Sunday, 6 March 2011

Nightdrive's driven producer - Susana Kennedy

ScreenForum's Alistair Anderson (AA) met with Susana Kennedy (SK), the producer of a new horror film with real undertones - Night Drive. An ex-cop joins a group of tourists on a night drive safari...

AA - Is film a pursuit for perfectionists?

SK - Yes, it is. I am a perfectionist and a workaholic and have to be doing something all the time. You work many hours and lose a lot of sleep. I often get asked by parents how their kids can get into film and I say if you cannot do anything else, do film.

AA - Is Night Drive your first major feature?

SK - It is but I have made some documentaries. They helped me create Night Drive as I learned so much from their creation.

AA - You made a soccer documentary with African Cup of Nations 1996 winning coach , Clive Barker's son, John. Have you always been into football?

SK - Yes, “Soccer: South of the Umbilo” was released last year. John directed it and I produced it. I knew very little about the sport. I think I was picked by John to move in with an outside perspective and to use my understanding of narrative cinema. It was an insane amazing experience though. I met the crew on the Monday and we were shooting on the Tuesday. Within two and a half months, it was on screens, so it was incredible to get it out there in time for the Soccer World Cup.

AA - What got you into film?

SK - Since I was a girl, I wanted to entertain people. I did bits of acting and studied film but I have wanted to make a difference.

Will Smith said in everything you do leave something better than it was before and I live by this quote.

AA - So producing has major aspects that appeal to you?

SK - It's a misconception that producing is not creative. I am in the process of making seven films, six of which come from my concepts. But beyond this, many aspects of producing films are creative. Just the marketing side alone, for example, is very creative. Half of a film is marketing. I did not know that before but I know it now.

AA - Why haven't you gone abroad as a film maker like Battle: Los Angeles' director Jonathan Liebesman yet?

SK - SA offers more freedom. I'm proud of Jonathan. He worked hard and used his family's support well. I believe that as a film maker in SA, I can make myself into a relatively decently sized fish, while in the US I would be plankton.

AA - What brought you to make Night Drive? What should audiences know about it?

SK - Night Drive was made with people I studied with. We have become something of a family. It's my first feature film baby.

The film is not just an action movie. It has a real social comment under all the crazy action. Refugees are poached for their organs in our country which is scary People have told me that what is so petrifying is that the horror is real.

AA - Night Drive was criticised for its controversial advertising campaign where it had a doctor offering money for organs. The agency responsible for the adverts has since apologised. Can you comment on this?

SK - We dealt with the issue but I think it's good to be controversial. But we respect accuracy.

In the film itself, we have tried to be as accurate as possible. We consulted anti-poaching units. We have also worked with the awareness group RAG, which supports anti-poaching drives. I want to give to society wherever I can through my films. Night Drive's actors have been at cancer drives to show their support for people with the illness too. We actually address cancer in the film in what I think is a respectable way.

AA - So are you going to continue to ruffle feathers?

SK - Yes, you have to be bold in this industry. I am working on a comedy about a "BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) guy" and the humour around the luxurious and other things that enter his life. But we try not to take sides and have ripped of everyone in the film.

AA - Are South African audiences limited to a few genres?

SK – Definitely, our audiences like Afrikaans films and then a few local films such as Jerusalema and White Wedding have done well. (Leon) Schuster's films are in a different league.

I want to make films for English South Africans, films that can travel, that feature characters that are universal. This is happening.

We have sold Night Drive in the Middle East, Japan and Germany. This is even before the film was released to the market.

AA - Tell me about the cast and crew.

SK - I have been humbled to work with people who do their jobs so well. Brandon Auret, for example, has impressed me tremendously.

AA - What can be done to improve SA's film industry?

SK - I have worked at every level of film in different areas of the craft. People in our industry need to understand that there is much for them to learn. People get out of film schools here and they think they know it all. I want to build a star system here. Equity shares of the profits for Night Drive will be given to the actors so that they can afford to do things like going for acting classes and voice classes. Anyone who has worked with Al Pacino will tell you that he prepares intensively for a role. He spends three months in voice classes before he acts in a film.

AA - How did you fund your film and how do people get money for films in SA?

SK - For your first film, you turn to family, friends and any other source. Many investors in our films are from outside of the country or from outside of the industry completely. Hopefully, more people will risk their money in film.

AA - The government has made 2011 the year of job creation. How has a small project like Night Drive created employment?

SK - Our crew was small, about 40 people but we worked with interns, many of which were from AFDA film school.

AA -What are your future plans?

SK - I am always learning. I want to study more when I can find the time and continue to learn about film.

AA - What keeps you in film?

SK - It is something that I am passionate about. I am a perfectionist and I live to work.

AA - Do you still have time for family life? Or does that come later or in between? Many people say film crews can be like families.

SK - Honestly, sadly I don't get to see my family as much as I'd like to, but I make a huge effort to see them as much as possible. I am extremely family orientated, we are all very close and supportive of one-another, so at times the lack of contact is difficult. My neighbourhood friends have also become like an extended family to me, we have a place we refer to as "Cheers" (like the series) at any given time I can go there and a couple of good people I know will be there, we are always happy and excited to see each other and we always have a great time together.

So any gap I get, I am either at "Cheers", with my family or cooking. I love feeding people, cooking up a storm with thirty odd people drinking and being merry at my house - which unfortunately does not happen often.

But I have decided that this year is my year for balance, I am reaching for the ideal; make time for family and friends and yoga and running and studying and still making awesome films. I know it's a lot, but you've got to have goals, so they might as well be great ones.

Night Drive opened last Friday March 4.

Learn more about Night Drive here:

Poster courtesy of website -

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