Rocking Roodepoort

Producer Ronnie Apteker describes the fundamental difference between the humour of Footskating 101 and that of his other movie, Crazy Monkey: Straight Outta Benoni, as a move “towards Leon Schuster and not away from him. If you can make something silly and give it heart, it can move a lot of people. The less you have to think in a movie, the more people can see it.”

What Apteker is suggesting with the film’s nod towards physical comedy is that South Africans are not quite ready to enjoy cere­bral humour. But we’re getting there. Apteker says of the film’s scriptwriter, co-director and actor Brendan Jack: “I think his deadpan humour needs the right vehicle to express itself and I think Footskating 101 gave him the right environment.”

Jack’s droll, somewhat stoned, sense of humour has been a hard sell to local audiences and is, for him, indicative of South Africa’s still-developing appreciation of off-kilter personas.

“I would say local humour is in its teen years,” says Jack. “I’ve been watching stand-up comedy for some years now and I would definitely say that there are people who are pushing the envelope a bit more [than before]. Before, comedians were doing crazier stuff and people didn’t get it at all. Now it is more niched, so there is definitely a market for that kind of humour.

“But the thing about comedy is that not everyone is going to find what you do funny. What I do is definitely not middle-of-the-road, Van-der-Merwe stuff.”

Jack’s flair for the sketch and subversion is a result of growing up on Benny Hill, Steve Martin, Mad magazine and a twisted reverence for the peculiarities of small-town characters.

“I grew up in a small town,” says Jack of his Roodepoort roots, where the movie is set. “For me [the movie] is like paying our respects to the people who grew up in small towns and their spirit.”

In Footskating 101, Vince, a miner’s son played by Rob van Vuuren (Twakkie of Corné and Twakkie fame) has to raise money to save the fate of his family and town. Although his father wants him to carry on the tradition and raise the money by becoming a miner, Vince wants to follow his dream of being a skater, but cannot afford a board, thereby spawning footskating, his own extreme sport.

The “phenomenon” of footskating has its roots in the Crazy Monkey days, the Jackass spoofs that Brendan Jack, Trevor Clarence, Gavin Williams and the late Brett Goldin first began shooting for MTV. Crazy Monkey soon evolved into a movie, Straight Outta Benoni, about a bunch of small-town losers wanting to make a big statement the day before their high school reunion.

“Using the lessons we learned from Straight Outta Benoni [which failed to recoup its production costs], we thought about how we could make this film for less, using a tighter script and a pacier style,” says Jack. “There are still gags you have to think about, but there are also a lot of straight gags because older audiences might prefer their jokes in dialogue.”

Scriptwise Footskating 101 definitely aims for the lowest common denominator, employing a slapstick leaning and obviously satirical style not far removed from Van Vuuren’s portrayal of Twakkie from his and Corne’s The Most Amazing Show.

The gags are decidedly more asinine, kind of compromising Jack’s offbeat style, which was better suited to Straight Outta Benoni or his current Stay of the Grass skits, which air on MTV Base. It kind of causes a certain amount of concern, that the Schuster template might prove more difficult to eschew than anticipated.

“We were pretty optimistic [in terms of audiences] when we made Straight Outta Benoni,” admits Jack in an attempt to explain the shift in the new film’s tone. “We had got a good response from Crazy Monkey. I mean Leon Schuster is the only one that makes successful films on a bigger budget and he’s spent 20 years getting an audience. An overnight success takes 10 years.”

Technically, though, the film manages to looks sleeker, despite being made for a paltry R1-million, eight times less than its predecessor. A chuck of that money was spent on the equipment, a high-definition Panasonic HXV-200 and Final Cut Pro, which was installed in someone’s flat, which doubled as the edit suite.

Other cost-cutting measures included avoiding out-of-town actors, cutting down on the crew size and eliminating luxuries such as toilets for hire and catering services. All the actors were paid R800 a day and, with the crew, were given equity in the film.

Apteker describes the eight-week marketing plan of Footskating 101 as smarter and packing a bigger punch than the drawn-out, eight-month one employed on Straight Outta Benoni. Instead of costlier billboards and T-shirts, there was more emphasis on stickers, badges and posters, which are more likely to excite and engender loyalty from the teenage market the movie is courting.

They have put out a comparatively cheaper soundtrack than Straight Outta Benoni‘s double disc, called Footskaters Rock Compilation, released last month. “A lot of people ask: ‘Is marketing a function of cash?’ Yes, but you don’t need a lot of cash to create an interest in something,” says Apteker. Neither do you need a board to skate, it seems.

Footskating 101 opens in cinemas nationwide on September 14

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