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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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You have your mother's eyes, Harry

Posted July 21, 2009


So, what's been happening? Yes, we are still busy on The Tunnel, but not for much longer, I can tell you that. So! things that have been going down:

  1. Animation - this continues - with increasing degrees of success. I've toned it down drastically, so am now animating two people, instead of a whole crowd, a herd of cows and three dogs, which was the original plan. The animation goes as follows: A figure of a man is drawn in the sand, he begins to walk away, but a little girl skips up to him. Father and daughter (the figures echo Dumiso and Elizabeth in the story) embrace, then walk off, hand in hand. From behind them come gunshots, the sounds of war, villages burning. They begin to run, but soon a wall of fire catches up to them, licking their heels. Realizing they cannot escape, The father shields his daughter, until they are both consumed by the flames. While I was animating, I stopped, and turned, anguished, to my sister who was operating the remote (i snatched her up to help while she's on school holidays). "You can't make the fire eat them, it's too sad." I nodded. And then went back to drawing. After all my efforts to master the exact lighting used in the live action elements of the scene, the glass i was using ended up being too reflective to use. So I threw the rulebook out and attempted to animate during the day using natural light - seeing as I'd managed to get the whole sequence down in 45min, and chose a time of day with minimal light changes, the results were surprisingly successful and I think I've found the formula. Below are three tests, showing the improvements (i think)... Test 3 is almost there - one more time should crack it - the fire will be made of red sand.

  1. ADR - the search for the perfect voice continued - After sitting for hours syncing up different parts of Right's voice, I came to the unsettling conclusion that it wasn't working. Enter Tafadzwa, our translator, voice coach, cast co-ordinator, driver and all round superhero, who I hadn't approached originally because he'd been with family in Zimbabwe. However, when I ran into him at a locksmith (??) I decided it was time. Needless to say, he was perfect. I almost cried - it was a great session, despite the hazards of "mobile ADR", as Pete calls it, meaning that to avoid reverb in Tafadzwa's lounge, Pete had to spend half of the three hours with Tafadzwa under a duvet. Oh, what fun we had. One particularly funny story, but probably a bit too risque to recount here... if you see me, ask me to tell you. It's a winner. 
  2. Music - is done. John had to fly off to a workshop in France, so in the end, Jacques and I remixed the tracks and synced them to the footage. I really am, I must say, very pleased - I think we've got almost the exact balance I wanted, between having traditional, authentic sounds and instrumentation, with a darker, otherworldly atmosphere. It's good stuff. We do still have to track down the rights to some of the Zimbabwean pop songs that are written into the script - I'm getting a bit antsy, as the deadline is drawing close and Nic needs to do final mix. Today, however, I decided to tell him to just go with it, use them, and I'd make sure I got the rights. Driving with Jacques today, I told him this and asked if I was being stupid. After a characteristic contemplative pause he said, "No. You're just being..." "Brave?" "Courageous?"....... He thought some more, then said, "Uncompromising." "Oh," I said, trying to figure out whether was good in the long term or the short. Or at all. Anyhow, with the music in, I''m starting to feel happier - even mustered some courage to show the cut to Jan Hendrik, who, despite the undoubted distractions of me squirming with embarrassment and shame at the parts I hate, said he liked what I saw. gee whiz. that's cool. A good start, no?
  1. Music Videos - shooting two videos for ETC Crew over the weekend - after The Tunnel, it's a strange experience. Firstly, I have a producer - David has stepped in. Secondly, I have a far better idea of what I'm doing, having tackled actual projects on this scale many times. So I'm feeling maybe too relaxed. I should freak out more.  I still catch myself trying to handle the financing  myself, which is of course, not my job. It's good to let go. Yes. So, have been soldering lightbulbs and learning some basic electronics with my friend Carla for a glowing doorframe for the one video and trying to convince Orli to visit Adult World to buy us a blow-up doll for the other. Should be interesting...
  2. Erm, other distractions - Namely, one: Just returned from seeing Harry Potter 6. For the 4th time. Yes. Now I know - flaws it has indeed (One of them being a strong contender for worst line ever: "He's covered in blood. Why is it he's always covered in blood?"), and yes, as a massive fan of the books, I am, perhaps, on the biased side. But up until now, I've hated the films, and yet I intend to see this one at least twice more. Why is this? A few reasons, and don't worry, I won't trouble you with them here, but really I have to say this: Not often does a film come along, which reminds me why I do what I do - a film that grabs you right in the heart and draws a red-hot, glowing chain between you and the screen. And it gets too much sometimes, but really, it's beautiful. You know? And I know it's a Harry Potter, studio blockbuster extravaganza. But these things happen. and why not? With such a cast and with so much money, it should be good. But more than that, it's really comforting to experience a blockbuster with some humanity, without the cynicism. And of course, to see a film which is built for the big screen, which is at it's apex in the cinema, that's great too - sitting in the theatre, I felt a bit like one of J K Rowling's dementors, feeling the emotions of the crowd, suddenly to tangible, electric. Awesome. 

