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About Jenna Cato Bass

I'm a director, writer, photographer, aspiring explorer and retired magician living in Cape Town, South Africa

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Here we go again...

Posted January 22, 2009

I can't sleep. And would you know it, we've run out of rescue remedy. I generally think of myself as a relatively anxious person (sometimes). But even for me, this is a new height. I'll explain. 

The day after I got back I managed to hook up a meeting at the XXXX Films offices (the new production company) with Niki, who is handling the project. It would have been nerve wracking, but luckily David was there too. It went very well - she had great suggestions about the script and then we got down to the business of tackling the production. So, happy? yes. Nervous? hell yeah. Part of the deal is that, at least for now I'll be handling the rest of the funding process on my own. yikes. I've got scant experience in the funding game, and yet I feel this is a really good learning curve and is also best for the film - without a doubt, I'll be the last person to give up and more than anyone I know why this film needs to get made. so there it stands. yikes again. But I'm hoping that with Egg's support I'll manage. 

So this is what I've assigned myself while Niki draws up the budget, schedule and fund allocation plan for further funding and to send to Focus for approval:

Synopsis (both a short teaser and a full length detailed one)

Casting briefs (in detail this time)

Location breakdown and references

Funding strategy

Distribution strategy

Visual references, mood boards and an intro video presentation

and you know what? despite the stress, I realized this: I'm enjoying myself. It comes from working your ass off on something you care about, I think. 

So, here is a taste of what the day included:

1st Draft of the Short Synopsis:

Set during the 1980s Matabeleland massacres in Zimbabwe at the hands of Mugabe’s 5th Brigade, The Tunnel follows young Elizabeth, nicknamed “Rabbit” because of her love of making up tall stories. When she arrives at a guerilla camp desperate for help, Elizabeth must tell her greatest story of all, a story about the day her father dug a tunnel to the city and her journey to find him.
 
As the story unfolds, Elizabeth embarks on a quest for truth, weaving together fact and illusion. But reality is not far behind and, to save her village, Elizabeth will have no choice but to confront it. 
And finally, because this blog has been without pictures for too long:

Me doing funding (the scary part):

visual refs (the fun part):

I also did some youtube browsing - I can't believe it's taken me so long - and came up with some fascinating and horrific footage:

There are more, but I didn't think it would be tasteful to post them here - they're very disturbing. But if you're interested in learning more about the period (and don't want to stray further than youtube) search for "5th Brigade" or "Gukurahundi" which is what Mugabe called the "operations" in Matabeleland - the word taken from the Shona meaning "the rains that wash away the chaff" (though have seen it translated as "wind").

I was walking home yesterday and a man - he was one of those really fit 60 year olds who makes you feel sheepish - jogged past me. i greeted him, and he gave me a strange look and said one word: "work". Maybe I heard him wrong. Either way, i wonder what it means. 

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Myth & Romance

Posted January 19, 2009

 

Back from holiday. While I was away I read:
Oscar and Lucinda Peter Carey
The Wasp Factory Iain Banks
The Life and Times of Michael K JM Coetzee
Batavia's Graveyard Mike Dash
Hotheads Steven Pinker
Nation Terry Pratchett
Box 18 Norma Farnes
Maps and Legends Michael Chabon
The Beach Alex Garland
and also.... though i hate the admit it.... Twilight Stephany Meyer.... no wait! it's not what you think... let me get into this a bit because I personally found it very interesting and worthy of comment. Now, naturally my 16 year old sister and most of her friends are in on this craze. And though, while initially scornful, i'm seldom one to turn away from a phenomena. i'm always interested to see whodunnit and howdunnit. because no matter what trash you believe the books (and film) to be, there is a reason why it's there and why it's captured people. so i read this book. now, what strikes me as amazing is that, as expected, the writing is more than laughable, the story almost non-existent, the characters character-less, so this implies that underneath all this muck, lurks a beast. a beast of a myth. yes, i've been reading joseph campbell (who i avoided throughout film school purely on principle that my lecturer told me to read him). and wow. i think everyone should suffer through this book just to catch a glimpse of the absolute, pure, primal myth that meyer has managed to capture: (and here i'm a bit worried about being controversial, but i don't really think this can be disputed, if purely on the biological level, which perhaps it comes down to): the fundamental desire of women to find a man of physical perfection (and i do not just mean good looks) who will dedicate his life to her well-being and happiness. of course, we have the specifics at work here too which make it a hit with teenagers- ironically this does not include authentic teenage characters or high school environment, but rather i think the distinct teenage angst that Bella feels- i won't go into more details... this is a film blog so i'm trying to keep it short - but on second thoughts, the reason i am discussing this book here is I think thoroughly relevent to film. indeed! it is myth, of course! and what could be more integral to our work as filmmakers and entertainers, creating the public dream. 
So yes, Twilight has the specifics. but it also has the lack thereof in the main characters that is interesting. in most circumstances, 2-dimensionality of character in any medium is disasterous. but here, Meyer has managed (see below) to achieve the perfect balance of ineptitude and subject to make the following happen: Bella Swan is almost personality-less. What this means, however, is that every reader, any  girl, can layer herself onto this"vessel" and thus experience far more personally the love for Edward we read about. Now I think that is very interesting. Don't you? 
I've tried to keep this relatively short, but really, I'd welcome any debate on this. I think it's something important to understand. How much Stephany Meyer is consciously responsible for this depth in her work, I'm not sure. But the fact is she did it. She caught the myth. there it was, floating around, wanted by people, needed by people. she somehow chanced upon it. and she let girls dream what they otherwise could not. that's admirable, i think
oh, and the film itself, though similar, is a whole different  ball game. i'll save that discussion for another time though. or maybe just annoy my friends with it. 
back to real life. i've gone straight back into the business of the short, and yesterday was an interesting day. lines were drawn in the sand. anxious phone calls were made. advice was sought . hopefully in the next few hours i'll be able to clarify. it's just that, when things could either go extremely well, or extremely badly, one hesitates to predict. but i'm erring on the side of extremely well. update asap.

