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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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Life After the Oscars...

Posted February 25, 2009

If I was more risque and sure of myself, this blog post would be called this:

"How Porn Could Save My Film"

OK, I'll explain... I suppose mentioning names is out... Someone I know was approached to shoot a South African porn film. He thought it over, decided it was not what he wanted to do. But what he did find out was that the guy who asked him has a Red camera at his disposal, which, when its not shooting porn, doesn't get used. Which could maybe be hired to us for a nominal rate. I'm at the stage when I will try anything, and right now, that means trading my editor into the porn industry for a camera. He won't mind. No really, I'm being serious. Maybe one day I'll tell you the whole story. 

Seriously. The Tunnel's website is finally live - still in the process of being updated, but there it is - There.

Carey's amazing contacts have been paying off and I've met with and spoken to a few producers who all seem to not only be stable and sincere, but genuinely interested in the project and very helpful. We'll see where it all goes. Fingers crossed. 

In the meantime, waiting is still not an option. Thus I found myself in the midst of another heatwave, rushing to stickily compile my NFVF application, an application, I am positive, was devised with the sole intention of driving the applicant insane. Everything, absolutely everything, has to be submitted in quadruplicate, budgets filled out in two different formats. And worse (for me) there are numbers to (gasp) calculate. Even one copy of the end result resembles a thesis, a thesis I am quick to point out, written by someone who has never studied the subject. No, it's not that bad. Maybe a thesis done by someone who did first year. But if you are reading this and thinking "oy vey", please, do not panic. I'm panicking for you. Actually, I'm very calm. Surprisingly. You know. It's the heat. 

Today I went and visited Jan, possibly the guru of fundraising. What a great lady. We sat in her study, while I did my best to write down every pearl of wisdom as it came flying out. It was so hot in there. Flies banged against the window. I thought, If this was a movie scene, I know exactly how I would film it. But tomorrow I'll get to act on it all, which is quite exciting. 

I'm reading Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, a book that probably needs no introduction. More than that, I feel it has really come at the right time. It's my production oracle at the moment, I feel like I could rub its covers and ask "Oh Francis Ford Coppola, what must I do?" and then I could open it and it would have the answer. Really, you should try it. Even if Francis doesn't know, I'm sure Dennis Hopper could give you an idea :) 

Oh and well done to everyone on the Milk team. I have not seen the film. It has not come out here. But I cheered anyway. And Werner, I would have given you the Oscar. No two ways about it. 

Oh and thank you Darren Aronofsky for giving us The Wrestler. And Mickey, well, you know what we think. Why do I write this in the second person? I'm not sure. It's hot here. 

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One Down...

Posted February 21, 2009



My first feature script is on a plane now. Letting it go was hard. I wish I knew where it was and who was reading it. But just the idea of it being read, maybe entertaining someone, is great. I think I really must have enjoyed the mad rush which led to its completion, because the night that I had to complete everything, I really drew it out. At about 3am, when I'd finally finished printing it out and then, it started raining, bringing the two week heat wave we've had, to a close. I wish I was superstitious enough to believe that this was a sign. Maybe I am. Anyway, here it is in all its hardcopy glory (and me in all my sleep deprived, um, well, I wouldn't say "glory"). 

And here is how it begins:

But this is good. I now know I can write a script in a week. It can be done. Awesome. 

Got in contact again with Carey, who I met when I was at the Berlinale last year and who is possibly the most connected and film-industry-knowledgeable person I have ever met. It's disconcerting. But amazing. It had been a while, so I wanted to catch up, told her about my short and where I was at. She was horrified to find I was working without a producer and immediately gave me suggestions. It would be great if one of them worked out. I would love a producer right now. But until then, I'm not giving up. Producer or not, the film has to be made. So I'm keeping at it, keeping at it. yikes.

I'm aiming to send off my NFVF (National Film & Video Foundation) application asap this week. I've been putting it off slightly, not sure how kindly they'll look upon funding a director/writer/producer one man (?) show. But like I say, I can't afford to wait anymore. So by Wednesday the proposal has to be in the post. 

Jacques K (as opposed to Jacques DV, my editor) is a cinematographer who I met last year and who has very kindly expressed great interest in working on the film. So I went over to his place yesterday ostensibly to scan some more Oberholtzer photos he has as references, like this one:

We ended up talking about, in between UFOs and astral travelling, the film, gear options, shoot dates etc. etc. and it was so great to have someone on board who is enthusiastic and I can trust. It's great to have a team. I have to make a decision on a DOP in the very near future. It's a bit of a toss up, I'm not sure - I suppose I'm spoilt for choice in a way. But this week I really must make up my mind. 

