Blah Blah Bar is closed because it’s a public holiday, but they’re having a party anyway. This seems fitting for filmmaker Roger Young, who is enjoying a Black Label while the crew sets the scene for the evening shoot of his latest feature, Love Runs Out. On a wooden table outside, there’s remnants of set lunch – a spoon of ketchup, a half eaten hotdog and on the floor a cooler box with more beer. “Are you really going to photograph that?”, he asks. And then, his production assistant Kieran McGregor pulls him aside to discuss practicalities. It feels like the set-up of a student party as the band does their sound check and the lights dim, while extras in thrifted outfits start making their way in.
One might regard Roger as a bit of an underground youth specialist, but by experience rather than profession. He’s been on the born-free party scene since its inception. “Wow, I have the best fucking life. It’s like I never grew up. It’s amazing that it’s my life. I’m lucky, very, very lucky,” he says. We chat about youth culture and he laments the conservative nature of South Africans, who value getting hitched in their late 20s and then disappear off the scene because partying is something only “youngsters” do. He wonders why people suddenly feel that at a certain age they’re expected to behave like adults – whatever that means.
Nestled in a darkened corner are the lead actors, who look like they’ve been roused from an afternoon nap. There’s no trailer and no fancy catering, because this is an indie film and one that Roger has been intermittently writing since 1993 – the year preceding the start of South Africa’s transformation. This was around the time the film’s leading actors were born, and have little if any recollection of, except second-hand knowledge and the hangover of Apartheid experienced in both subtle and brazen ways unfolding in their everyday lives. We sit in the courtyard, and between actor briefings and lighting set-ups and speak about the making of Love Runs Out.
The first draft was written in 1993. What has changed since then?
I wrote a full script. Let me tell you the story. I made a film called Coming Out of Water in 1993 which won an award. One of the things I got was film stock – enough to shoot a feature a film. It was going to be developed for free and a production company came on board and I came up with this film. Eventually the company faded away and everything just didn’t happen. I wrote the original version of Love Runs Out in 1993 and there’s been various attempts to make it, but they all died along the way. There was an attempt at one point when it was going to be a mini-series and I wrote a six hour version of it. So there have been a million drafts. Every two years I go okay, I’m going to make it now, and I get out the script and re-set it to the present day. It takes place in bars and clubs and it’s all about the music being super now, so I had to keep updating it. At one point in the script a packet of cigarettes still cost R12.
Briefly tell us what the film is about…
Jan and Julie live in a house, and there’s this hot guy named Troy on the scene who needs a place to crash. He’s a couch surfer kinda guy and both of them say he can stay at their place because they’re both into him. The first third of the film is about who is going to get him, then they both get him and the film is about that relationship falling apart and how it does so. Julie also has a younger sister, Jessie, who is becoming politicized and runs away to Joburg. Troy uses that as an excuse to fuck off and ends up going to Oppikoppi to find her.
The whole country is fucked and no one knows what to do.
You’ve been crowdfunding. What’s the process been like?
We’ve been shooting since August. This section now has been the most sustained. It’s been like break a week, shoot a week, and break a week. We’ll have a film by the beginning of next year. We’ve got this Thundafund going and we’ve got R15 000 which we’re not going to get because we have to get to our start goal of R50 000. We have to decide if we’re going to put all our energy into raising R50 000. Crowdfunding takes a fuckload of energy. Do we spend our energy on that admin raising the money, or on making the film?
I mean like, I know when the film is made we’ll get a DSTV run, all that stuff is guaranteed. It’s interesting when you look at how the market works in South Africa. This film could be shit and we’d still get a DSTV run, but I know it’s not shit. I have a couple of major investors who have spoken to me and are like, “Talk to us when you’re on your second film”. And I’m like, why? What are investors thinking? The guys that finance shit films that are being made, those guys, they’re out there for your second film but never for your first. If you make your first film then you’re eligible for all these international grants and things, but then you don’t need them anymore. It’s such a weird thing.
How difficult is it to make a film?
It’s really easy to make a film. It’s fucking easy. Okay, fine, you have to have a certain amount of money to help you and production companies have resources, but having an idea and making the film isn’t hard. If you just stick to a base authenticity within yourself then you’re going to be good.
I don’t think I’ve learnt anything otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it anymore.
How did you convince MUTI to get on board the project?