 

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Nothing says "Entertainment" like a song and dance number

Posted January 11, 2009

It occurred to me recently, the power and joy of scenes in films where characters sing and/or dance. I don't just mean musicals here, but films and TV (etc.) where this incorporated and added in matter of factly, not subsuming to the genre itself. My interest was mainly aroused by TV shows like Flight of the ConchordsGarth Marenghi's Dark Place and, my favourite, The Mighty Boosh. There really is something amazing, something close to pure, innocent enjoyment, about watching characters cut lose and break it down (especially in the funky, DIY-glam style of the latter. And at this stage I can't resist providing a sample....).

And it's not just TV - watching Brad Pitt dance on the treadmill, in the car, and in various locations was one of my highlights from Burn After Reading. "Why is this?," I wondered. I'm sure there are any explanations, some more complex than others, but I wonder if it really is not as simple as the fact that all we want to do is to let go, to sing, to dance, and to be free. And to see a character do that is to experience, for a moment, that freedom. But if this is the case, why do we let ourselves dance vicariously? I think we, myself included, should all dance more. And sing. Even if we're bad at it. I think the movies are trying, like a certain famous collie, to tell us something: Come on, let's rock. 
This got me thinking where the singing and dancing was in my film.... there isn't much. but there is a scene where my 13 year old heroine dances with a guerrilla soldier in the forest. so maybe I'm learning. 
Tomorrow I go away on holiday for a week. The place I'm going is idyllic. A good way to describe it would be that it's the best place to read Lord of the Rings. So I'll be away till the 19th. And this is slightly bad news. I'm at the point where I just want to get going with the short, especially now everyone is slowly emerging from holiday stupor. And the frustration is getting intense. I'm still waiting for a decision from the production company I mentioned before, and in the meantime David said I should write them a kind of introductory letter. This is what I wrote:
Hello David!
here is my introductory letter - let me know what you think and if there's anything i should change. of course, feel free to substitute the "To whom it may concern" for the relevant people/person.
let me know if i should drop off a showreel before i leave....?
xxx
Jenna

To whom it may concern
I assume that by now you have read my script The Tunnel and know more or less what it is about.  As I wrote in my motivation to Focus Features, I feel it is a story that has to be told, and in that sense it is a gift. I hope that, after reading it, you feel this way too, even if, at this stage it is just a feeling. 
I have been working on the story for almost a year, on my own and under the supervision of Focus and their advisors in New York. I am confident that, though ambitious in scope, it is not only feasible but will provide real entertainment, with the kind of fulfillment and emotional journey we, as audiences, seldom get to experience in shorts. And this what, as a fiction director, excites me the most. I feel very privileged to be in a position to direct a film which inspires me, which has real story, real emotion, and on our own terms. I hope you recognize this as an opportunity to be involved in something relevant and sincerely creatively fulfilling. 
I'm not always very good at self-promotion, but I assure you that my experience thus far as a young director, (which includes 9 shorts and 5 music videos) has prepared me to take on The Tunnel. My career has only served to assure what it is I want to do, at any cost: direct cinema.  However, I do acknowledge the scale of the project, which is why, when David mentioned that XXX may be interested in being involved it is not only an honour but a dream come true. I am convinced that having professionals on board of your incredible standard and experience will make the potential of the project a reality.
What I'm really looking for is a team, or single producer, who will take responsibility for facilitating the production and come to feel as much a part of it as I do. It is my great hope that XXX is this entity and that you will choose to be involved.
The film must be completed and in New York by August in order to honour my contract with Focus. With this in mind, I hope to begin pre-production almost immediately and start shooting at the latest by May. Thus, your respected decision would be greatly appreciated as soon as possible.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if there is any information, either concerning myself or the film, that I can provide you with.
best regards,
Jenna Bass
Yikes...And now I wait.... (angst angst angst). 
But on a happier note, I've had some early discussions (in person and telephonic) with Jacques (editor) and Yvette (producer) (hmm... French names...) and it feel so good to start getting into the swing of things finally... i do love the sweet smell of post-production.... in the morning... and sometimes at lunch. and generally till about 5pm. and sometimes late at night too can be good. 