One of the (many) things which have been plaguing me has been the shoot dates for the film: I'd tentatively set them for 20th June, giving us just enough time for post, the maximum amount of time for fundraising and being near enough to school holidays for us to take out school going lead actress out of school. But what can't be forgotten is the fact that cape town winter is not conducive to shoots (the industry goes dead for the duration of off-season)... especially ones set in the Zimbabwean summer. So I tried looking over the public holidays and long weekends leading up to that time, trying to find an suitable window. But being in a panic, I could see now way out. Jacques, being a down-to-earth person, immediately realised that i have one (only one) other option - a period between april and may where two strategically placed public holidays mean we have a gap. So a plan can be made. It's less time for fundraising, but more time for post. There it is. 

I got a reply to the ad I placed on the Berlin talent campus site - a guy from Austria contacted me, offering to let me use his red one camera for a discounted rate..... wow.... I would love a red. They're out of my price range here (though I haven't given up one trying to get one for a single day and using it to shoot my slow motion sequences)... but strangely it may prove financially viable to bring someone down from europe than it is to hire one here. Anyway. It's a shot in the dark. He said he'd get back to me. I'm not getting my hopes up. Yet. 

So for now, I'm looking at shooting on the EX3, allowing us a choice of affordable nikon lenses - shooting without interchangeable lenses is really not something I want to do.

That's it for now. Oh, except my cousin gave me From Hell, which is slowly in the process of blowing my mind. Graphic novels (good ones at least) are so cinematic, they're a great way of keeping the filmic frame of mind. I recommend. 

Oh and I hope everyone reads the extract from Mike Leigh on Mike Leigh that's on this site at the moment. I saw Career Girls two nights ago. Katrin Cartlidge was something else. What an amazing lady. 


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Since last we spoke...

Posted February 15, 2009

One thing I've learnt: Do not, on a windy day, when you're in a massive rush to get to the post office before it closes, take all your important documents and proposal forms, which you have spent the entire day compiling, to the police station to be certified. Paper + wind = I think you can imagine. On the up side, I do love going to the post office. I have a communication obsession, so the more outlets I can partake in, the better. Also I get to speak to my new buddy Alroy who is a clerk there and he tells me about his girlfriend trouble. When in doubt, go to the post office. 

So, the big-ish news first - last night at 2:30am I finished the first draft of my western, Flat Land. The deadline must have helped -I've started and stopped and started a few feature screenplays, some taking me four years.... but this one I did in a week. So I felt proud of myself for about a minute. Until I remembered Fassbinder. 

But yes, now I have a few days to try get it to all make sense - I really threw everything at it, realizing that the only way I was going to complete it would be to work as free of inhibitions as possible. Not easy. But now I'll go through it, possibly, despite my frequent skepticism for screenwriting books, with Syd Field's problem solver. 

One moment that stood out however was when I was writing an action scene towards the end of the film. I have a bit of a fear of writing action. Possibly, and I know this is wrong, because I'm afraid that being a girl, people expect one to be bad at it. I think about this more than I should because everything I believe says its ridiculous. But so I was a bit nervous of tackling it. But then you just really have to go back to what the function of the scene is. Don't get me wrong, this sounds quite clinical and I don't mean to say that one shouldn't be intuitive. On the contrary. Go crazy. But when you realize how your character needs to come out of the scene, it suddenly all falls into place. It dictates the action. Those bullets are no longer dandom - they should appear so. But as the writer, you are Fate. Isn't that a nice thought?

My only regret about the enforced speed at which I've written, even though it is something that can be fixed, is this: I think story and plot and ideas you can be done under pressure, spur of the moment and can be made to work. But characters, at least for me, those take time. Especially as my recent and evident Mike Leigh discipleship gave me very opinionated new views on how I intend to write from now on. Writing Flat Land was the exact opposite. I hope I won't have to do it again. I really feel like there is a better way. 

