Kiwi-shot Greenstone movie set to debut
Shot on location in New Zealand in mid-2014, The Greenstone is the tale of a young woman who leaves South Africa for our country, armed with only a greenstone, a photo and a name.
As he prepares to tour the finished product around the country, Fairfax caught up with its Dutch director Christoph van der Bij.
Where did the idea for the film come from?
The first time we visited New Zealand, eight years ago, we did a video and photoshoot of a chair travelling. We travelled the North Island for 14 days, not knowing what to expect. It was overwhelming and I remember very well, when we were dropped off at the airport, how a tiny tear just dropped out of my eye and made me think: "I have to get back here as soon as possible". And we did, every Christmas. Being on the road and visiting all corners of the islands gave us a lot of local stories and we made great friends. Hearing about Maori culture made us think it could be a great theme for a movie, combined with a (lost) love story. and the different people that travel to New Zealand to find answers to so many questions. I once dated a girl for a week, before she told me she was going to New Zealand to clear her head and find some answers. I never knew the questions, but found out later that she actually turned Kiwi and married an All Black. So, I think she found what she was looking for.
How long did you spend filming in New Zealand?
Around nine weeks. We knew a lot of the location we wanted to use after our many trips there in the past. We had also started doing photoshoots six years ago to sponsor our trips and thus met with a lot of models and actors. Working with them also helped give us local knowledge. When it came to filming Christchurch, we had just left (twice) after previous visits when the big earthquakes hit and could imagine that the city being disturbed in that manner doesn't do a person any good. We tried making it a theme in our movie without being sensational about it.
How much of the script was locked in before you arrived and how much did it alter as you travelled around?
Turns out, getting it all sorted on paper means nothing in real life. We were completely depending on weather, permits, people, old cars and (tired) actors. We knew where we had to film and what we wanted to film but the car driving bits were really hard since they were all taken in one shot and then switched over to the other actor. We had to do it again and again. I think it took us a week to get those scenes right. Going through the footage back home, I sometimes heard frustration at the end of the shots when we had to retake. The actors were so dedicated, they didn't want to fail this and really blamed themselves when we didn't make the turn at the right moment in the third cross (the third time recording the same from a different angle). Still, Jade (Cele du Plessis) did all her own driving and acting at the same time, which gives so much character to the footage, since you feel it's an actual car driving and not a trailer with a car on it.
What were the cinematic inspirations for your film?
I always enjoyed the more"empty" stories told by film itself, like Paris, Texas, This Must Be The Place and The American. We also looked to Whale Rider for it's amazing acting, energy and shots. But above all, we were inspired by Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi, since it was the movie that changed Hollywood towards appreciating totally independent movies and inspired me to write The Greenstone and spend all our savings (and loads more) on it.
How did you find your Jade (South African actress Cele du Plessis)?
We originally started out with someone older in mind, around 30, and did castings in New Zealand, based on a character returning to this country from London. Unfortunately, just when we thought we'd found the perfect character, she declined the part. It was still months before filming when we shot a commercial in South Africa for a sunglasses brand. We did a casting for that with our regular go-to agency in Cape Town and the owner told me about this girl he had just signed from Pretoria. She walked in and brought a special energy into the room. She was so surprised when we cast her that she actually only started believing us when we pressed the record button on the first day of filming. As a person, she was awesome to travel around with – the perfect, no-nonsense girl who was willing to take a cold shower and only tell us that the day after.
What was the toughest challenge of shooting in New Zealand?
We had a blast and the most difficult bit was asking people to stop asking us about our film. Everyone we met while shooting had a story about greenstone or were wearing one. That gave us so much energy to continue our project and a feeling that we would be letting people down if we didn't finish the project and tried to get it into cinemas. Locals were simply awesome in every location and in every town. There was always a solution to sort a problem or a location. When Auckland Airport wanted to charge us $50,000 to shoot there, Yvonne Densem from Christchurch Airport came to our rescue, while KiwiRail treated us like VIPs on the Interisland Ferry. It was so much better than shooting in Holland, where you need security and roadblocks and the landscape is completely ruined by ugly buildings, too many cars and people always trying to ruin your shot by shouting, using the horn or waving at the camera.
How did you go about financing the film?
We saved up for three years in order to have a starting budget. As we approached our filming dates we realised that funding through Kickstarter would also mean that you can enter iTunes and more online platforms right away. We filmed a prologue in two days in Capetown and told our story. The reactions were overwhelming – the money didn't come in. Since we had researched many a successful campaign, we knew we could only do one thing: call, call, call and ask, ask, ask. and so we did. We stalked everyone we knew and attended every party, every gathering and every event we could. The best thing about it was that people who you would never thought would support you financially have spent so much money on the project.
Finally, where to from here for the film?
After the official premiere in Christchurch on the 19th (at Sumner's Hollywood Cinema) we're doing a little tour to cinemas in places like Akaroa, Wellington, Palmerston North, Rotorua, Thames, Auckland, Nelson, Motueka, Kaikoura and Waiau. We spent about two-and-a-half weeks travelling to cinemas around the country with the aim of getting enough support to take that to a local distributor, but in the end they were all willing to "hire" it directly from us. We hope to bring our movie back home and to Europe, but had we known that only two per cent of independent movies make it into cinemas, we probably would have just stayed at home and enjoyed looking at screensavers from your lovely country.
The Greenstone (M) opens in select cinemas on Thursday. The 6pm session at Sumner's Hollywood Cinema includes a Q&A with the filmmakers and lead actress.