Here at Perkolate we love finding out how things work and why people do what they do. Last month we spoke to professionals in the movie business about the makings of a feature film. This month we are turning to the television industry and I had the privilege of talking to Lukhanyo Sikwebu, owner and managing director of Lamla Films.
How much work goes into script and screen writing, what are the technicalities behind it?
Lukhanyo:Much work. Yes, there are plenty of technical issues when writing a screenplay. Just like building a house, there are basic principles to follow when embarking on a film script. In summary, you must understand: What’s the film’s tagline? The one sentence that describes the core of the film. The Dramatic Issue. One word/adjective that highlights the most important issue of the film. The Dramatic question. The one central question that drives the narrative forwards - will Jason Bourne get his memory back and destroy the spy agency that tried to kill him?
A strong Logline – paragraph that summarizes the entire film. Who is the protagonist? Who is the antagonist? Have you set up and introduced the characters well? How long (in minutes) will it take to get to the inciting incident - the conflict? What will keep the audience engaged through the film, right up until the climax? Are the clever twists and surprises? How will the writer resolve the conflict?
There are many more technical issues to take into consideration, but in all honesty – if you have a strong exciting story to tell, tell it. Don’t be too bothered by the science behind writing screenplays. Some feature films work in their raw unstructured forms.
“...Just like building a house, there are basic principles to follow when embarking on a film script...” - Lukhanyo Sikwebu
What made you decide to go into this line of work?
Lukhanyo: Frustration! I worked at a printing company in East London, doing cost estimations and in-house sales. I didn’t enjoy it at all. I knew that I enjoyed films and storytelling. I figured that my best chance of getting out of the mess I’d found myself in, was to draft a film script and make a movie. At the time I didn’t know what I’d do with it. I just knew something had to be done.
I had that ‘if you can’t find a way, make one’ mentality. I quickly wrote and completed the first draft of the screenplay – as clumsy and unprofessional as it was. I called up a friend who worked at a production company in Johannesburg. He happened to like it, surprisingly. He agreed to supply the equipment, whilst I’d assemble the cast, crew and locations.
Without a budget, I called around for favours to make it all happen. I’m pleased to say that in 2009, the no-budget film uMalusi, was distributed by Sterkinekor and Numetro nationwide. After uMalusi, I quit my job and started doing corporate videos. That’s what made me go into this line of work.
Who decides on story lines and plot lines and what is the process that eventually leads to the final script?
Lukhanyo: When writing soap, there is the head writer. There are storyliners and also writers. The storyliners come up with story beats which are discussed in story meetings – this is a ‘what should happen’ meetings. The head writer and executive producer are the final ‘green-lighting / yay or nay’ guys.
The writers have the easy job of merely writing scenes that have already been precisely carved out by the team. Generations was a great experience. Shout out to my Head Writer and Producer at the time – Bongi Ndaba. She’s a brilliant story teller.