It’s a film about a strong, mature woman and an equally strong man who respects that woman enough to fight for her love.
Daniel Dercksen shares a few thoughts with writer-director Quentin Krog about Vir Die Voëls
Inspired by a true story, the romantic drama Vir Die Voëls was produced by Huisgenoot, in association with kykNET Films as part of their centenary celebrations in 2016.
Vir Die Voëls was inspired by the true story of Irma Humpel (Simoné Nortmann), a surly tomboy who ends up in a wedding dress, in front of the altar, with the boy who relentlessly teased her as a child. She has always believed that independence was the only form of freedom, until Sampie de Klerk (Francois Jacobs) came along and challenged her convictions on all levels.
The film is set in the late 1970s and will make you feel nostalgic. It’s a film about a strong, mature woman and an equally strong man who respects that woman enough to fight for her love. It’s a story about inner conflict and preventing external circumstances and emotional baggage from getting in the way of future happiness.
Tell me about Vir Die Voëls, how did you get involved?
Danie Bester (Producer) approached me about a year ago (Nov 2015) and exlained the Huisgenoot competition which intrigued me to begin with. The first thing I then read after that was the original short story “Slim vang sy baas” written by Irma Humpel herself, and I was immediately attracted to it.
What inspired you about Vir Die Voëls?
Irma’s voice and character in the short story was so strong and clear. It jumped right off the page and I knew immediately that I wanted to tell her story.
How will you describe the film in your own words?
A fiery and independent woman in the 70’s tries her best not to fall in love and ultimately fails.
What do you hope audiences will get from watching the film?
I hope they laugh, cry and fall in love. I hope they are thoroughly entertained.
You directed the film and co-wrote the screenplay with a team of writers, tell me about the process.
The first few drafts of the screenplay were written by Tina Kruger. She spent a lot of time and effort with the real Irma and Sampie to get into their heads and setup the story world. And, with a few exceptions, she mostly stayed true to their real life story and honoured the way things really happened. I was generally happy with the progress made but felt there were a few bumps in the story road that we were struggling to figure out.
I then approached Sean Robert Daniels, an old high school friend who has subsequently become a very talented screenwriter, and asked for an objective opinion. He pointed out some stumbling blocks in the story that we were holding onto (for the sake of staying ‘true’ to the true story) and he suggested we exercise some creative licence and throw those ideas out the window to help with ironing the problem areas out. He also beautifully implemented an idea we came up with to let Irma break the 4th wall and narrate her story directly into camera. This all helped tremendously in moving the screenplay to the next phase it needed.
By this time Tina was also heavily pregnant and previously committed and engaged as one of the head writers on the full time soap Getroud Met Rugby and, having gone through 2 pregnancies with my Wife, I felt I wanted to give her some space and time to prepare for the upcoming baby and finish off with her other commitments. So I suggested that Sean and I approach the next couple of drafts together to give Tina a well deserved break.
Sean and I took it from there and essentially shaped it into what is on the screen today. Tina ended up loving the final shooting draft and also managed to do a final translation from English to Afrikaans just in time before the baby arrived. During rehearsals and on set the actors also brought some great ideas and improv moments which gave the final story a lovely layer of depth & charm.
Do you think it is easier writing a screenplay as a team, or solo
When developing the story from scratch, establishing the story world, characters and beats… Hands down the best way is with a team. Sean and I subsequently started a script development company, called The Writers Block, which practices that exact method to a great degree of success with our clients. After some collaborative brainstorming sessions with all the important people involved, we essentially compile a skeleton script which has as much scene detail as possible without adding dialogue, and then we get that skeleton script approved by all parties. Once everyone is happy then writing the dialogue is practically a breeze and best done as an individual.
Do you think it helps being an actor to write a screenplay?
I think so yes. Often I find us coming up with scenes together in the writers room and the acting part of my brain shoots up a red flag and goes; “Wait… if this was me acting I would struggle with this emotional beat here. There hasn’t been enough motivation up to this point to warrant a scene/moment like this…” Then we’ll brainstorm until it feels better. I find this happens quite a lot, so definitely a big plus to have the acting background.
Did you have any actors in mind during the writing process?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Most recently with my latest project scheduled for 2017 yes, there is a specific actor I can’t stop seeing as the lead character but can’t get too attached because there’s so many elements at play that could ultimately derail that idea; executive influences, schedules etc. So I try not to picture a face too much, but sometime I can’t help it.
What excites you about the process of writing a screenplay?
I love being able to verbalise (in words) the scenes, moments, rhythms and characters I’m seeing in my mind. It’s quite a liberating experience. And then thereafter to be able to physically create that world with a camera, crew and actors is just an awesome experience.
What excites you about being a filmmaker?
It excites me to think that I have the responsibility of entertaining an audience member. To move them emotionally, or to make them laugh, to get angry or sad. In the same way an actor gets a bit of a rush on stage knowing that he/she has the audience in the palm of their hand… I get that same experience when I’m sitting in the cinema with an audience at a premiere and people respond to what they’re seeing on the screen. It’s a great feeling.
Was it a difficult film to bring the screen? Tell me about any obstacles, etc
Biggest challenge was finding period-correct locations. Nowadays every house and street in the country is completely filled and surrounded by high walls, electric and palisade fencing. It was quite a challenge to find places that still had that open and free environment. We ended up cheating 4 completely different places to appear as one.
How much has the local industry changed since your first involvement?
Even more films are being made now. And there’s definitely a gradual improvement in the quality of what’s coming out. Filmmakers are starting to raise the bar and think out of the box. It’s inspiring.
How do you see the future of screenwriters in South Africa?
I think the future is extremely bright. If they were trying to make it in Hollywood or anywhere else in the world, they’d be 1 in ten thousand wannabe screenwriters in the same town all trying to get their screenplay sold. In South Africa they’d be 1 in a few hundred. We have so many untold authentically South African stories that still need to be written. So much room for growth and opportunity.
What do you think is the magic ingredient producers are looking for in a screenplay?
To start on page 1 and not stop reading until they’ve reached the end. To be moved, excited and entertained.
How do you feel about the end product, watching it on the big screen?
I’m very proud at what we achieved in a very short space of time. Ideally I would’ve loved a bit more time with every element but our deadline was intense and I had to let go of certain things. Ultimately I’m very proud of what we achieved as a team.
What’s next for you?
A film called ’n Ander Mens inspired by a novel of the same name written by Zirk van den Bergh. The Writers Block is currently developing the screenplay and we’re due to start shooting around April/May of 2017.