Seeing something successful like Harry Potter though, does make me reevaluate my feelings on studio filmmaking. Though, like Kisha says, "It's filmmaking under a microscope," the degree of perfection possible (yes, not always I know), with those resources is so enticing. And yet, the following conversation made me realise that this could still be a bit far off, at least for me. In the cinema with Jacques, he spots an old man in one of the pre-movie ads. The conversation went like this:

Jacques: I know him. He was in a casting tape I edited. They were casting for grandfather-types

Jenna: Great. Have you still got the tape?

Jacques: Ja.

Jenna: Excellent - you should give it to me.

Jacques: Why?

Jenna: Well, who knows, I may need old actors at some point. Now I have direct access to see who's good, without having to arrange a casting. 

Jacques: Jenna, you're so indie, it's funny. 


Good night. 



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Soundtrack for Mistakes

Posted July 06, 2009


Hi there. How are you? I'm OK, aside from a mild obsession with Adrien Brody and Bret Easton Ellis. 

Slowly, but surely, am coming to terms with one of those vital lessons of filmmaking: That more often than not, things will go horribly wrong. It may or may not be your fault. But it probably is. And that is OK. Some illustrative examples:

I think I did mention the difficulties we'd had tracking down Zimbabwean actors when we were casting, and while I was happy with the cast we assembled, I always knew that there may be trouble on a language level, getting South African actors to speak in Ndebele and Shona. So the inevitable, in a sense, finally happened - After extensive ADR sessions, it became painfully apparent that I would have to find a Shona speaker to dub one of the important roles. This isn't a nice thing to have to do, especially to the actor involved. But it is absolutely essential that, particularly with the character in question, that he had to be authentic. So I find Right - yes, his name is Right, I hope this is some kind of fate manifestation - a sculptor who agrees to try his er, hand, at dubbing. It's hard work (the two aspects of filmmaking that drain me the most, strangely - ADR and location scouting) - but hopefully it'll work out. It has to. Pete, who has been driving around with me across the city doing the recording, has reached Saint-Status, his patience astounds me - putting up with the solid 3-4 hour sessions and the abismal recording conditions our (lack of) budget allows. Thank you Pete. You are too cool for school.

Then. Oh and then - we have a sequence in the film, a beautiful little sequence, my favourite scene, that because of various issues, is unusable. Because it isn't narratively important, there is always the option to cut it but, as Jacques and I agreed, staring morosely at the screen for an hour, it's so important on a atmospheric and story-telling level that the magic of the film will be drastically reduced by its exclusion. What happened next I think proves that out of the depths of depression, the best (and most insane) ideas will often come - I decide to replace the sequence with sand animation, a concept that was in draft 1 of the original script - it will be beautiful, poignant, and fitting and... and... I have to do it myself - Adrian who is animating our toy horse shot is too overloaded to contemplate. So yes, animation here I come. I love this hands-on aspect of filmmaking, I say to myself, covered in glue and sand on a Saturday afternoon. I spent the entire morning trying to black out what is effectively a sun room, then give up, constructing a black out tent around the shooting area to conserve light and conceding I'll have to shoot at night. I love this hands-on aspect of filmmaking, I say to myself. James comes to visit, looks at my sand and my tent and says, "I like it. It's funny." "Shit," I say to myself. 

Add to this that we're still missing a few cutaways which fell by the wayside during the mad rush of the shoot, but annoyingly make their absence felt in the edit. Enter Nikon D90 to save the day with it's HD sensor. Thus I find myself at 1 o' clock in the morning for the third night in the row trying to get a satisfactory shot of the clouds covering the moon. I had booked out a 18-200mm lens for the weekend (a 300mm or more would have been better, but beggars can't be choosers it seems) as clouds were predicted. Standing, freezing outside, craning up at the sky, there is not a cloud in sight. To distract myself from the pain in my neck, I think about the days at filmschool when we were forbidden from shooting outside our allotted shoot dates. My friends and I did anything to break this rule, often shooting on digital in secret and working the different format into the aesthetic. It seems not much has changed. Except now there are no rules to break. So I feel way less cool. 

A visit to Jan Hendrik's set, where he's shooting Abyss Boys, one of the other Africa First shorts, reveals the following impressions: All necessary job positions are filled. Everyone is doing their job. Everyone is doing their job quickly and efficiently. No one is panicking. People seem to be enjoying themselves. I find Jan Hendrik by the monitor (which works). "Welcome to the chaos," he says. Chaos? This is chaos. Oh dear. So a bit demoralizing it is, to see how easy things can be when a set is being run by people who know what they're doing. It's fine, I tell myself, I have a decade less industry experience. Argh. But here are pictures:

So I have made mistakes, I think on the drive home. I listen to "Just a Little Misunderstanding" by The Contours. Things could be worse. I listen to "If This Ain't Love" by Naomi Shelton & The Soul Investigators.I listen to lots of Bob Dylan. Mistakes are cool. I think. As long as they have a soundtrack.  


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