But on what I said about pulling off plots in a short period, I find it is actually OK much of the time to trust your intuition. Early on I worked a star-map into the story - a map of the night sky made at a certain place that, if you know what you're doing, can lead you to that place. This ended up being one of the pins that held the plot together. If it wasn't feasible it would come crashing down. Yes, I know you can get away with much in cinema, but seeing as the film is already toeing the line of the fantastical and possibly to make up for my lack of discipline, I called up the South African Astronomical Observatory and asked an astronomer about it. Amazingly, he said it could work. He was also very glad I'd called, instead of making an assumption. So that was nice. He also gave me, unintentionally, two brilliant ideas which I subsequently worked in. Those are the best.

Last week I sent in a proposal to our National Arts Council. As I wrote previously, I submitted it to their music department in the hope that they'll sponsor the soundtrack. I later found out that an old friend of my dad's is on the panel. Fingers crossed. It was a massive mad rush to get it in - I was trying to co-ordinate with John, my music supervisor, who is about to go in for an operation. So he was under pressure as such. I also found out on the day I was due to send it off that he didn't have a CV. Eventually I managed to cajole him into sending me whatever he had at hand. I went through it just before I had to leave and it blew me away - the man has done some incredible things; represented the government overseas, hosted workshops with Brian Eno, not to mention the great work he has done in preserving and recording traditional music. Wow. I feel so lucky.

Spent some of last week trying to re-teach myself Excel so I could draft a new budget. Halfway through I realised I didn't know how to calculate overtime, so I wrote to David to ask. Gee whiz. It's insane. Not to mention blowing my rudimentary excel knowledge out the window. Ah well. Producers are a breed unto themselves. No, I don't mean that. Completely. If I did I would not be attempting this. 

Meeting with Orli today to discuss the upcoming week - she's going to try help me with funding preparations etc. while I put the finishing touches on the script(s) and work on the budget. A massive help for which I am very grateful. 

Last night I got my first official endorsement for the film (in response to the over an hundred emails I must have sent), from a Canadian NGO called International Charity for Africa. They wrote a really great, supportive letter that made my day. As soon as I get a few more (hopefully) I'll post links to their websites.

On websites, I've decided to put together a blog on the making of The Tunnel - a website would be better but I think I'll try raise a bit more money before I organize that. But either way I'll be able to post all production info, as well as more in-depth resources on the film's period. So watch this space.

One last thing, which I have to mention, no matter how briefly. I've been reading quite a bit of Derrick Jensen, the anti-civilization theorist and environmental activist. The argument against civilization from an environmental and humanitarian standpoint is something I think about a lot. But my debates usually hit a dead end: the place and role of film as possibly one of the ultimate representatives of civilisation. Of course, this can be refuted, but it does come down that film, for now at least and a certain kind of film at that, is reliant on the systems in place. Even from a purely present-thinking environmental standpoint, it is an often wasteful and destructive industry. How much can this change? The argument that cinema can be replaced (exclusively) by tiny guerrilla productions and new media distribution doesn't hold with me. Its not the medium I chose. But can it be reconciled? Will there come a point where we'll put down our cameras? The projectors will be switched off? and the wind will blow through the empty movie houses? It scares me. I hope not. But as Jensen says, hope is not action. But film is action (He didn't say that). I'll leave it there for now. But its something to think about, not so?

This seems to have been a lengthy post. I would apologise, but I met someone at a party who actually read my blog. Yess. Thanks Taryn and Gavin. I'll try my best to entertain you. 

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Madness: part 2 and three quarters

Posted February 09, 2009


Dear everyone

So, I hope your day wasn't as bad as mine. Frightful. Honestly. I mean, I know filmmaking is hard. I wouldn't want to do it if it was easy. But this sucks. 

I'm once again on my own, having had a rather surprisingly upsetting parting of the ways with the company who had taken me and the film on board. Ah, well. The tears have been shed and its back to work. Much of the recovery is due to David who has been unbelievably helpful throughout the entire situation. He's put up with way too many anxious phone calls and furious emails. I can't believe I let him buy lunch last time we met. I seriously owe him dinner. And an Executive Producer credit.

On the plus side, I received confirmation that my closed corporation name (i.e. the company name I'll be using through which to make the film) has been cleared by our copyright office. Yes! Long live Fox Fire Films. 

So the tricky thing at the moment is prioritizing. I'm still being crazy enough to try and finish the feature screenplay for Sundance. But I don't want to leave funding hanging....

What I've decided to do though is to draw up a worst-case-scenario budget where I see what the minimum amount is I can make this film for. This will hopefully put my mind at rest and let me stop worrying. Hopefully it won't too drastically exceed the grant I already have. But I do know that if I want this film to reach its potential, I'll have to raise more. The last thing I want to do is compromise.

