Thursday, December 10, 2009
CHANDA'S SECRETS FILM: "I'M READY FOR MY CLOSEUP, MR. DeMILLE"
This is one of Chanda’s roosters (chickens?). I’m afraid I’m no good at figuring out the gender of barnyard animals, except for the ones with horns and obvious extra bits. Which, considering my grandparents and uncle were farmers is pretty embarrassing. (Hmmm, I’m thinking maybe that red thing on top means he’s a rooster.) Whatever, he’s got attitude. Fortunately, he’s about the only one who does, which on a film set is remarkable.
For sure, Oliver (Schmitz), the director, is attitude free. He’s totally focussed and in control but always with a smile and a sense of humour. Here he gives a notes between takes to Chanda and her mom.
Oliver likes to keep the tone light and friendly on the set, which is especially important with a story as heavy-duty dramatic as Chanda’s Secrets. Today, they’re shooting the scene where Chanda’s stepdad Jonah is dumped out of a wagon in front of Chanda’s yard. He’d abandoned the family after the death of baby Sarah. Now, it’s clear he has AIDS -- and Chanda is confronted with a terrible truth: "I think about their dead babies. I think about the way Mama's gotten so thin. Mama's problem isn't headaches or arthritis or fatigue. It's bigger. It's... Please, god, no." This is one of the scenes I’m most proud of -- the one I almost always do in public readings.
Anyway -- writing and acting tip -- the more dramatic the material, the simpler you have to be. Oliver likes his actors to be loose between takes, so they don’t overlay the drama. For instance, here’s Mama playing with her cane between takes.
And here she is seconds later in character, getting her makeup touched up, as she prepares for the A.D. to call, “First positions, please!” She is suddenly Mama, desperately ill, preparing to go to see the man she loved, the man who left her, the man who is dying in front of her yard.
And this, by the way, is Jonah (Aubrey Poole), between takes. I don't want to spoil anything, so just let me say that what happens after his brother-in-law unhitches the wagon and he topples onto the road will break your heart.
I promised in my last post to post pictures of some of my readers’ favorite characters who appear in both Chanda’s Secrets and Chanda’s Wars. Here are the Lesoles (Refilwe Sihlangu and Tshepo Emmanuel Monyane). They’re as much fun as they look in their picture. (Mr. Lesole works at a safari camp up north; in Chanda’s Wars he will be attacked by child soldiers.)
And here is the conniving busybody, and Chanda’s nemesis, Mrs. Tafa (Harriet Manamela).
In real life, Harriet’s warm and gracious -- terrific qualities for Mrs. Tafa’s turnaround. Here she is off-camera with Chanda. My gosh, aren’t they just purrrrfect?
UPDATE: The film adaptation of CHANDA'S SECRETS is called LIFE, ABOVE ALL and will premiere as an Official Selection at the 2010 Cannes International Film Festival.