It is Stanley Kubrick who once said, “There’s something in the human personality which resents things that are clear, and conversely, something which is attracted to puzzles, enigmas, and allegories.” (T.A. Nelson 2010:10) I find that this highlights deeply the very reason at least why I personally make films. To solve the mental puzzles and obstacles that I face with lines, frames, composition, story and expression. I have an avid disdain for mundanity and this is probably one of the reasons I self-criticize myself so heavily and sometimes I maybe overdo it. However, I would be lying to myself if I were to say that “The Man With a Baby in a Bag” is an adequate film when it comes to the direction and production. I was constantly one-upped by the grandiose of the abilities of my fellow cast mates that I forgot to steer the ship in the right direction. This is more a reference to not keeping the directing up to par with the abilities of the cast not necessarily leading all of them to fail. their abilities all standout but there is not a strong enough bond between all respective parties. The last and final issue came in the cutting room where incidentally the movie is written for the last time. This project is simply a highlight of how much I was, and as of the writing of this post still am, lacking in the editing department and due to time and personal attachment to the project (read that as ego) I failed what was at most times well-shot material.
I would, therefore, like to explore what went wrong and try to figure out if it could have been handled better. I will be breaking it down from different stages and I will try my best to keep the creation process as linear as possible.
Coming up with the concept: The movie started off as an exploration of the immigration crisis that is seemingly a pandemic globally and it always interested me to explore the idea of immigration here in Lesotho. It started off following a man who would find a briefcase that contains documents and a passport that belong to him. As an audience, we were to be left to believe that he suffers from memory issues but in the end, he would actually be shown to having a past in Congolese rebel militia as a child, therefore explaining his adequate usage of a fire arm when under fire. The government would upon realizing who he tracked him down to a refugee camp where a gun exchange was to happen. The final twist would be that he is just actually mad and there was no gunfire and the briefcase just contains “papers”. This was also to save costs on getting a crap-tonne of gun props and extras to play soldiers but rather to use my then (s5 class) and other people as extras for the “fake gun sequence”. The shooting style was to be entirely subjective therefore we are never really sure what is happening we just see people dying.
I had cast Stephen Tshiani for the project as the main protagonist. Consequently, it evolved into what is now remotely seen in the final product. The story evolved day by day in my head it ended up becoming a story of a mother who had left instructions with a discarded baby in an infertile world. The mother had left 4 instructions which were to lead our protagonist through four existential sequences that tackle the themes of dystopia, fertility, sex, rebirth, mental illness and a number of other themes. However, my perfectionism meant that this process took weeks and weeks. The story constantly evolving until I had finally put a final draft together. I had finally hustled the money to feed my cast, we had talked it through with Khopolo (Director of Photography) and Motikoe (assistant Director). We were ready to begin Production.
Now there are a lot of things that I did wrong with pre-production. Writing a script like a short story which existed primarily in my head meant that it only made a 100% sense to me and not to the people I was working with. My lack of communication in explaining things to people also meant that the times I was finally ready to work, when I was excited, the passion had expired to people and they were already busy working on multiple other things that were in reality way more important to their personal lives than appearing in an indie “surrealist” flick which wasn’t even paying. People had to deal with school stuff and other family related issues. Due to this lack of communication between me and Stephen, he had way more important stuff to deal with and due to my irresponsibility, I had to cut him a day before shooting day!!!! So I was actor-less and due to renovations in my house, I had misplaced my book with shot lists and plot sequence. Therefore, I was actorless and Scriptless!!
However, I could not cancel. Production needed to go on since we had already cancelled a project before this we could not do it again. So we headed into production. Literally a mess due to massive faults that should not have happened, but happened due to my perfectionism and irresponsibility. So I did what all indie directors do when they cannot find an actor they cast themselves.
We arrived in Town first, Motikoe, Khopolo and I on the first day of production and it was a very bad start. I was as per usual wearing the wrong shoes and again issues of communication and thinking that I have a plan lead us to failure once again. Most of the s5s that I had cast to play the extras in the train tracks scene could not make it. Others for valid reasons. Others, well who am I to ask for a favour. Joxy made it (who proved to be instrumental to the designing of our new concept.) Stranded and actorless I called people I thought could help, others could not. ‘Matli was of great help bringing himself, his little brother, Spesh and Hloni along. Grato could only make it the next day and so could Tumelo but only for a little while. We sat for a while as a production team and I was cracking jokes with Motikoe and Khopolo, at Mamas eating Makoenya in the summer heat of Maseru, I was slowly inside wondering if I was ever going to do the efforts of these two people justice. Joxy arrived and we all headed to set.
We started dressing set as I started making more calls and since we had one member of cast we decided to work on pre-viz. We started slowly but surely designing the coverage of the scene. When Hloni arrived him and Joxy had instant chemistry and what was nearly a wasted day started to come together we had designed our scenes and we had worked around the limitation of the missing actors and created the surrealist concept that came along. However due to my poor set management, this took long. Too long to the point where we didn’t have full coverage of the scene. And in my ego filled attempts to tell visual stories I refused a 180-degree jump by Khopolo which would not have looked better but would have sold the idea better. Also my acting was sub-par. We needed to think of an actor, a plan needed to be made and we started brain-storming names with Khopolo and Motikoe until Phole struck all of us. I texted Phole, explained the vague plot I now had (which is what we had in the movie, or at least parts of it) and he was onboard. With ferocity designing his costume and look and really just giving it all. Something I was not doing. It is not as much that I had lost passion for the project but I was getting haunted by the ghost of my original and was making decisions based on that while not realizing that it was imperative that I understand that this was a totally new beast. With a totally new cast and a totally new style.
That is another thing that plagues me style. What does it mean? I think I have a preference for shot type but I refused to learn and practice new things due to the confinements of this style. A style which was working on its first proper collaborative project but still was refusing to grow out of my own little egotistic preferences.
6am the next day. Cold Maseru morning. Phole is earlier than Khopolo and I, again due to my lack of preparedness. I had not charged the other battery (YEAH WE REALLY SHOT A WHOLE DAY WITH ONE BATTERY NUTS RIGHT!!). We get to town and for the first time we shot something that was alive. This was not because of my lack-luster direction or angle picking. But because of Phole’s fantastic acting. That day I look around I see Motikoe running around like a mad man with a tripod. I see Khopolo framing shots. I see myself talking (very vaguely) to Phole about what we should try to achieve (ranting poetic nonsense now that I look back). I see this hawker chilling with us. Directing us and aiding us in how to make the scene feel realer. He gives us some paper to burn, he helps us create a world. This was actually in my opinion the best moments of the production, and not because of my direction but because somehow there was a purpose to things. We shot a scene with Phole by a wall written DO NOT ENTER and we try to direct him to understand the 2000-yard stare. With time he gets it. Camera rolling all through out. I believe that somehow we actually have made it, we created actual scenes. These guys had taken insultingly vague statements and made them live. I shed one tear looking the other way. But still the station remains.
Now this was probably the only scene were everything regarding production and direction is done well. Despite the fact that our best take has me vaguely adding in new things which I have not communicated to Phole and he executes them with confusion and we cannot retake it because time, I say to myself it is fine. I shall come back to this moment when I talk about editing and the second half of production where I proved to be terrible once again as a director in a team filled with talented individuals.
While we build up to the next part and the break-down analysis in part 3 going into specific parts of the editing here is the movie: