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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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Highs & Lows

Posted August 26, 2009

Do not get excited: Life, in the last two weeks, has lapsed into a sort of lull, punctuated albeit, with some noteworthy highs. Having said that, things that are getting me excited at the moment:

1. District 9 - oh, how i wanted to remain skeptical, but it seems this one may be a breakthrough. It opens here on Friday. I will be there.

2. Kathryn Bigelow, or rather "Near Dark" - Bill Paxton as a psycho, cowboy vampire? The best, and most tasteless, one liners I've heard in ages? Romance in southern industria? Heaven.

3. Todd Solondz - had avoided since being scarred by "Happiness" - revisited with Welcome to the Dollhouse & Palindromes. Oh, what I've been missing: "Same time, same place, I'm gonna rape you. Be there".

4. Dark City - ok, it has it's flaws (namely the dialogue, Keifer Sutherland and the teeth chattering aliens), but not often do we get sci-fi's which are not only so gloriously realised, but which deal sincerely with concepts which are relevent, disturbing and thoughtful. Some may say that Dark Night is a far better example, and more contemporarily relevant. If you know me, well, I expunge this view.  

6. Claire Angelique - I have not seen the Durban-based director's debut "My Black Little Heart" - but the fact that she shot with Anthony Dod Mantle, wrote/directed/starred & pulled it all together against all odds earns some major kudos and massive envy from me. I look forward to watching. 

5. On a completely different note - the reformation of my favorite local band - here.  

Yes, so many movies. The reason for this is I've landed myself in slacker heaven by scoring a job at our local and best video store. Have almost been fired once (for reading a book on mercenaries in the Congo) but otherwise seem to be getting the hang of it. As I told my boss, after the stress and panic of The Tunnel, it's like being on holiday. But why do I mention this rather embarrassing professional development? Because of this: Quite unexpectedly, the work has given me exactly what I needed: reaffirmation of the power of film, what it means to people, how they set their lives by it, and the secret love we all share for it. So, far from it being a disheartening, disillusioning experience, it's been quite the opposite. So it has it's perks (including being able to put all Mike Leigh's films on constant display in the front of the store. And recommending that all copies of "Australia" come with a warning. Like cigarettes)

All this has also been in pursuit of taking a break and rehabilitating my frayed nerves. This however, seems to be impossible, being under a constant bombardment of ideas, or guilt for not acting on them. It seems, for filmmakers, no transitionary period should be entirely a vacuum - writing must begin again, and quickly - would love to get into the Berlinale Talent Market next year, so that needs to be seen to. 

And on the subject of festivals - The time is beginning to start sending out The Tunnel. For anyone who has ever promoted a short film, you'll know the initial choices are quite daunting, what with most festivals insisting on premieres, with the surprising and pleasant exception of Sundance. My first choices would be to festivals which have affiliated funding programs of some kind, so namely Sundance, Berlin, Rotterdam and then Hamburg with its distribution offshoot (Cannes, frustratingly, won't accept 25minuters). Acceptance to one of these could be very useful in getting started on the next project. But then of course there's Oberhausen, Claremont-Ferrand, Edinburgh, Locarno and many others, particularly in the states. So I'm setting my sights high, at least initially. Lastly but far from leastly, there's the various human rights orientated festivals around the world I'd love to get into. So there's those too, which may unfortunately have to wait until I hear from the others if I want to get round the premiere issue. But a plan is forming. I just wish these things didn't take so long.

Still no NFVF feedback, so it looks like I'll have to go ahead with the masters, especially as I've finally secured the license for one of the songs I didn't yet have permission for. Wow, what a mission that was. It took me about 20 phone calls to Zimbabwe to track down the right person, which was made even more difficult by the right person's refusal to acknowledge that he knew anything about the song or the band. Until money was brought up. Nonetheless, I am hugely grateful  - those of you who have followed this blog may remember the song I found which summed up the entire film - it's that same one, and we now have permission. Oh joy. 

And of course, while all this is going on, we awaited feedback from Kisha & Focus. It was a subject of much amusement to Jacques and I that we were just continuing with life, as if nothing was out of the ordinary, while such important opinions were being formulated. Engaging in frantic guessing games with Jan Hendrik only heightened the anxiety, but at least reminded me that I was not alone. The calls when the came, from both Kisha and Matt, were very positive and though my natural inclination is to put a negative spin on everything, I may have to grudgingly admit that the film has been well received......... woo hoo! Thanks, Matt & Kisha, it really, really ( x many) means a lot.

OK, so enough of this idle chit-chat - off to Jacques to finish off (hopefully and slightly belatedly) the ETC music videos. Damn, it's just started raining (haven't sold the scooter yet).... ah well. So it goes.


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Ending Days...

Posted August 11, 2009

Driving incredibly fast down the highway, to Muizenberg, on the other side of the city. Screaming at women in cars that no, having four kids on board is no excuse for driving below the speed limit. But at the same time thinking, how did I get to this point? As fashionable films of the early part of this century do, I'll start in the present. And go backwards.

Tuesday 11 August

Get up early without oversleeping (much). 

8am Call Couriers, and find one that will do a same day delivery to Joburg for a slightly below exorbitant price. They come roung and pick up the DVD. One down, two to go. 

10am Send the last DVDs. They're off. OK. I feel a strange mixture of abyssal emptiness and profound expectation. 