I made Keys, Money, Phone with MUTI and Boat Girls happened quite organically. Actually, I don’t know it if happened organically or if I just forced them into making it. The next one we’re going to make is Suburban Whites. We thought about that first. It’s a 15 actor ensemble piece that takes place over a course of three braais and would theoretically be shot over a course of nine days. Love Runs Out is much simpler. It’s only Oppikoppi and back, and here we are a year later still trying to figure it out. We picked a version of the script and started re-writing it and as we’ve been going we’ve been like oh shit, that doesn’t make any sense and we have to re-write it. I tend to give my actors a lot of freedom so I’ll let them improvise a scene and we’ll put it together and it’ll be amazing, but then we have to re-write an entire section. So ja, that’s kinda the process.
You’ve made a few films. Would you say you have a particular style of filmmaking that’s started to emerge?
Um, I dunno hey. My style is kinda like…I wish I had a style. I kinda use whatever is available, like there are lots of things I’ve set up in this film, there are a lot of echoing shots, but that’s as close to style as I get. I’m a great fan of the formalists. Stylistically, I can set that up but I can’t achieve that. I’ll end up with a shot that’s formally composed and then go uugggghh, I don’t want to do it like that even though it’s exactly what I think I want to do. All our heroes become bores eventually. I think style is something I’ll get to on my fourth feature, maybe.
What have you learnt since you first started filmmaking?
Jesus Christ! Um, I don’t know what I’ve learnt. Shit, fuck. I don’t think I’ve learnt anything otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it anymore. The lesson to learn is to walk away. Stop, don’t do it anymore. It’s heartbreaking, you know, but it’s still worth doing.
When you did you know you wanted to make films?
When I was 13 or 14. I grew up in Durban – it’s a weird place. There was a cinema downtown that showed a mixture of films and one weekend I saw The Night Porter and E.T. in a double bill. In Durban, our social life revolved around films. You would go to clubs afterwards. As the age of 15 I was working as a barman at a club, but we went out to the cinema first. It’s always something I was going to do. I studied photography part-time and when I finished school I wanted to study photography but they were like, you’ve finished the course so you have to go to film school now. So I ended up doing that. I had to stay because at the time the army was still a thing. I signed in on my second year and then I left once they announced the army was over because I knew I didn’t have to stay.
In this film, there’s scene where they find a poster on a monument. I went out one night and found it on a wall and kept it and said to myself that I’d make a movie with the poster. It’s 21 years later and now I’m doing it.
As I’ve lived and met other people, I realised that for me 1994 was a real event.
Most of your films deal with youth culture which you’re very much part of. What are some of things that the characters in the film are dealing with?
A lot of our youth culture. It’s a party-till-you-drop phase. I’ve been hanging out in Durban and they have lock down parties. In the, what would the word be, let’s say; how township life has evolved because of the AIDS epidemic of the 90s. You get families where 18 year olds inherit their grandparent’s house. You know, their parents and grandparents have died. And now, these 18 year olds didn’t make it to school because of the fucking education system, they’re never going to go to school and everything is completely hopeless but they’ve got a house and they’re throwing parties. Eventually they land up with no furniture and empty shells. They lock all the doors and they do MDMA and party all day. It’s fucking insane and mad.
The music is so similar to acid house during the 80s and 90s. The early warehouse rave, it’s the same music. That music was fuelled by a time in Britain when there were no jobs, no food and no future. The same beats are coming out of the township in Durban.
We’re in a pretty dark period now and I don’t know how long it’s going to take to come back. The whole country is fucked and no one knows what to do. What happened? No one knows there’s this thing coming. A civil war would be easier because we would know how to deal with that. There was never blood-letting. We needed an event.
The interesting thing is that I lived in Yeoville which was across the way from Hillbrow. In 1994 my friend Larry and I walked to Hillbrow and people had taken over army tanks and were driving them in the street. There were hundreds and thousands of people and they were driving and marching around and it felt like there had been an event. As I’ve lived and met other people, I realised that for me 1994 was a real event. Those five days were crazy. Now I think there’s a certain sense of inevitability because not everyone’s had that.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
When I was a teenager, I watched a lot of films and there was a thing that happened. A film would end and there would be a certain feeling in the final moments where you go a like, “Ah, why didn’t I see that?”. Or, it’s sore or it goes a little bit beyond where you expected it to go and that’s exciting. It’s really small but it’s like, fuck, you know, it all clicks and you know. I’ve said it before and am paraphrasing from someone else, but the purpose of it is to show the sadness and arm people against despair. It’s like they’re forewarned. Maybe, I don’t know.
They’ve got 5 days till their crowdfunding ends. To help contribute to this epic project visit Thundafund.