Heard of the 48 Hour Film Project? It’s an annual international competition where filmmakers are given exactly two days to write, shoot, edit and submit a 5-minute movie. Which means, in simple terms: If you do this, you can forget about sleep. You’ll get to eat only if you’re really lucky. And you’re going to have the time of your life.
I moved back to South Africa just over a month ago. I haven’t had much to do except write, hang out with old friends, and plough through my savings. Not a bad gig, but I was itching to actually do something. Enter: The gorgeous actress and poet Caroline Lavers (Cam to those who know her). A dear friend of mine, and the kind of girl it’s very hard to say no to. She told me about the project, introduced me to director Lungile Mayindi, and they invited me to help with the writing. Finally! Something to get excited about.
The competition works like this. Your movie must feature an assigned prop, line of dialogue, and a character name. This is so nobody can get cheeky and prepare too much ahead of time. Genres are then drawn at random, one for each production team. If you don’t like your genre, you have the option to draw a wild card—but do that and there’s no going back.
Friday evening, 11th September: Myself, Lungile and Cam arrive at Pretoria Varsity to meet up with our production team, sign up for the event, and get the prompts.
Prop: A box of matches
Character: Clement / Clementine O’Neil
Line of dialogue: “Here, hold this.”
Genre: Well… naturally I was breathlessly holding thumbs that we’d get horror. But no. Fantasy. Fantasy?! Get outta here.
Wild card: Espionage.
Still not really our thing, but better than writing about unicorns.
We then scurried off to a nearby bar and began the caffeine infusion that would not cease for the next thirty-six hours. Once we’d pooled some ideas with the rest of the cast and crew, Caroline, Lungile and I headed back into Johannesburg, where I had a free house. It didn’t help that Cam and I were so busy blasting music and talking on the way that we kept missing turnoffs! A half hour drive back to my place ended up taking something like an hour, with Lungile following close behind—no doubt wondering what in the hell we were doing. Tick-tock. My house: Quiet, calm. Three people and a somewhat bewildered cat. More coffee. We wrote until 6 in the morning, trying to wrangle our ideas into something coherent that would actually be shootable. By the end we’d binned almost all of our original ideas, and wound up with something nobody could exactly remember coming up with. But hey, I know this from my own writing: sometimes stories prefer to tell themselves.
About this little story of ours. We had exactly zero trouble taking inspiration from the box of matches as a prop. Here’s why. LION is the most common brand of matches sold in South Africa, and there’s something of a legend that there’s a penis hidden in the picture of the lion. (Gasp!) Seriously. There isn’t a single South African who doesn’t know this. For generations, kids all across the country have sat out on the back steps of their houses and stared at boxes of matches, trying to pick it out. Exploiting this for our movie was just too easy. If you watch the film and know this story, you can read it as something of an inside joke. (And a quick confession, while we’re here… I myself, in all my years, never figured out where the dick was until we made this movie! I know. Guess I’m way more innocent than I seem.)
With our somewhat depraved little script in place, we hightailed it to Cam’s house where the shoot itself would take place. Cast and crew arrived at 9 a.m. Chaos descended and didn’t quit until long after dark. Sleep? I think I grabbed an hour and a half. Food? Cam’s wonderful other half did his best to make sure we all managed to eat something, handing out hot dogs to whoever had a minute. And I really do mean a minute. Random fact: I don’t eat pork. But by the time he’d got it in my hands, I was so starved and sleep-deprived I didn’t even register what I was consuming. All I knew was that it was wonderful—and very, very needed. (Sorry little pigs! Never again, I swear…!)
In between fighting with faulty printers, dodging neighbours (we didn’t have permission to film out on the road… Shhh!) and arguing about vibrators, the shoot was an absolute blast. I’m not an actress (and the one scene where I actually did something on camera wound up being cut… sorry, mom!) but even as an extra, I can see why it would be such a thrilling profession. That’s one helluva way to spend the weekend. And the result? The editing took a tad too long and we missed the deadline for international entries, but we did pick up a Choice Award at national level!
IRON HARD is currently up on YouTube, here.
Heartfelt thanks to everyone involved for a truly awesome experience.