Monday 10 August

It's a public holiday. DVDs are burnt, labels printed. The question of why businesses, especially courier services, cannot be open on public holidays, plagues me through the long hours. Watch the Twin Peaks pilot for the billionth time and the universe is reaffirmed; Twin Peaks is life. Lynch is god. 

Sunday 9 August

5pm Replace the ungraded shots and correct the subtitles. Re-export.  

8:30pm realize that I've left one of our most indispensable lighting assistants off the credits. Go back to the studio and re-export

Saturday 8 August

12am Arrive back at the studio to pick up the mpeg for the DVD. On checking it our I realise that Jacques's painstaking frame-stabilisation of some shots has made them blurry and interlaced. I call Jacques. Unsurprisingly and understandably, he is asleep. I feel so alone. There's nothing for it, they'll have to be the handheld originals. While touching these up I see we completely forgot to finish the effects on one of the most important scenes. I fix those. While I'm at it I re-grade the scene. Then I see that some of the grading we did in our sleep-deprived state, varies wildly from shot to shot. I fix all this, then leave the export to run. It's 5am. 

10am Wake up, have overslept. Was meant to phone Nic at 9am and pick up the sound mix. Jump out of bed in hysterics. Am told by my mother that post offices close at 12pm. Freak out. Apparently, also, Monday is a public holiday. Anything I want to send will only leave on Tuesday. Hyperventilate. Call Jacques, devise a desperate plan of action. Luckily there is a car available and I drive to the 20mins to Muizenberg where Nic lives. 

11:30 Arrive at the studio with the new sound mix. Jacques is ready to burn. 

11:40 The DVDs we have don't work with Mac

11:45 Go see if my grandfather has any blank DVDs. Spend a painful five minutes watching him shuffle around his desk, picking up things which are plainly not DVDs. Eventually am presented with a CD-RW. Have to decline. 

11:48 Assess our options. 

11:49 Nervous breakdown

12pm The post office is now definitely closed. Screw it. Let's go make french toast

12:30 French toast ready to eat. My mom calls to say that she's found a post office that only closes at 1pm. Jacques runs back to the studio. 

12:45 Decide to burn VOBs via a PC

12:56 Leave for post office with successfully burnt DVD. Jacques drives like a maniac. 

13:00 Arrive at post office. Post office closed. I stand and beg outside the door until the post master himself comes out to tell me personally that no amount of tantrums are going to make them re-open. 

13:03 Deal with the disappointment surprisingly well. Drive home at a more road-worthy pace. 

13:30 Watch now useless DVD. Realize subtitles are too small. But otherwise it's looking good. My sister joins us halfway and gasps at all the right places (we've trained her well). There is hope. 

14:00 Back to studio to fix subtitles and re-export.

13:00 Back home. Fall asleep. 

20:00 Wake up. My parents want to watch the now fabled film which is The Tunnel. Show it to them. Realise that the shots I'd replaced that morning are not graded and that we made spelling mistakes in the subtitles. Consider calling Jacques, but haven't got the heart to bother him now. Instead, decide to sleep and wait for tomorrow. 

Friday 7 August

We haven't slept in 48hrs. Copies of the film were meant to leave for the various VIPs, including Focus, today. This was an important deadline, and it soon becomes clear that we will miss it. But that's OK, because we still have Saturday. What's jumped up and bit us in the behind are various things and not, as I defiantly tell my mother as she looks at me accusingly, bad planning. Grading was quite a rushed affair (as things are when they are free) and though some of it came off well, others did not and need to be re-done. Going back into the suite isn't an option, so we'll have to (why does this always happen to me - perhaps Jan Hendrik, you know the answer?) do it ourselves. thirty minutes of trying to learn colour with no sleep proves fruitless. We decide to (don't laugh, James. Or you, David) export tiff sequences and grade them in photoshop. While a great idea in theory, the render time is ghastly. Too late to turn back. Nic brings back a final final mix which we had already asked him to change last minute. Once he has left we realise that an important, scripted foley is missing. Cringing, I call him, but you know, it's OK, because there is still Saturday to sort all this out....

And now, so help me, it's kind of over. I say "kind of" because there are one or two points that need to be sorted out still, by me. But if I told you, I'd have to kill you. I'd really have to kill you. Then of course there's the feedback from the NFVF which may still come. And of course the mind-numbing factor that Kisha, Matt, James Schamus and many respected others may probably/hopefully be watching The Tunnel in the rapidly approaching future. What do I feel about the whole thing? So many people have been asking me this recently. Am I happy with it? Gee whiz. I find it very hard to be objective right now. Is that OK? Now I'm getting anxious about getting the film seen (the next major mission) and getting some form of gainful employment. I need a new motorbike. I've been driving past production houses, intending to drop off my CV, but can't bring myself to go in. I guess the thought of doing something that I don't feel strongly about it still pretty abhorant, no matter which way I look at it. So far, the only jobs I've physically managed to apply for are at a video store and crewing on a Phoenician vessel circumnavigating Africa. I figured, if I get the video store job, I can write and save up for a motorbike. If I get the Phoenician vessel I can write and, well, I won't need the motorbike. 

So, ja. There will still be more from me. It's not over till it's over till it's over. or something close to that. The rocky road of distribution lies ahead. As well as some some future pitfalls that I can espy through my trusty telescope of paranoia. As the Phoenicians said: "Film is a great thing. But damn, it is quite hard."


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