Winning short film an ‘emotional journey’

A silent movie called The First Week by Mason Brothers Films snapped up a host of awards in the 48 Hour Film Project, which took place in August.

Brothers, Chris and Luke Mason, live in Muizenberg and Vredehoek, and their winning film was shot on location in Muizenberg.

Their multiple award success now takes them to the Filmapoolza Film Festival in Seattle in March next year, and hopefully to the Cannes Film Festival in May.

The 48 Hour Film Project is a tough contest as participants only have 48 hours to create their movie in full: they take genres from a hat and have no clue what style they will be shooting in until the Friday night. Of the 42 crews who signed up, only 26 managed to make the deadline.

Chris and Luke subverted the genre of a silent movie by using negative sound. The opening scene is a wife speaking to her husband who has inexplicably gone deaf in the first week of their marriage. Instead of words, there is a haunting distortion of sound which he “hears”.

Luke said: “First and foremost, like any film, the product is a result of creative collaboration. We had an extremely strong team on the project, without whom the piece would not have turned out as well as it did.”

He said aside from that they were also very careful not to try and tell too big a story for the format. “Our film is a very simple story of the effects of trauma on a love-relationship, which is something I think we can all identify with to some extent. Lovers trying to process loss, learning to adapt to a different life. Not being overly ambitious in our scope allowed us time to fully render our scenes, flesh out our idea and narrative rhythm and take the audience on an emotional journey.”

Chris said: “One of the major challenges was writing a script that translated well into short film – with a simple but compelling idea driving it. The other major challenge was time management. Making sure we didn’t shoot for longer than 12 hours allowed us sufficient time to edit the film and not compromise the important post production processes, like sound design and grading.”

Chris, 32, has been living in Cape Town for the past eight years and is the Muizenberg resident, whereas Luke, 29, has been here for three years.

“After studying literature at UCT I worked with film festivals, before being approached by Dutch producers to work on a film in 2012. I realised producing was what I wanted to do after the project and set my mind to making it happen. As a writer first, telling stories is the driving force for me. Stories can transcend form – these days film and TV is more accessible and more popular, so as a storyteller that’s the best way to reach people,” Chris said.

He said working together as siblings offers a few tangible benefits; a solid foundation of knowing each other well enough to have total trust and be able to communicate well and share an artistic understanding allows for better creative decision making.

“Luke’s best points are his ability to visualise the story and render it into scenes that convey meaning through his excellent command of the cinematic language.”

Luke completed his first degree (psychology and English at UKZN) and had the opportunity to be a production assistant on a National Geographic commercial. “I fell in love with the medium then and there and returned to Durban to complete a second degree in video technology. Since returning to Cape Town I have been assisting writers, directors and producers and learning the ropes.”

He said that as well as being a talented storyteller, Chris is also an excellent people’s person, which allows him to introvert and focus on the nuts and bolts of directing.

Philip Pel and Dave Knowles composed the original score for the film. Chris had worked with Phil on last year’s 48 Hour Film Project. “He’d done such an amazing job, that he was my first choice for composer. Dave teamed up with him and they wrote a beautiful piece of music.”

Gaston Roulstone, Yan Sanchez and Stefan Smuts did the sound design.

“Again it was a case of having worked with Stefan before and knowing he was a great sound team supervisor. He said – Chris, let me get the best guys I can for this project and he did!”

The poignant sound associated with the husband’s deafness is an Aeolian Harp, produced by Jonathan Cummings. Luke says Jonathan (Noj) is one of his dearest friends.

“When he first showed me his prototype for his Aeolian Harp, a stringed instrument played by the wind, I knew I had to use it in my next film – in a sense, the instrument is a conduit for the vibrations of the world through wind. I loved the idea of imbuing the film with this natural rhythm,” Luke said.

Describing their team, Luke said: “We were tense, but never overwhelmed. I wouldn’t say we were working towards the win, but our production schedule was rock solid and we finished in good time.”

Chris has produced 20 films (shorts, documentaries and feature docs) in the past five years, including Surfing and Sharks (2012) and The Bird (2015) and is currently finishing a series of natural history programmes for a North American broadcaster.

Luke has been involved in several feature films and series shot in and around Cape Town, most notably Roots, The Dark Tower and The Last Face.

The brothers saytheir dad lives in Muizenberg Village, where they had access to his house, which worked beautifully on screen.

“Muizenberg also offered us a range of locations in a very close proximity to each other, saving time moving our unit and allowing us to stage in varied and beautiful places,” Luke said.

Chris said: “Having lived in Muizenberg for several years, I knew the community in the village well – this allowed us to work around spaces and with real people – every character we needed seemed to walk past at the right moment… Also the winter light makes it very beautiful, picture-wise. Muizenberg is a special place. It’s an artistic melting pot and an inspiring place to live/work.”

Chris said creating this movie led him to realise that the idea of coming to terms with a life that will never be the same, of such physical loss, is something we don’t explore enough.

“Those of us blessed with all our senses, our fingers and toes, all the stuff we take for granted, should probably should spend more time being grateful for such luck than complaining about the traffic or not getting that raise or whatever pettiness we let consume us.”

Luke said making the movie changed his perspective of what it is like to live as a deaf person. “This also has a lot to do with our actors’ performances.

“His interpretation of being newly deaf was so sensitive and hard-hitting I feel like it did a lot to foster empathy in me.

“When juxtaposed against her portrayal of a wife struggling to communicate with the person she loves, and trying to remain strong while she herself is vulnerable, I found it very moving.”

Yan added: “Myself and Gaston are both lecturers at Cape Audio College. We both share interests in regards to post production sound design and modern music production, specifically music production with heavy emphasis on sound design.

“It is important that one remains active and relevant in the field as an educator, rarely work together on projects, but have good workflow and communication when we do, which may probably have to do with the fact I was taught by Gaston; as a relatively recent Cape Audio graduate myself.

“I’m very glad Sparky (Stefan Smuts) pulled us into this amazing project.”

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