What inspired you come up with the idea for the film?
The film was inspired by a novella for young adults and after reading the book I immediately contacted the author and told her I wanted to adapt it into a screenplay. I loved the idea of telling a story about a young girl living with a family curse, but instead of it being a horror as you’d expect, it was drama with hints of magical realism.
Why did you want to tell this story?
I’m fascinated by the stories we tell ourselves – stories that often limit our lives. Meerkat Moonship is an exploration on one of these stories that keep the protagonist locked in prison of fear. I love Ben Okri’s quote: “Our secret stories, operating in the depths of our psyches, are the true determinants of our lives.”
How do you relate to your characters or subjects?
I was an incredibly fearful child and my imagination always managed to conjure up something deliciously frightful. My diary was filled with drawings of colourful ghosts and saber-toothed monsters and that’s why Gideonette, the main character, really resonated with me.
What aspect of the story changed the most during writing and production?
It’s always wonderful to see how much actors bring to the story and how they imbue the film with their own life experiences – they bring another layer to the story which is always surprising and exciting.
What was the most courageous decision you or your crew made during production?
We were shooting in a rain forest forest in Limpopo, South Africa during the rainy season and we had to basically throw out the shooting schedule and work around the weather conditions. It was an organic process which was scary and exhilarating at the same time.
Were there any risks that you faced during production and how did you find a way to embrace them?
As I mentioned we were shooting in a rain forest and we had to contend with all the elements: Rain, mist, wind, mudslides, spiders, mosquitoes, snakes, you name it. Our Script Supervisor was bitten by a Sack Spider and had to go to the hospital for anti-venom treatment. She spent three nights in hospital and was back on set and in great spirits four days later.
Our Production Designer became best friends with the local snake wrangler and we had a beekeeper/”bee whisperer” on standby every day.
We also learned to embrace the weather conditions and to find ways that it could support the narrative instead of fighting it every day. It forced us out of our comfort zones and to think creatively.
What influenced the visual style of the film?
The visual style of the film was mostly influenced by photography. Every scene had one or two photos which served as visual and tonal inspiration. Some photos were by known photographers like Saul Leiter, Cig Harvey and Vivian Maier, others were just photos I found on the internet that captured the mood of the scene. Just looking through the photos you could sense the style and tone of the entire film. I wanted to share this with the actors and the crew so we could all immerse ourselves in this world and allow it to become tangible even before we started the film.
What risks did you take to tell your story?
I think every time you make a film or write a screenplay you take a risk. It’s a risk of failure, a risk of telling a story that’s special and meaningful to you, but it might not be to your audience. It’s the risk of facing your inner demons that tell you to stay home and play it safe. It’s a financial risk and an emotional risk, but most importantly it’s the risk of making yourself vulnerable. You have to expose your soul and face the risk that you might fail and have the courage to do it anyway.
How would you encourage others to tell their story or manage through the process of screen writing or film producing?
Every time I write a screenplay or make a film it feels like the process is pretty much identical to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s journey. There are many set-backs, many tests, allies and enemies, many obstacles, many small victories and quite a few dark nights of the soul and you emerge from the process battered and scarred, but you’re also transformed, stronger. It’s a strange and beautiful experience that teaches you empathy, humility and courage.
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