Writer-director Sean Else talks about ‘n Man Soos My Pa

Mending damaged relationships in ‘n Man Soos My Pa

Writer-director Sean Else during the filming of 'n Man Soos My Pa, with actors Lara de Bruijn and Vilje Martitz

Writer-director Sean Else during the filming of ‘n Man Soos My Pa, with actors Lara de Bruijn and Vilje Martitz

‘n Man Soos my Pa is an honest story about the things in life which form us: our homes, our parents, friendships, school, romance, the school bullies.

The film show how difficult reconciliation can be, and how acceptance, disappointment and understanding walk hand in hand.

The film raises complex questions, including: “What is a father..?”; “What is a dream..?”; “What makes a good person, and what is a person with faults..?” and “What are the reasons behind people’s actions – or inactions…?”

It explores and portrays what can be deemed ‘typical’ phases of a relationship between father and son – from “My father is my hero” to “My father is an embarrassment”.

Written and directed by Sean Else, it will be released on November 20.

Man soos Pa 1

Neels van Jaarsveld in ‘n Man Soos My Pa

After obtaining a degree in Drama at the Tshwane University of Technology, Sean started a career as an actor, appearing in numerous award-winning stage productions, films and television series.
In 2005 he started his own record label, Mozi Records, where he produced albums for multi-platinum-selling artists, Bok van Blerk and Lianie May.  These artists’ sensational achievements include the South African Music Award (SAMA) for Top Selling Artist in 2009 (Lianie May) with Bok van Blerk scooping the same award in 2010. As a songwriter, Sean partnered on numerous hit songs, including: ‘De La Rey’, ‘Ons Vir Jou Suid-Afrika’, ‘Tyd Om Te Trek’ and ‘Die Kaplyn’. The videos for these songs have also won Sean numerous “Music Video of the Year” awards.
Sean then produced and co-directed the massive hit theatre shows, ‘My Man Se Vrou Se Man’ (based on ‘Run for Your Wife’ by Ray Cooney), ‘My Boetie se Sussie se Ou’ (based on ‘Caught in the Net’ by Ray Cooney) and ‘As Die Kat Weg Is…’. Together with the award-winning playwright, Deon Opperman, Sean co-wrote the epic musicals, ‘Ons Vir Jou’ (most successful Afrikaans musical in history), ‘Shaka Zulu’, ‘Jock of the Bushveld’ and ‘Lied van my Hart’.
Sean later co-produced, directed and edited his first feature film, ‘Platteland’. On its opening weekend it became the highest-grossing Afrikaans film in history, surpassing ‘Happy Feet 2’ in South African opening weekend sales. He also executive produced “Spud 2: The Madness Continues”, starring John Cleese and Troye Sivan.
Sean wrote, directed and co-produced two local films in 2015: ‘’n Man Soos my Pa’ and ‘Modder en Bloed’ (the latter due for release in 2016).

Daniel Dercksen in conversation with Sean Else

How did the idea for the film originate, and how was the story decided on ultimately?

 Johan Kruger approached me during March/April 2014 with the title and idea to produce a film which would explore the sometimes complex relationships between fathers and sons. It was important for us both that the essence of the story is about the mending of a damaged relationship. I went away and thought about how to tell a story like this in the best possible way. There are, of course, endless possibilities and angles with a story like this, but we ultimately decided to find something on which they would have to work on physically, to represent their relationship in the past. The restoration of the 1968 Volvo Amazon became the instrument which I use to explore their relationship, past and present, and the effect their relationship had on the people in their lives.

Does the film reflect your personal experiences during your growing years and/or your relationship with your father?

As a writer, there are, of course, always elements of yourself in any story. But this is not my story, or Johan’s. It is everyone’s story. Anyone who has had a relationship with their father goes through the stages our characters do, in the film. The father who is your hero in your pre-teen years, the ‘strict’ and ‘unreasonable’ father during your early/late teens. The father who do not ‘understand’ you when you are reckless in your twenties, the father who becomes your hero again the day you have a child – or children – of your own, and you’re beginning to admit your own faults. But unfortunately it is not always as simple as that. There are often very complex layers and steps one has to go through personally when it comes to forgiveness. We saw after the screening of the film at Silwerskerm in August 2015, that the film had everyone talking about their own relationships with their fathers and how the dynamic has changed over the years.

The film plays off over a few decades, from the late 70’s to 2015. What were, logistically and creatively, the most difficult challenges during the production?

 One of the most difficult elements was the logistics of using the same sets for the different periods (and on an extremely tight schedule). The production designer and her team did a fantastic job to make it work within the confines of our shooting schedule. Another difficult element was working around the availability of our actors. The different time periods was a challenge to cut, and we had use a number of conventional and unconventional methods to get it right.

You have used the cream of South Africa’s talent for the various roles. Was it difficult to decide who to ultimately cast for the lead and key support roles, and what were the principle reasons for the choices made?

The most important aspect for us was to get the best actors to give substance and depth to the characters in the script. We also needed to try to cast according to some physical resemblance. I worked long and hard with our actors during pre-production, to get personalities and characteristics as close as we possibly could. Small things like certain mannerisms got a lot of attention. Needless to say, we knew from the outset that we wouldn’t get actors with clear and distinguishable similarities, but with the brilliant actors we have in the film, we managed to get the ‘soul’ of the characters the same, which was far more important than pure physical similarities. Everyone knows it is a story with characters played by actors, and with the brilliance of their performances, physical similarities became much less of an issue.

‘n Man Soos my Pa is your first film as director since Platteland. What is different between the two projects in terms of content and creative strategy?

 The films are completely different genres. What is important for me in any film is that genre and story are approachable and speak to an audience. I honestly do not care if it is a comedy or a tragedy, it is about the elements that make it approachable to an audience, also characters and/or events/situations they can relate to.

Although there has been a couple of exceptions, statistically romantic comedies and musical films have done well at the box office, especially Afrikaans language films. How do you rate the chances of a drama like ‘n Man Soos my Pa at the local box office?

I am not a person who works according to statistics. They have a way of leading you by the nose, and all that happens is that trends are followed and honest stories are not told. I always work from the inside out, irrespective of whether it is film, theatre, or song lyrics. I ask myself: “Does the story speak to me?”; “Will I go see it?” And most important: “Is it universal enough that a wider audience can relate to the content in one way or the other?” We can never predict how a particular film will perform at the box office. All we can do is to apply honesty and expertise in respect of script, production, post-production, and the marketing of the film. The cinema-going public will ultimately determine the commercial success or failure of a film, and if we as filmmakers want a particular film to have a reasonable chance of financial success, we have to respect that what we ultimately produce is for the public, not ourselves or our colleagues.