and so quintessentially authentically South African The Umbrella Men.
You have definitely taken the world by storm since the first workshops you did with The Writing Studio 15 years ago in Johannesburg? How much did the workshops help you in taking a step forward in your career?
I always find your workshops challenging and informative. As filmmakers you always discover new things about work process and thinking when you get to share these things with students and colleagues. I also feel that there weren’t many writing studios around at that time in SA – so it was a great learning curve for me as it was the first time I got the opportunity to really discuss writing in detail. I did not attend film school so your workshops formed a significant part of my film education.
Your first mockumentary was Blu Cheez, showcasing your talent as satirist?
My first stab at satire was a mockumentary called Blu Cheez. I was directing and shooting music videos at the time and decided to make a film that reflected the music industry in Johannesburg – 2003. After doing three months of sketches on the Pure Monate Show it made sense to make Bunny Chow which went behind the scenes of the comedy world. I was fascinated by the stuff that happened offstage. I feel the same way now about Wonder Boy For President as the country is all consumed with politics – I feel it’s necessary to comment on it
You went from Bunny Chow to directing How To Steal A Million and the 3rd segment of Spud?
31 Million Reasons was a great experience. I learnt a lot about the filming process as it was the first film that I had been commissioned to direct. Learning to deal with Producers, execs and clients is a real skill. Spud was with the same team but the stakes were much higher. Working with John van der Ruit, John Cleese, Troye Sivan and the team of young actors was such a cool experience.
You have also made quite an impression in the local television industry…
I have been very fortunate to work with Bomb productions in the last few years. Working on Ayeye, Isibaya and Mzanzi Magic’s The Road. I recently co-directed the Bantu Hour. Sketch comedy is good times!
Now Wonder Boy For President is challenging conventions and received great attention at the Durban International Film Festival 2016.
Wonder Boy For President is a political satire which examines and reflects on the current political landscape in SA. I have been working on improv and retro scripting techniques in Blu Cheez, Bunny Chow and now WBFP. I have tried to blur the lines between fiction and non fiction. Wonder Boy is fictitious but we intercut his scenes with clips of Jacob Zuma, Julius Malema and Mmusi Maimane reacting to Wonder Boy’s antics.
Tell me about Wonder Boy for President, how did it happen and what inspired the film?
WBFP was conceived as a response to the lack of leadership in SA. We as filmmakers and comedians felt it was necessary to make a film that asked questions and challenged the status Quo. We feel that the country needs someone like Wonder Boy. A charismatic leader who the entire country can believe in – someone who can bring us all together. As you can imagine it was difficult to raise money. Our pitch went something like this ‘we’re making a mockumentary about Jacob Zuma and the ANC’ – door closed! 2016 is our 5th year of shooting due to money constraints and timing of the release.
Was Wonder Boy for President a difficult film to get to the big screen?
Yes, it’s been very difficult to get this film to cinema. I feel that the timing is right and we hope SA come out and support the cause. This is your chance to have a say Vote for Wonder Boy – only he can save us.
You are a writer and director working in film and television… Which medium do you prefer?
Difficult to answer. A balance between both is important for me.
How much has the industry changed since Bunny Chow?
When I made Bunny Chow – two other feature were made that year. Ten years on we’re making close to 50 features a year. SA films are now smashing box office records – it’s a good time to be in film. TV getting tougher as drama continues with SABC.
What advice you you have for writers who want to get their words turned into action?
Writers must read screenplays, TV series and any form of storytelling. Read scripts of films they’ve seen and films they have not seen…and continue to write.
And advice for those who want to direct their own films?
Directors must write and direct wherever they can. Short stories are always a good place to start as they are relatively inexpensive and you can quickly see if you’re getting the response from your audience that you were expecting.
What excites you about making films?
Storytelling is important. When people watch your film and get what you were trying to say – with character or plot or trying to make a point or trying to communicate about your characters need and wants.
Where did it all start for you, that moment that you knew you were going to be a filmmaker?
I got to make a short stop motion film in my second year studying Graphic design. I loved the collaborative aspect and process. I loved that filmmaking requires many talented people from many departments and different walks of like coming together to make one idea work. I also love being on set.
Who is the man behind the filmmaker, what do you do when you are not making films?
I have three sons who keep me very busy, when I’m not on set.
What do you hope audiences will get out of watching Wonder Boy for President?
I hope they are entertained.
What’s next for you?
I am writing Lolly – a film and TV series about Lolly Jackson. In pre Prod on Ayeye 2. Also hoping to make The Umbrella Men (10 years now).