February 24, 2014

Armed with an AF100 & a CineSlider, Director Andrew Mudge Makes First Feature Set in Lesotho

Have you ever considered making a film in a country that's not your own? How about writing and directing a script in a language you don't speak? In the interview below, Andrew Mudge talks to No Film School about doing just that in the awarding winning film The Forgotten Kingdom and touches on anything from why he gave up on DIY dollies to the inherent love/hate relationship a director has with a film.

In 2003, Andrew Mudge first saw Lesotho on the map before he visited his brother there on assignment with the Peace Corps. A few years later, after spending time collecting material in Lesotho for the script, he started production on his first feature film, and the first feature ever to be shot in the country. This past year, the film won numerous audience awards at prestigious festivals, not to mention the Haskell Wexler Award for Best Cinematography. Preparing to get on a plane to return to Lesotho for an African road tour of the film, Andrew sat down with No Film School to talk about The Forgotten Kingdom.

NFS: How did you get the idea that you would make this film?

Mudge: When I came to visit, I discovered a majestic land of waterfalls, mountains dotted with thatched huts, and blanketed men traveling long distance on horseback. I really connected with the place, it reminded me of how I imagine the American frontier used to be. The images wouldn’t let go of me, as well as a certain mystical quality that I felt would translate well into a film. Lesotho itself is a place of magical realism. I was flat out amazed that a film hadn’t yet been set in this country, and I became very excited by the challenge of being the first person to do that.

NFS: The visual style really motivates the tone of this film. Almost every shot is static or a slow moving dolly shot of sorts. Why did you made those choices, and how'd you achieve them? 

Mudge: I wanted the film to have a slow, lyrical feel to it, where you feel movement most of the time, but just barely. Even the shots that you think are static, if you look close, you’ll see that the camera is moving ever so slightly. For those shots, we often used a 3-foot CineSlide track. For the longer dollies we used proper dolly tracks. I used to go a bit cheap on dollies, using skateboards, wheelchairs, or even pulling the camera across the floor on a rug. And then I had a real dolly and I realized how smooth it looks. A huge difference! I can’t go back to the DIY dollies anymore, simply because they end up wasting more time than they're worth. One of the biggest lessons in indie filmmaking is that you often get what you pay for, and cutting corners comes back to bite you in the ass. That happened to us a lot.

NFS: What did you shoot on? What camera, what lenses, and why?

Mudge: We shot on the Panasonic AF100, with Zeiss and Nikon primes mounted on a PL and 3/4 mounts. We recorded to an external recorder to get a higher bit rate. This step is a must with these HD cameras that shoot on lousy SD cards. We chose the AF100 because at the time, it was the hot new camera, and seemed our best option.

NFS: Were you able to get film supplies there? 

Mudge: In some parts of Lesotho we couldn’t get so much as a AA battery. In other parts, we used coffin packing Styrofoam for reflector boards. So no, there was nothing in the way of film equipment in Lesotho. Fortunately not too much broke down on us. We did have some days where our microphones sounded like crap, so we had to ADR those scenes. Which ended up working anyway, so I was happy with that.

NFS: The film is in Sesotho. Do you speak Sesotho? How did you write the script?

Mudge: No, I only speak a little bit of Sesotho. I wrote the script in English and had it translated. A subtitled film was all part of the design, not the other way around, which is how it’s usually done -- a film made in another language, and then subtitled to English as an afterthought. The advantage to doing it my way was that I could be really particular about what was said. If it didn’t translate exactly into Sesotho, we’d find a more lyrical way to express the same meaning in the native language.

NFS: Critics have called the acting in your film "nuanced" and "heartfelt." How did you work with the actors, especially given they are speaking another language?

Mudge: Lots of rehearsals, and trying to keep things fresh and interesting on the set. Also, most of the work is done in the casting. Not only choosing the right people, but having a thorough audition process. Ours was exhaustive, but worth it. We had several rounds of auditions for nearly all the roles, so by the time the actors were offered the part, they already knew the story very well. As for the film being in a language that I don’t speak, that was never a problem when it came to directing. You don’t have to be able to understand a language to know if a performance is honest or not. It’s intuitive, and really has nothing to do with the words, and entirely about the person’s presence.

NFS: What was the exhaustive audition process like?

Mudge: In Lesotho, all of our actors were non-actors. Some were people who had never seen a film before. We had open auditions in Maseru, where we saw about 1500 people for 14 speaking roles. For the role of the boy, which is one of the main roles in the film, we traveled around to 17 schools, and met with close to 800 kids. We’d have round after round of auditions, until we came to our final five, and then chose the one boy we wanted. It was like American Idol in Lesotho!

NFS: The film is so rich in color - what did you do in post to enhance that effect?

Mudge: One of the most positive experiences in making this film was that the best post-production house in South Africa invested in the film with their in-kind services, so we got to spend a lot of time in color grading. We went with the digital linear process, rather than TrueLight. On a general level, we warmed the tone (a bit more yellow, like in the movie Last King of Scotland), and we also increased contrast. I really think it’s worth it to get the best color correction possible done on any film, especially if it’s a film with lots of exteriors, and landscapes.

NFS: I saw you a couple of years ago, and you seemed a little skeptical about how well your film was doing. Now, you’ve had this tremendous festival tour, winning top-notch awards. How do you feel now?  

Andrew Mudge (Writer:Director) 1

Mudge: We had a rough start, as we were rejected by most of the A-tier festivals, and that was heart-breaking. It made me quite depressed actually, since here I was with this film that took me 7 years to make, all the money I could find on Earth, and places like Sundance, Toronto, and Tribeca were passing on it. I had to pull myself up from my bootstraps and focus on the festivals that did want it. I sorta let go of all expectations whatsoever, and since that, it’s been fun, and we’ve won some awards too. I’m honored and proud about that.

I think that generally, as the director, you never believe your own film is doing as well as people say or think, because  at certain moments -- you think it’s a rotten film. At other times, you might actually think it’s the best film ever made in the history of cinema. It’s this love/hate relationship, where you can never again be objective. I imagine it’s like having a kid!

NFS: You are about to go back to Lesotho and do an African road tour with the film. What’s important about doing the tour? 

Mudge: The tour will be about a month, and we’re going to screen the film on a giant blow up screen -- on soccer fields, hillside sheep pastures, in town centers, and in churches. These screenings, all free and open to the public, are a lead up to the official theatrical release, which will begin in South Africa/Lesotho in April. Our mission with the roadshow is to share this film with people who likely won’t be able to go to the cinema. The logistics are going to be an adventure. This may be the first time a high-definition video projector and 1,000 watt speakers have ever been strapped to the back of a donkey!  We started a Kickstarter campaign, you can check it out here.

Take a peak at their Kickstarter pitch video, and some fun details about the 6-year long production:

https://vimeo.com/85412530

NFS: You've made short films, but this was your first feature-length narrative film. What would you say is the most important thing you learned that you can share with us?

Mudge: Be prepared to wear a lot of hats. If you are a director who is also raising money, you are also going to be the main producer and executive producer, whether you like it or not. Your baby is your baby, for better or worse. Try not to do more than three takes of any shot. Your insecurity will creep in, you’ll think “one more take won’t hurt anyone”, and before you know it you’ll be 17 deep, but you actually had it in the first three takes. Shooting video allows us to do almost unlimited takes, but it greatly wears the cast and crew down, which you may only notice in post. And it eats into your day like you can’t believe. This happened to me a few times. Wear comfortable shoes, definitely not sandals. Feed your crew well, always. Follow the advice of witch doctors. Hire people you trust. Be nice. Something bad happens, like you lose an actor, and you feel like it’s the end of the world, but it’s not. Take time to enjoy it! God, I feel like Dr. Phil. Over and out.

***

Thank you, Andrew! And best of luck on the road tour.

If you'd like to be a part of Andrew Mudge's Road Tour, or score an advanced copy of the film that the Examiner called "one of the best films of the year," there are a few days left to do that through The Forgotten Kingdom's Kickstarter campaign. (Want a postcard from Lesotho along with that DVD? Yes please!) Take a peak at the crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for the road tour.

Have you worked on a film in a place that's foreign to you, or where making a film is a foreign concept? What must-have items would you bring on the production?

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26 Comments

Love the form factor of the AF-100 and the built in NDs.

February 24, 2014 at 9:46AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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moebius22

Thanks for a great story of a filmmaker working in the field. I applaud these articles as they're more about the passion of a making films and not about new tech. This film, with it's great trailer and award for Haskel Wexler Award for Cinematography is a clear example of that.

February 24, 2014 at 9:50AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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News:

Comcast putting the squeeze on Netflix for bandwidth $$:

4 minute vid [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTldKrbrkUo ]

February 24, 2014 at 10:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Gene

Hey Andrew and Oakley, I too work in a southern Africa foreign country, Mozambique. Its been a great experience so far (I came to work here 2 years ago, after working for some productions in Portugal, my homeland), despite all of the difficulties and challenges these kind of countries have to offer. I can relate to a lot of what Andrew said, like the casting procedures. As far as my journey has been, I can't complain: I've taken almost every role in the production teams (from sound technician to editor) and was also able to finally do the job that I really want: cinematography. Its been hard but very rewarding. Also I've travelled to a lot of places within the country, I ended up visiting almost all of the country's provinces.

On another note, the production company I work for has its headquarters in an old (unfortunately non-functioning) cinema, in downtown Maputo (Mozambique's capital), with more than 900 seating places. Andrew, If you would consider doing a screening of The Forgotten Kingdom here in Maputo, we could work something out, since its a very close country to Lesotho. I don't know if I can post my email here, or if there are other means of contacting you, but if you read this, say something ;)

February 24, 2014 at 10:42AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Miguel Franco

Hi Miguel, can you contact me by email? dfcorreia@gmail.com

February 24, 2014 at 11:02AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Daniel

Very interesting article. It is a rough adventure filming in those parts but it is also extremely rewarding in term of life experiences. There is huge part of uncertainty but I hardly see how you could regret going on such project later in life.

Sorry to hijack this post but I would also be interested in getting in touch with you Miguel. I have produced and directed short documentaries in Congo, Malawi and South Africa (soon Angola hopefully) and am trying to network with fellow video people working in African countries. I also have spent time in Mozambique. You can reach me at contact@harounsouirji.com.

February 24, 2014 at 12:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Haroun Souirji

Miguel - the theater in Maputo sounds like a great venue (I'm guessing a lot of character, too.) I passed along Andrew an email about it, although if I'm right, the team is currently on a plane on the way over! Feel free to send me an email with your contact - my No Film School email is on the contact page.

February 24, 2014 at 9:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Oakley Anderson-Moore
Writer
Director/Shooter/Editor

The AF100 is one of those great misunderstood and mis-sold cameras, but the footage coming out of it is quite often unbelievable.

February 24, 2014 at 10:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Tulio

Couldn't agree more. It can produce fantastic results in the right hands.

February 24, 2014 at 10:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Jon

I agree, the AF100 has a great look and did things no other cams in its price range did at the time (ie. 1080p 60fps) . However, i think it it had terrible marketing and got lost in the shuffle. that being said, m43 is becoming super relevant again- af100 was just slightly ahead of its time?

February 24, 2014 at 11:38AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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orb

You can speed boost it to super35, right?

February 24, 2014 at 1:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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VinceGortho

Yup, a Micro Four Thirds sensor is already rather close in size to Super 35mm.

And with a focal reducer (or speed booster, or lens turbo, as they're often called) your sensor ends up becoming even just a little bit bigger than Super 35mm :-)

I use a RJ Lens Turbo with my Panasonic GH1, they can both be got super cheaply. Has never been a better time to be filmmaking!

February 25, 2014 at 7:34AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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I definitely think it was ahead of its time. It beat everyone else to the punch in the interchangable lens cinema camera market, and suffered because people didn't know what to do with it in a world filled with 7Ds and 5Ds. The FS700, by comparison, came out a couple of months later and did much better (marketing was also a factor).

As someone who was an early adopter and used the camera through the bad (unpopular) times, it's really nice to see the camera being used for some amazing stuff now. Heck, looking back at it, a very large portion of my own reel came from this camera, and for once I'm excited to see where the format goes next. Bring on NAB!

February 24, 2014 at 6:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Jon

I really want an AF100. Also, this entire project seems awesome. Explore the world outside your comfort zone.

February 24, 2014 at 11:09AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Pat

Look up on eBay the prices of a used AF100 (and its variants, they used a few other model names) , you'll be pleasantly surprised!

Kinda tempted to get one myself. Though I think a Panasonic G6 then a GH4 is much more likely in my future.

February 25, 2014 at 7:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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The GH4 is pretty exciting to hear about. I just really prefer the body of an AF100. Panasonic in general has always been pretty solid, in my opinion.

February 25, 2014 at 10:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Pat

What lights did they use for the production?

February 24, 2014 at 11:43AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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moebius22

Seems like a great cam and project.
how does the Af100 stack up against cams like the gh3/4? Aside frombuilt in ND

February 24, 2014 at 11:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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vinceGortho

It came out before the GH3 (just after the GH2 actually), so it only has about 10.5 stops of dynamic range when pushed, but if you take the time to learn the camera and fiddle with the (numerous) settings, it can be gorgeous.

Mechanically, the biggest difference other than the NDs is the presence of the Optical Low Pass Filter, which does a lot to minimize some of the negatives of shooting on a CMOS sensor (aliasing mainly).

Also, people will tell you it can't handle low light, but my reel begs to differ. :)

February 24, 2014 at 6:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Jon

The film looks very interesting! Just from the trailer you can see this is a great example of a cinematographer understanding how to make the tools he has sing.

February 24, 2014 at 4:45PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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This is so inspiring. Thanks for sharing this story. Hope to see the movie when it hits iTunes or vudu!

February 24, 2014 at 5:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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What does this mean? "We went with the digital linear process, rather than TrueLight."

February 24, 2014 at 5:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Wow, so much aF100 love!
I had one for 6 months with a Samurai. Those clouds in the landscape shots. Yeah.
I was on a job in the Middle East and that was all I saw for a week. I replaced it on the job ASAP with an F3.
The sensor crop/low DR/terrible internal codec was too much for me to adjust to on the run. If I'd invested another 2-3 months on it, maybe I would have been fine. But I didn't have that time.

It was so close to being a GREAT cam. And why they can't put that new GH4 sensor in this body I have no idea.

Congrats on a great project.
And its a great cam for anywhere you can control the light.

February 24, 2014 at 11:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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marklondon

+1. I am hoping an AF200 is in the near future.

February 25, 2014 at 1:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Marc B

Forever Young, Forever Free: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074542/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1 was the first feature film shot in Lesotho (1975).

February 26, 2014 at 2:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Willie Bouwer

Life is strange and funny so is synchronicity. I met Andrew Mudge in the streets of Brooklyn. I was talking to a journalist on the street and said I was born in Lesotho as Andrew walked by with a shirt that said Lesotho. We both did a double take and ended up having coffee where he told me of the film project and I watched the trailer. It was beautiful and moving and took me back to fond memories of my childhood growing up in Roma .Lesotho for 8 years. My life was saved there by A diagnosis by a great flying doctor from "Doctors without Borders" and a heart operation in Capetown South Africa by Dr.Christian Barnard. I was the white guy in the white place at the white time and benefited from there socialized medicine for all white people. The operation cost my Dad $200 and I think I'm worth it!
I live in NYC and am in the middle of a very public story that we are making a film about and a reality TV series. Just Google my name Chris Muth and the Wall Street Journal. I just want to thank Andrew and his brother in the Peace Corps for working in this way to put "the forgotten Kingdom " on the map and it wonderful people in the consciousness of a larger world. They need help and when my ship comes in I intend to go back and do so. Congratulations to you Andrew your persistence and dedication are inspiring. You did it! It was not however the first feature shot in Lesotho, I saw the great film e'Lollipop , AKA Forever Young, Forever Free. in 1975 before you were born that's 39 years ago. You should see it! It does not detract from the importance and success of your film. Best wishes and safe Journey on your tour with the film. Chris Muth

February 28, 2014 at 10:49AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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