Spent much of the day either on the phone to my accountant (!!!! an accountant - this is a big deal for me. I'm incredibly financially unsound. I only know one person worse than me. But Ursula, my accountant is super. She even has a Little Mermaid character name) about the film or researching more embassies who have their offices in South Africa who I could call up to ask about potential funding. The next step is doing reesearch into companies who do CSI (coprorate social involvement). But hopefully I won't be alone on that - I emailed my friend Orli for some assistance. 

So, places I'll be applying in the near future, or have already: The National Film & Video Foundation, The Hivos Foundation, Stichting Doen, The National Arts Council, The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, The Open Society Foundation for South Africa, The Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, Robert Bosch Stiftung, Plan Images Afrique... and more... always more. If anyone looks at this list and sees one that is not a good idea, let me know. I need all the time I can get. Likewise, always open to ideas too.....

Posted an ad on the Berlinale Talent Campus website (I'm an alumni from 2008. It was awesome) to try see if I can get a foreign producer involved. Access to some more foreign funding would be great. It's a long shot, but worth a try. Everything these days seems to be worth a try. 

My friend Pieter who is a cinematographer in Canada asked me to do a video blog on the making of the film - I think its a swell idea, and I'd really like to do it.... just maybe not now, because a video blog of me filling in forms would not be exciting. But soon, as things hot up, I'll get out my handy D90 and try make this more visual. for sure.

In other news, I've found THE song for Flat Land (the feature script) - I think I mentioned this before, when I'm working on a film, it helps more than anything else when I find THE song, the one that encapsulates the feeling, the atmosphere of what I'm trying to say. This one is called "Wanted Dead or Alive" by little known garage band The Rogues (I think they only ever released one 45") - if you like, you can have a listen at Garage Hangover  -  one of those treasure trove websites, for anyone who loves garage rock in this case. Can't remember when I found it, but they're unbelievable - a catalogue of garage from around the world (literally) and with downloadable songs too (shhh....)

Back to work, but one more thing:

I see on this increasingly useful site that Zabriskie Point was released 39 years ago today. And I would like to say, contrary to the write up, "I love you Zabriskie Point! I understand you (or at least pretend to)!.... At the very least, you're my desktop wallpaper!". Oh the irony. 


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Heat & Money

Posted February 06, 2009

It is so hot here. I'm chewing ice cubes, one hand holding the phone to my ear, trying to extract information from a "technichian" at Telkom about my internet connection, the other hand filling out a proposal form. It is too hot. The budget that has been sent to me is far too high. For once, I know we can make this film for less. I'm starting to get mad. Today I swore in an email. I never swear. Luckily, it wasn't an email to a potential sponsor. Everytime I close my eyes, I see the words, "To whom it may concern". 

I hear its snowing in London. 

But it can also be fun. I play a game, trying to bypass beurocracy. For example, I was told by our national arts council they don't fund films. But then I realised I could apply under "Music" and see if i could get some money for my soundtrack, something i do not want to compromise on. 

But it starts to get a bit much too: I phoned a Swiss foundation in Cape Town, only to be told that while their aims and goals suit my film to a T, on principle they do not fund films. I asked, "What if there was a Swiss actor in my film?" He said maybe we could work something out. There actually is a Swedish priest in the film, but I suppose I could make him Swiss. Only thing is, I have my heart set on him being Swedish and I'll tell you why, but you'll laugh: My dream, one of my greatest ones, is to work with Max Von Sydow. It's an obsession. So somewhere in my mind, their rallies a hope that I could somehow get him to agree to star. Oh what joy. But I haven't factored casting a cinema legend into my budget. But I don't lose hope easily. One can but dream. I'm in the dream business, I can't help it. 

Discovered a great photographer today: Bill Henson. His work is pure cinema.


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Posted February 04, 2009


So, I've been meaning to write a post for a while - it's been on my large and intimidating to do list. So what follows are excerpts from what I have been meaning to write over the past week or two, and hopefully it sketches an idea of the way things are going.


The other day I did something naughty. I went to the movies in the morning. I got on my scooter and drove in the rain to the mall where I will caught the 11.45 show. That's very naughty for me. It was a week day and I should know better. I was busy trying to put a funding proposal together, decide whether or not to go to Rwanda to help Edouard (one of the other Africa First filmmakers) with his film (I wanted to! but there's just no time) and write a western in a month, so i needed time to think. Movies, I find, are often the best place to do that, even in the back of your mind. And whenever I'm feeling slightly lost, there's nothing better than the cinema. really.

