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Ad man gets reel

Titled Slash, it is co-written by Stephen Francis (co-creator of Madam and Eve) and satirist Gus Silber, and is directed by commercials director Ian Gabriel. It revolves around the misadventures of a grunge rock’n’roll band that travels back to the lead singer’s creepy, old family home to attend a funeral when things go awry. Francis says: “It’s kind of like Old Mac Donald had an … axe!”

Steve Railsback, who played Charles Manson in the cult movie Helter Skelter, is in the lead, with local actor Danny Keogh playing his father. And funky pin-up Nick Boraine features as Billy Bob, one of the suspected killers — but Gabriel says they’re making special teeth for him: “He’ll lose that pretty smile, we’re gonna make his teeth look totally fucked.”

Durban-born Gabriel is known in the film industry as the hottest commercials director in the country, if not in the world, having worked in the United States, the United Kingdom, Asia and Europe. At age 50 he is finally making his first feature and reckons he’s a young director: “Listen I’m much younger than John Huston; but then again he’s dead.”

Gabriel has directed more than 200 commercials. Locally his best-known one is for the 1994 elections — an epic project with the letter X transcribed on landscapes. For a long time he was stereotyped as the hipster who makes stylish ads and in the late Eighties he was the cool dude to hang around with at DV8 or other inner-city nightclubs.

Gabriel’s feature is the first project of this kind to enjoy the backing of the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), which has put up slightly more than 40% of the budget ($3-million). The irony is that the movie is set in the American South. However, Sam Bhembe, head of the IDC’s media and motion picture division, said: “The reality is that the business of motion pictures is different to film as an art form. We look beyond the art form to see what business can be made of it.”

Clearly through Slash, which was originally titled Dead on My Feet and then Dead Quiet, New African Media is aiming for a theatrical release both here and abroad. So it has formed Wild Coast Releasing, which will sell its films both locally and internationally.

In addition, New African Media has started up an arm called Scream Africa, which aims to make African feature films by emerging directors in the R1,5-million budget range.

The power behind this is thirty-something American Amy Moore. “South Africa,” she says, “is the miracle country. In terms of business I came here because of the vast potential … New African Media Films is a ‘value chain’ that includes distribution and training. The South African film industry can make a virtue out of its handicaps.

“At New African Media Films we love movies and believe that entertainment must be entertaining. I’d rather have a date with Austin Powers than with Billy Elliot, though Billy Elliot was a flawless movie in my opinion. Hopefully New African Media Films can produce a range for all tastes.”

As for Gabriel he is completely unashamed about making an American movie with Middelburg doubling as a small town on Arkansas’s Route 50 — which has been called “the loneliest highway in the world”.

“It’s Gauteng-Midwest, but if we can show that we can make movies like this and get them shown around the world then at last we will be able to make our own stories. But I really don’t want to make a dreary socio-political South African movie.”

To that end Gabriel’s company, Giant Films, is developing two movies — one about the Foster gang and a lock, stock, Romeo and Juliet-type story set on the Cape Flats called The Gam Brulee. Nice to see that the ad men are finally getting serious about making movies that last longer than a minute.

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