Please describe your childhood…
Sunny, blissful and very independent. We were feral children roaming the neighbourhood in search of prunuses (sour plums that grew in a lot of local gardens) jumping from treehouses over walls into adjacent swimming pools, and combing our parents’ bookshelves for obscure and frequently age-inappropriate literature.
We used to put on plays and puppet shows in the lounge and try force our reluctant audiences to pay to watch them.
What led you to filmmaking and how did you evolve your craft – film school or on the job?
My parents actually met through an amateur dramatics society, and as a kid I used to watch their play-readings and learn all the words to every part, off by heart. My dad loves singing, and sings constantly (these days in the Welsh Male Voice Choir – despite his being Italian). I can hear him approaching from way down the corridor when he visits me.
I did drop out of university and go to Film School, but I would say I evolved my craft on the job for sure. Or rather, I am evolving my craft on the job…
Please tell us about starting your own company, Ola Films in Johannesburg and how this has grown.
We started it ten years ago, from Oli’s garden cottage. For ages it was just the two of us. Now we have a big house in Linden and five directors, but we’re still hanging onto that mom & pop shop vibe. Everyone gets involved in everyone’s work, there is a lot of collaboration. It’s cool.
There’s a great upbeat tone to your work – how would you describe your style?
Really? You want me to describe it?
Um, playful, irreverent and fun.
We particularly love your video for Original Swimming Party. What was the original brief for this and how did you develop it?
There was no brief. I wanted to make a music video; I had never done one before. And I had worked with the boy, Lukhanyo, and wanted to create a vehicle for him. He is so talented and wonderful. So I approached the band and asked them if they had a song for me, which they did, and we sent the video to them when it was done.
I heard my friend Lebo tell a story about growing up as the son of domestic workers in white suburban Johannesburg. He used to run amok in the house, and once took a bite out of a fancy cake his mom had made on behalf of her employer. I loved that image, and used it as a springboard. But the story evolved as we found the other two kids, and started working with them.
My friend Natalie Fisher is a choreographer and wonderful creative collaborator, and we workshopped the story together. Then Maxwell Xolani Rani joined us, and added a wonderful pantsula flavour to the dance, which it really needed. It was the first time I had met him, and he was extremely generous with his time.
Did you always have those wonderfully cheeky dancers in mind – how did you go about casting them?
We had worked with Lukhanyo before, and were dying to give him something more meaty. Natalie & I went talent scouting. We saw Ami – the bigger girl – on stage at the Baxter Theatre amongst lots of other kids from lots of dance schools. She really shone, and we ran backstage the moment it was over and approached her. She came to our first rehearsal the very next day.
We found Leah at a hip-hop jam session for seven-year-olds and up. She also stood out from the rest – what a cool kid. We wrote her in as soon as we found her. All of their parents were amazing, schlepping the kids to rehearsals and just trusting us.
What were the main challenges of the production and how did you resolve them?
Well, the fact that we didn’t have any money. 😜
Asking people to give you their time for next to nothing is awkward.
The Mōvi kept malfunctioning, which was a pain.
Other than that, the production was swell; everyone helped out.
Actually, I watched the music video again on the weekend, and suddenly all the production issues came flooding back.
The main problem was time: to get this kind of thing right, what we really needed was a full camera rehearsal in the house, but our resources didn’t allow for it. So we had to wing it on the day.
When I look at it now, there are so many things that should have been better, tighter, or different. But I just have to embrace the organic chaos of it; those kids are so magical, they carry it.
Do you edit most of your own films?
Nope, this is the first one. I like editing, but I always feel someone else might put a new spin on things, and show me another way of looking at the project. Worst-case scenario, I just backseat edit like a mo-fo.
What pieces of work are you most proud of on your reel (and why)?
This one (Biggest Curse). Because it’s most my own.
Also, King Price – the ones with the giraffe & butterflies. I find them really fun to watch, and they were super fun to make.
Most recently, I like the little Bakers Christmas spot I did; just a sweet, charming story.
And the collaboration I did with my friend Justice Rendani Mukheli last year co-directing a PSA spot for BAT, because it was a chance to depart from my usual shtick.
Original Swimming Party – Biggest Curse – Ft. Moonchild Sanelly
Director: Amy Allais
Production company: Ola Films
Natalie Fisher And Maxwell Xolani Rani
Art Department And Wardrobe: Claire Gritten
Director Of Photography: Michael Cleary
Producer: Deenan Naidoo
First A.D.: Murray Macdonald
Editor: Amy Allais
Executive Producer: Olivia Leitch
Dit / Unit / Ronin / Catering : Colin Greyvenstein
Focus Puller: Ricardo Koopman
Loader: Jonathan Van Heerden
VT Assistant: Winston Adams
Production Assistant: Lude Galo
Best Boy Lights: Igshaan Mohammed
Ronin Assistant: Jake Levy
Props Master: Mike Carelse
Wardrobe / Art Assistant: Esme De Vos
Second Camera: Ian Greyvenstein
Location Scout / Manager: Jardin Roesthoff
Colourist: Nic Apostoli
Online: Mark Lebenon
STARRING (IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE)
Ami Jackson, Lukhanyo Nongqongqo And Leah Miller