A few days ago I went to see Revolutionary Road. I had tears in my eyes before it had even started. Sometimes, the potentials of my job i.e. what films are capable of, is too wonderful to bare. But the film itself - well - in South Africa we say "Jislaaik" - well, jislaaik. To translate: Somewhere in my imagination I have created a theatre with red curtains. In this room, a spotlight comes on, and Sam Mendes walks onto stage. And thousands of people (it's a big theatre) applaud. What a masterpiece that film is.

So, funding. Very difficult. And slow, very slow. But at the same time very exciting, as I feel its one of those challenges where, if I can do it, I can do anything. I finished my first detailed proposal over the weekend and sent it off (the day of the deadline). I hope it's alright for a first try, but I had to start somewhere. I hadn't recieived a final budget yet  - the one from XXX is presently too high and I like to appear realistic when I ask someone to give me money. So it was quite a crazy time - I realised it if I waited for XXX, because they're so busy, I'd never get all the info in time. So I formed a CC, got a friend to design a logo for me and thus Fox Fire Films was born (i hate that phrase). Why the name? I remember my design teacher showing me a Hokusai (I think. maybe it was Hiroshige) book with a panel which blew me away - it showed a group of fox spirits (kitsune) with little fire lanterns, called fox fires in English. It was so beautiful, I never got it out of my head. Later when I did more research into it, I found that foxfire is the phenomenon of certain fungi that glows when it decomposes. People in Scandanavia used to rub the mushrooms on trees when they went into the forest, so they could find their way back home in the dark. I love just that.

Last night I sent over 50 emails. Its due to my new strategy - many of the funds I've been wanting to apply to are for non-profits only, understandably enough. I toyed with the idea of registering to be a non-profit, but David told me this was not going to happen, and anyway it takes 2 months. I have.... 4 and a bit! So i decided to contact all the NGOs, aid agencies and foundations who I believe would (or rather should) be interested in the film and sent them a letter asking them to endorse it. That way, when I next apply for funding, I'll have some more backup. 

But I'm rapidly learning (it didn't take long to figure out) that foundation funding takes time. lots of it. And if we're to start pre-production soon, I'll need some of that budget very soon. So I'm going to have to start exploring the private sector. I'm hoping XXX will give me an idea of where to start. This probably scares me the most right now.

No, actually I'll tell you what scares me the most right now. And I figure I might as well come clean with it now, because the more I people I tell, or at least, if I write it down publicly, the more chance there is I'll do it. Earlier in this post I mentioned a western: Through Africa First, I was recommended to submit for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. This is a big deal for me - it's something I've looked at wistfully on their website for ages. It's been a dream. And now I have the chance to submit (international writers have to be recommended) and, well, my hands are quite full with The Tunnel. I may have given up, but then I was reading an interview with Carey Fukunaga of Sin Nombre. We got to see a preview of the film in New York - it's haunted me since then. I was very impressed. There have been two films I have seen the last year which, for different reasons, have made me hope for new things, new ideas, in cinema. One was There Will Be Blood. The other was Sin Nombre. Suffice it to say anything Carey Fukunaga says goes, for me right now. He said he wrote the script in two weeks for the screenwriters lab. Two weeks! That's about what I have. I know I have to try for this, even if the end result is terrible. I have to try, or I'll always regret it. And regret is not something I want at all. So here goes. 

I have this theory that South Africa needs a western. We're so right for it. There are some amazing historical times to set it. And I'd love to do those. But for the sake of the now, I'm going to set it in the present. It'll be about three people, all looking for a bomb, left over from apartheids nuclear program back in the 60s and 70s, which is fabled to be hidden in the Karoo (the massive, flat, barren expanse in the heart of South Africa). The film is called Flat Land. For now - I know that's the title of the Victorian sci-fi, which has one of the best openning lines in history, but that's spelt one word. so there. And it looks like it's going to end up being a nuclear/sci-fi/fantasy western. If that sounds implausible, well, part of me agrees. But I'm going to have fun with it. And we'll see if I can do this. Oh, how I love a challenge. 

So as you can probably tell, if I'm to accomplish this, I'm really not doing myself any favours by writing such a long post. Postponing writing with writing. But not longer. Off to work. 

PS> I hope everyone read the Werner Herzog interview on this site - whenever things get to much, I go to Werner. Really. Works every time. 


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