 

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New year, new draft & general newness

Posted January 06, 2009

 

So what I've learnt is that christmas - new year is a bad time to write a script. I finished my latest draft of The Tunnel and with great trepidation sent it out to the wide world, hoping for advice, edification and epiphany (you know that feeling if you write - something is wrong, you're not sure what, but it's bugging you. and you're telling yourself someone else will have the answers). Sadly, and I say this with the smallest amount of cynicism, people really do have better things do with their holidays.  Like have fun. And not doing work. Like reading scripts. So this upset me a bit because I'd been sitting alone writing for so long and I so badly wanted the feedback. But patience they say, most likely correctly (it is "they" after all), is a virtue. 
So New Year's eve came and went and it is now 2009. Happy 2009! I hope you and everyone you know (unless they are villains) are happy and excited about what the year will bring. Personally, 9 is my unluckiest number, but then again I'm ridiculous. 
So far 2009 has been good. I got my first bit of script feedback from my friend Trevor who is in London (well technically my fourth - after my mom and dad and sister) . What joy -  (I hope he's reading this) - he's the best script consultant I've ever had the good fortune to know. And I immediately re-wrote based on his comments.  This latest draft is almost there - the themes are tied up, the characters are cool (I think so) and I feel it really has come back to what inspired me originally: A strange time, when people did strange and terrible things. But the real proof of my renewed confidence is that I finally got up the courage to send it to Focus and the rest of the Africa First advisors. Fingers crossed.....(!!!)
At the same time I had lunch. No ordinary lunch: it took place at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (one of my favourite places) with my film school producer David Horler-Blankfield (what a name- I assure you it suits him). Since graduating David has been doing amazing things and is about to become junior producer at one of Cape Town's biggest production houses, which, at 22, I believe is impressive. He recommended I pass the script on to the producers at the company he works at to see if they'd be interested. I did. And after harrassing David more than I'm sure was necessary he got back to me to say yes, they're interested. This is very good news. I really hope it works out, and hopefully in the next few days I'll be able to tell you if it did. 
I realize that if anyone is reading this blog in the hope of learning/hearing about the process of making a short (that is, if anyone is reading this at all) it may appear that things are moving quite slowly. Possibly they are. But it is tricky to make writing and find a producer sound exciting. I promise when the time comes I'll throw tantrums, dive into white water rapids and fire the entire crew. Maybe not, but things will hopefully hot up, especially with my preternatural ability to court disaster. But maybe I should just do exciting things regularly in general. Like becoming a rock star; my secret ambition. Not so secret anymore I guess. Thanks a lot, internet. 
The last few lines of this post I'll dedicate to miscellanea :
Both my latest videos are now on TV - if you're in South Africa they're on MK89. 
Everyone should watch The Kingdom by Lars Von Trier - it is beyond remarkable. beyond words. beyond beyond. 
My proposal for a mini-series, The Night Inside, is almost finished
I was featured on Lost at E Minor with a photo of my friend Katherine who's studying acting at Stella Adler (how cool is that?) http://www.lostateminor.com/2009/01/03/jenna-bass/ 
I saw a really really awful blockbuster the other day and call on everyone to boycott bad films. I can't take it anymore. Audiences are not stupid. We just want to be entertained, right?
Thank you Werner Herzog for the masterpiece which is Encounters at the end of the World. Thank you.
East of Eden is the best book ever. 
I'm about to replace my trusty Nikon D70 with a D90 - if this is a bad idea, please someone tell me before I spent R8000. 
Burn After Reading comes out here on Friday (can you believe it took this long)! Excitement of note!

 

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