Interview: SA Producer-Writer Bianca Isaac

BiancaBianca Isaac Is At The Top Of Her Game

By Daniel Dercksen

Bianca Isaac’s TV series Swartwater, which she produced with Quizzical Pictures, won 4 SAFTA Awards this year , including Best Drama Series. She is writing the third Season of Umlilo for ETV,  she produced the film The Jakes Are Missing, and made her directorial debut with 3 Days To Go

I first met Bianca when she was a guest speaker at The Writing Studio’s weekend workshop for screenwriters during the release of the film Getroud Met Rugby, which she produced.   Her bubbly and spirited personality had everyone in the palm of her hand and a group of new South African screenwriters left the workshop inspired.

The Industry has changed drastically since then.  During that time a maximum of 3 local films were released a year. Today more than one local film is released monthly, one such film being Isaac’s proud baby, The Jakes Are Missing, which she wrote and produced.

It was good touching sides with Bianca, sharing thoughts about The Jakes, what it takes to be a successful producer-writer in South Africa, and some great advice for new filmmakers and writers.

It’s been a while since you were a guest speaker at one of our workshops for screenwriters in Johannesburg.  How has the industry been treating you?

The industry has been great to me. I have had a successful run in the television and film sector. With Quizzical Pictures, I produced a film called RISE for Mzanzi Magic, 2 seasons of a drama series called Swartwater which won 4 awards at the 2015 SAFTA’s, including best drama series. Another Quizzical Pictures partnership, I produced 1 season of the hit drama series for ETV called Umlilo and I am currently writing on Season 3 of Umlilo. Figjam Entertainment is my production company and I had been writing films under this company and finally got to make The Jakes Are Missing which releases this Friday 23 October in cinemas nationwide. I am currently writing my next feature film The Last Tour which my lead actress Mampho Brescia is co-producing with me. And working with the guys that brought us Neck Tie Youth: Elias Ribeiro and Writer /Director John Trengove on his movie The Wound

Everyone is talking about The Jakes Are Missing.  In you own words, what is the film about?

The Jakes is a romantic comedy. It is a beautiful film for the entire family which features characters that we have all interacted with at some point in our lives. It’s a film that can make you laugh, cry, fall inlove, laugh some more and then fall inlove again. It deals with love on various scales – the older love that stood the test of time with Darlington Michaels and Abigail Kubeka. The modern love with lead actress Mampho Brescia and Pope Jerrod and then the love at first site with teenagers Mpho Sebeng and Nomzamo Mbatha. The film deals with aspects of life and marriage that the modern day society deals with and I think it’s a fun movie that everyone would love. The music supervised by Gregory Mthanji is extraordinary and gives the film a whole new life. I created these wanna be bad guys that are lead by Jody Abrahams and they are a laugh a minute.

What inspired you to write the screenplay?

The Jakes family as always been in my mind. When I wanted to make another film – they were the first option. I wanted to make a Romcom that can show off SA in a way I wanted the world to see us. We can make films as good as can the US and other places, we just need a chance to do it. The film shows off SA’s beautiful landscapes in Johannesburg and Clarens and more so I wanted to talk about love.

As a producer on the film, does this influence your writing process?

It’s a tricky one. I have my writer hat that goes with the imagination and no budget constraints and then I have my Producer hat that says nope…. We don’t have budget for that:). So I was always fighting with myself on that one. I had to change a few things to fit the schedule and the budget but in the end it all worked out for the best

Was it a difficult process from page to screen?  

It was challenging more than difficult. I had imaged a few things differently but when the team translated to screen it super ceded my expectations, so that was great. It was much easier in some aspects because I knew the characters well and so translating that to the directors and the actors and eventually onto screen was much easier,

What are the obstacles for new screenplays in South Africa and getting your film to an audience?

It’s about creating strong characters that audiences will invest in, when they go to watch the film. Whether you love them or hate them – it is great. They are there to evoke emotions in you and that’s important

You have two directors on board for The Jakes Are Missing, Neal Sundstrom and Denny Miller, tell me about this?

It was great. Denny did the beginning of the film process and Neal did the shoot into the Post process. The nice part was me being the constant which means that flow, look and feel always had the same root.

Premiere Invitation - The Jakes are Missing

Did you write the screenplay with specific actors in mind?

Mampho Brescia was always my Janice. So that was great. Darlington Michaels was always going to be my Reverend. Celeste Ntuli, Heidi Mollentze and Nicole Bailey were my 3 girls and Jody Abrahams my lead wannabe gangster. I always had these actors in mind and I was lucky enough to have them on board. The rest of the cast just fitted in perfectly as we went along. Even my good friend Annie Malan came along to play a part in the film.

What excites you about the process of writing a screenplay?

The fact that you can create anything from your imagination. I really like how something starts off as 1 thing and then as a writer you breath life into all of it. Watching that come together was an exciting experience for me. Also it was my first time writing so I it made the process even more enjoyable.

What excites you about making a film?

Entertaining, I love every aspect of film making. In fact if I didn’t do this, I wouldn’t know what to do with my life:). From the day I sit with the script, the process begins for me. Long nights, 7 days a week until this baby is done dusted and delivered. It’s in my blood.

What do you as a producer look for in new screenplays? What is it that makes you say: “I have to make this film!”

The story must have heart and interesting characters across any genre. If it is a captivating drama – I am there in a minute. With Romantic Comedies – one has to achieve the correct balance between the love and comedy.

How difficult is it for new screenwriters to get their screenplays produced? Why?

I think is it hard. There are so many screenwriters with scripts but the sad reality is that we do not have the money to make all films. I think the industry is at a great place in terms of churning out more local films, South African needs to support the local industry so it can be profitable and more screenplays can be turned into films

What excites you about the local industry? Why?

The fact that we have evolved from telling stories only about poverty and sickness to genre stories set in our country. Our generation is a great one, with great ideas and the more we can put that on screen, the better for the industry. I’m excited for all young producers, writers and directors in our country – to make films that can entertain us all.

How different is the Industry now compared to when you did Getroud Met Rugby?

Very different. When I made Getroud Met Rugby, films in SA were just picking up – we were 1 of 3 films released that year. But now we can release a local film almost every month – which is a great success for local Producer.

What advice do you have for new writers and directors who would like to become filmmakers?

Don’t hesitate, just do it. If you never make that film, you will never know if it would have worked or not. Rather learn from your mistakes, than wait for the perfect one. When you commit to making a film – do not ever turn back, no matter how hard it gets.

What do you hope audiences will get from watching the film?

I hope audiences will acknowledge that film in our country has evolved and we can tell entertaining stories like any other country.  Specifically from the Jakes – I hope they walk out with the lesson of love eternal and how important it is to acknowledge that and live that. I hope they would spread the word and more people come watch so the film can last longer at cinemas

Any comment you would like to share?

  • Support The Jakes Are Missing releasing on the 23rd October nationwide
  • Follow us on Twitter @JakesTheMovie
  • For each person that reads this article and watches the film, Please tell at least 5 people to watch the film in cinemas and support local film so we can keep making more.

Copyright © 2015 Daniel Dercksen