Hanneke Schutte is a Johannesburg based writer and director. Earlier this year, her screenplay Ping Pong with Mr Yong won the prestigious Jameson First Shot competition, and she jetted off to New York to direct Willem Dafoe in the short film which would be released as Saving Norman. Her first feature film, Jimmy in Pienk, opened in South Africa last week to much praise. We chatted to this leading lady to learn a little bit about what actually goes in to creating a film.
Describe yourself in three words:
Curious. Positive. Flat-footed.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a game ranger or a Vet. I’m obsessed with animals. I have three dogs and if it wasn’t for my husband I’d have seven. Actually eight is a nice round number.
You make three oblique references to the ocean on your website; is there a specific allure?
Definitely. Living in Gauteng I dream about the ocean on a regular basis. I spent a month in Noordhoek last year, it was like living in paradise.
How did you come to be doing what you do?
I came to it in a quite a roundabout way. I studied languages and psychology, then went into advertising, then lecturing and I finally ended up writing movies. Each of these careers prepared me for what I do now, so I don’t think any of them was a waste of time.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I love being able to dream up stories for a living, that’s my favourite part of the job. And as a director you get to make those stories come to life, which is also quite a magical thing.
What are some of the good things and some of the challenges about working in the creative, and more specifically film, industry in South Africa?
It’s really tough to get film projects financed. It takes years to get a project off the ground and you have to be incredibly patient. When I started in filmmaking I wanted things to happen fast – I wanted to write a script quickly and then get it made. But, unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. A good script takes many, many months, if not years to write. Then the financing part also takes years. You have to be in it for the long haul – it teaches you patience.
Which female creative inspires you and why?
There are so many female creatives who inspire me for different reasons. People like Suzaan Heyns, Diane Victor, Faith 47, Tinarie van Wyk-Loots, Jodie Bieber, Zolani Mahola and many, many more.
What do the different roles of writer and director require of you?
Each role has its challenges. As I’ve said, writing takes a long time and you have to be open to constant feedback and criticism. But I love writing from home and immersing myself in the world of the story for months on end.
Directing is definitely physically more challenging. When you’re shooting it’s early mornings and late nights and you’re away from home for long stretches of time. But I love collaborating with talented people and seeing my script take on a whole new life.
Did you write the character of Lionel Pembrooke with Willem Dafoe in mind? What’s it like seeing one of your characters come to life?
I kept him in the back of my mind, but I didn’t want to get too fixated on what I think he’d be drawn to or what characters he’d previously played. I just created a character that I found interesting and hoped that he would too.
What traits do you believe you have that make you so good at what you do?
I don’t think I’m good at what I do yet. I have a lot to learn and it takes time to master a craft. I think I’m good at finding, creating and seizing opportunities. I’m also a ridiculously positive person. My hilarious friend Paul White refers to it as the ‘Cult of Positivity’. If there was such a cult I’d be their ever-smiling leader.
South Africa has a plethora of rich, dynamic content – why are there so few local films (of substance)?
Filmmaking is hard. It’s hard to write a good screenplay. It’s hard to get financing. It’s hard to get distribution and it’s hard to find an audience. We need more writers who want to take on that challenge. Writers quickly become disillusioned when they realize that it’s going to take them years to write a decent screenplay. But it’s a road worth taking.
Superhero, Hanneke’s 2010 award winning short film.