Michael Matthews: Sweetheart short film trailer
Be Phat Motel Find Their Voice With Sweetheart
Be Phat Motel have been around for just over three years, making Promax winning spots for MTV; visuals for The Loeries in 2008; and a trailer for The Lambda Child, a fantasy serial killer thriller they have in development, loosely based on Greek mythology.
They’ve found their distinctive voice on Sweetheart, their first short film, which debuted at Film & Event Publishing’s Monthly Wrap in November 2010.
Former Lark lead singer Inge Beckmann plays a young housewife, who finds herself alone in a remote farmhouse when her husband and sons don’t return from an everyday trip into town. With hints of strange events just over the horizon, she breaks a monotonous routine to set off in search of them. What she finds is a seemingly derelict and deserted world, an apocalyptic Cape Town that feels familiar, yet reveals itself to be a marked alternative to the world we know.
At the start of the year, Be Phat Motel had a gap where they didn’t have work but did have some money, so they came up with the concept for Sweetheart.
Writer/producer Sean Drummond says, “We did this to use up some energy and to say, ‘This is who we are and this is what we do.’ As Be Phat, we’re interested in being a narrative company and a feature film company. That’s pretty much all we want to be doing.”
Director Michael Matthews agrees, “We’d been developing different features for the last three years and we just got tired of not actually shooting anything narrative.”
Sean wrote Sweetheart in three or four days and they shot it three weeks later in five days, with another three days of pickups in April 2010. The project was initially planned as a five-minute short, but grew to 12 minutes and ended up on 27 minutes.
The most striking feature of Sweetheart is its look. This is African science fiction, but styled in the American 50s and shot in gorgeous black and white on the RED by DOP Shaun Harley Lee, who makes extensive use of Woodstock composites to create a Cape Town that never was. ZenHQ producer Chris Roland was already offering Shaun work during the Q&A that followed the screening.
Shaun says, “I’d been talking with Mike about shooting something in black and white for a while. The Man Who Wasn’t There, a Coen Brothers film shot in black and white, became our visual reference. We brought quite a classical 50s feel to it.”
Michael and Shaun tell the story visually, so the dialogue is almost immaterial. That’s good, because the film’s main weakness is that some of the characters play out as slightly stilted and less than fully developed humans. This makes perfect sense at the final revelation, so re-watching the film is a completely different experience, as you have new levels of compassion for all the characters, but most people only watch a film once.
Sean is wary of defining the film’s message. “People have come with very interesting interpretations of it. We’re definitely not going to say they’re wrong. I don’t know that we were trying to say anything as much as ask questions about how we live now.”
For Michael, Sweetheart is about realising that you don’t have to do what you think you have to do. “The 50s housewife is the most extreme version of that,” he says. “Through the process of the story she breaks out, not by doing anything extreme, but by realising she’s her own person and her life doesn’t have to be about pleasing her husband and her family; she’s an individual.”
For Sean, it’s also about his mistrust of technology. “When you reach a point where you are facilitating religion and families and everything through technology, you need to worry. You can get your Bible verse of the day emailed to you. There’s something wrong with that. How do you facilitate spirituality, which is such a human thing, through technology? Right now we are at a stage where there are very big changes in the way we live societally. Part of the reason we went back to the 50s was because their exposure to technology was very similar to what we’re going through. The space race was a similar tipping-point time.”
Be Phat Motel is already a year and a half into developing their first feature, Five Fingers For Marseilles, which draws on a myriad of western conventions and traditions, updating them into modern South African. The film, which will play in Xhosa and Sesotho, chronicles a small rural town’s 20 year fight for freedom, first from an oppressive police force and then from a whole new threat altogether. Sweetheart is proof that they’ve learnt how to get a very high production value out of very little, so they’re hoping to be shooting Fingers with private financing in 2011.
Watch Sweetheart on Wabona.
First published in The Callsheet, 2010
Five Fingers To Marseilles was named Best South African Project at Durban FilmMart 2013, but had yet to start shooting by May 2014.