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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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Driving to Distraction...

Posted April 26, 2010

Writing Day 6635632362insufferablylong288373. Decide that Narrative is dead. of course at this point I'm only thinking in terms of grand statements, so it doesn't cross my mind that perhaps only MY narrative is dead. Start idealizing the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (none of which I've actually seen) and Todd Haynes (most of which, thankfully, I have seen) and decide my screenplay is too narratively driven, a common problem I find I have, where I get all worked up about getting all the story pieces to fit together, and neglect things like character, atmosphere and magic. Even reading 'Save the Cat' (which usually helps, either in a practical sense or in allowing me to snigger at it and feel all high and mighty) depresses me. I think it all comes down to trying to hard, and getting stuck with one's own language and way of talking. How to remedy this? I start taking Xhosa classes and I produce and direct a music video. 

The concept is: Drum Majorettes. On a field. At night. In the dark. The band plays lit up and glowing. Like ghosts. In another dimension. Yes, another dimension. Bargain basement budget as usual, but I have finally made the mental leap to actually insisting on payment. Even though I think it barely covers my phone-bill, its a start. In South Africa, bands seldom are taken under the wing of a label that absorbs all their PR expenses, including their music videos, so musicians who most often take other jobs just to be able to play music part-time, have to make serious plans to do a video. So there is seldom any money. But they're always this great chance for creative madness, away from the confines of a product to sell (though that's arguable, fine) or a client to please. So, thinking that if I can handle The Tunnel I can handle anything, I set about producing myself again. And this is where Shooting to Kill comes in super duper handy. And I'll tell you the one thing that saved me (though you should read the book anyway, no excuses): Christine says that there are only two things which count as a crisis when you're making a film: 1.) Someone gets hurt and 2.) You can't shoot. In the week leading up to our shoot this became my mantra. It was my mantra as we alternatingly lost our location and our drum majorettes. It was my mantra when I was informed that, even though the video was performance driven, only half the band would be on set. It is a good mantra and it served me well. Thank you Christine. 

The shoot goes well. Fahema, my DOP from college, and I are reunited. It's my first time shooting on the Red One (Courtesy of Zootee), and going through the footage now, boy am I impressed. What a great camera. And, though I dread speaking too soon, no probs with the workflow. And by jove, I'll be damned if the drum majorettes' routine doesn't sync EXACTLY to the song, even though they were performing to Lady Gaga at the time. Way to go Drummies of Fairmont High!

Other news: Running around gathering contracts and sound files to comply with a recent offer to distribute The Tunnel. As much as I've enjoyed being the main puppeteer in this whole circus that has been the last year or more, I'm starting to to concede that the megalomaniac must hand over the mantle. And I need to start working on other things... as an email from Thorsten reminded me....

But still on Tunnel business, good news: Good news! we won the Fokus Dialogue Award at the Sehsüchte Festival in Potsdam, Germany. It's our first bonafide award. So yay! Hopefully the first of many. Would have attended the festival, but the volcano had other plans. Volcanoes! What next? Soon here there be dragons...

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Posted April 15, 2010


Writing Day No. 182736384389: Conditions - excellent: Weather = rain. Have just gone through the mysterious and alcehmical process of making gunpowder tea without a teapot. Have drawn several foxes in pencil on notepad. Music: Nico's Marble Index. All good. the phone rings. I may have to fly to Potsdam tomorrow. Except there is a volcano. exciting times. Maybe there be dragons too. That'd be great. At the very least there is uncertainty, something we should never take for granted, especially as life seems to be dominated by one or two unavoidable certainties. All we can do to combat this is to be as unsure about everything as possible. and i think that is the basis of good cinema anyway.
A great article, discovered by Trevor.


Where am I now? In the barren hinterlands of writing. Lips parched, every step a giant leap, only the burnt out trunks of trees proof that I'm not trapped in a fatal circle. Enough romanticism - as I raged at Carlo last week, writing is writing is a job.  I feel I need to take a break from the angsty jello I find myself in, get out of the 'me me me now now now' headspace. You know when you sometimes overwork something, and then it's time to let go and stick your head out the car window and breath some real AIR. So this is my attempt at that - a little celebration of all the AMAZING films I have seen recently - I've felt very spoilt in the last few weeks - either I have got more discerning with my viewing choices, or I've just gotten lucky. Overall I have seen some great stuff. Here it is - some old, some new, some old but South Africa takes friggin ages to catch up:

Thirst (Not, I thought, about vampires at all. And all the better for it)

Storytelling (Todd Solondz cements himself as a genius in my book. I have now seen all his films, except the latest. I can't wait for the latest.)

The Hurt Locker (This film was only released here in our arthouses, and only in the arthouses as far as I'm aware, once it had won the Oscar. I didn't understand why. Until I saw it. Haunted for days afterwards. Kathryn Bigelow - someday I'd like to shake your hand)

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (It's been a while since I've had to rewind scenes because they were so funny that I couldn't get enough laughing in the first time)

Election (A cheat - I'd seen this before - but a second viewing brought home the sheer intelligence and wit behind this classic)

Antichrist (Worth the wait? Yes. Finally, the merging of Von Trier's strengths I'd be waiting for. Even if flawed, and even if he does have a laugh at our expense at the end - oh how I enjoyed. Seriously, let's have the misogyny argument - I wasn't offended by this film at all)

Little Otik (Svankmejer. Need I say more)

A Serious Man (Major expectations regarding this film, as the Coens are probably to blame for setting me on this filmmaking thingie. Absolute sheer awesome brilliance - I couldn't have expected the existentialist masterpiece I was privileged to witness)

The Leader, His Driver and the Driver's Wife (Crazy, hilarious and terrifying - Nick Broomfield tracks down the topical Terreblanche in Ventersdorp)

Shooting Bokkie (Only the short not, sadly, the feature - very, very interesting - transcended the Man Bites Dog comparisons by a mile, if you ask me)

I Served the King of England (Oh, my kingdom for such sumptuous, painterly lighting)

Freaks (Another juicily controversial film which so impressed me with its humanity and balance of realism with drama. Some may disagree. As some do. I thought it deserved the reputation, if not for all the same reasons)

Fantastic Mr Fox (Also, major expectations riding here, again they are fulfilled. No mere youthful nostalgic indulgence - such depth and beauty and, I found, sadness and truth and thus bravery - beaten by the international supermarket chain, come on!)


On another note, picked up a copy of Shooting to Kill by legendary Christine Vachon - has quickly shot into my holy grail of film books - best book on low budget producing ever - and more than ever convinces me that producing the next feature myself - project limitations permitting - is not only doable, but a good idea. 

Symptoms of potential anime addiction (this time to Bleach) threaten otherwise productive movie watching - need to catch up on some Alan Rudolph and Apichatpong Weerasethakul as matter of great urgency. To wit, hark and lo! Winter is approaching. Leaves clog the gutters. Cinema is outside and inside. As always. 




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