My film journey – How I create my films – Part 13

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Today we shall be looking at how I began my first film, entitled, The Aftermath

I have always loved history, and in particular aspects of history rarely touched upon. When I grew fed up of watching nightly reports on every news channel about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict or the troubles in Northern Ireland, knowing that the reporters were never ever going to talk about how it all began, I realised it was time to take the matter into my own hands. For me, there’s nothing more frustrating than hearing the latest round of fighting without explaining, even on occasion, how it all began. And the news just wasn’t doing it for me. Consequently I turned to history, or more specifically, history books.

I was lucky. Around this time, I was working in publishing for a history magazine, and had access to a large number of history books. And I did get the answers I was looking for. Beyond that, and having watched the film Zulu, initially with disbelief, and then with a sense of sad realisation of the truth of it all, I came across a comprehensive book on the Zulu’s and the Zulu empire. And boy was it fascinating! After that I was inspired to do a film based on what I’d read. Of course I also read other books dealing with Shaka and the creation of the Zulu kingdom, and this helped tremendously in my preparation. At what point I thought it should be the project for my first film is uncertain. But here I could and wanted to do a film based on a part of history and a people that most of us knew little about, apart from Michael Caine’s film and the nightly report of South Africa’s Apartheid regime. But I had a problem. For a first film, and a budget next to miniscule, I knew that I wasn’t about to re-create anything even resembling the big budget blockbuster. How was I going to approach this? I decided to take a documentary approach. This was going to focus on the aftermath of that tragic war, mainly from the Zulu perspective. What were the politics behind it? Indeed what led to the war with the British and what happened after Rorke’s Drift and the battle at Isandwana? These were fascination questions with equally fascinating answers. More fascinating than even that was how I was going to do it; commit to celluloid, or videotape – as it was then – momentus events with a shoestring budget. But first the script…. In thinking about the script, and quite uncharacteristically for me, I had to be mindful of my limitation. No charging up the hill of a thousand Zulus with the Kraal in the background, and dozens of cattle dotting the landscape. Not in the UK at any rate, and not without gazillions in my bank account. Oh no. I couldn’t go large. I had to go small. Very small. Documentary style, intimate, powerful and with the key players. I considered my location, my meagre budget, my days to realistically shoot the film and that informed how the script was going to develop. I knew there wouldn’t be too many characters and I knew who the principal characters were going to be; the Zulu King Cetswayo and Lord Chelmsford. I also needed an anchor, someone to connect the two in my documentary style, and for that I opted for a journalist character. Beyond that I was going to have a number of extras, some fire in a flashback shot and at least one lavish setting among the locations.

The script was 30 pages, which equals 30 mins of screen time and I worked out that I had two days to shoot.

The objective was to be practical, adjusting the script to suit the tools at my disposal as the producer, writer and director of the film.

That was lesson 13.

  • My lesson 13In part 14 we shall look at how I put the pieces together.
  • Understanding the pre-production process, as I fashioned the script in accordance with what I could realistically achieve.
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