Whoever said art takes time has not met the team behind Shotgun Garfunkel – unofficially (just because they are awaiting Guinness World Record accreditation) the fastest full-length feature film ever made.
The parameters were simple. The previous record was held by Sivappu Mazhai, a feature from Kolkata, India, which came in at 11 days, 23 hours and 45 minutes to produce. If the #FastestFilmSA team, a collaboration between several Johannesburg-based industry professionals, could produce their feature film in under 11 days (from script to screen), they would not only set a new world record, but meet a challenge that many experienced filmmakers would balk at.
Backed by strong creative and production teams, the project was spearheaded by Team Best's Bryan van Niekerk and Asher Stoltz, Tiffany and Johnny Barbuzano from Locolala Productions and Meren Reddy from Ghost Sheep Productions – a group of young, home-grown professionals dedicated to creating the seemingly impossible.
"We knew we were doing something special, but mentally and physically, we knew we were up against it," said Eduan van Jaarsveldt, also from Team Best.
Beyond purely practical concerns, the task facing the filmmakers and the pressure to succeed also gave rise to inevitable self-doubt. Tiffany Barbuzano explained: "We were really worried that we weren't going to do a good movie. We had the right people and everything in place, but it's like doing anything creative – you really worry that it's not going to have the impact that you want it to."
The attempt officially kicked off at 9am on Wednesday, May 1, for which no preparation was allowed beforehand, while many of the team's peers were reaping the benefits of a mid-week public holiday.
Ten days and 12 hours later, the film was complete and Shotgun Garfunkel premiered at the Bioscope in Johannesburg's Maboneng Precinct on 11 May. Not only was the screening well-supported – eager watchers lined the aisles – but second and third screenings had to be scheduled to accommodate local interest.
Much of this support was generated through the team's online community, which was centered around their blog, Facebook page and the Twitter hashtag #FastestFilmSA, and the hard work of one man in particular behind the scenes.
"When they first told me about this project, I knew it was going to be a game changer," said Mike Sharman, who heads up digital communications agency Retroviral. "The sheer belief in the project and its unique selling points ensured that securing talkability in the online space was always going to be achievable."
His prediction could not have been more on the money, as enthusiasm and resourcefulness characterised the public's contribution to the project. When Team #FastestFilmSA needed anything, the response was overwhelming.
"During one particular scene, there weren't enough extras to participate in a busy club scene. I tweeted a call to action for extras, which was retweeted almost 100 times and resulted in the hashtag #FastestFilmSA trending nationally. [Volunteer] extras started arriving within minutes, and the empty set transformed into a busy bar almost instantaneously," said Sharman.
This kind of real-time support was crucial to the film's success, particularly as the filming schedule was tight. "We couldn't waste a second," said van Jaarsveldt. "The last-minute planning without any money made it tricky, but people were amazing and they really came to our aid."
While timing and scheduling proved to be somewhat of a nightmare, this pressure also forced the team into a more streamlined creative process.
"We were not going to fail. However, the movie came out, we were going to make a movie in 11 days," explained Barbuzano. "You don't have time to think 'This can't work' or 'I look fat in these pants.' You just don't have time for the static and the bullshit."
Van Jaarsveldt concurred. "Actors, extras, locations, logistics – it was all a challenge. But not being able to plan also offered up amazing, creative solutions. We were presented with challenges and we had to pool our resources to figure them out."
It is this sense of resourcefulness and perseverance that not only epitomises the #FastestFilmSA project, but also the greater South African creative community, demonstrating that while resources may be lacking, creative drive in the local arts sector is in abundance.
"South Africa has massive potential – we just aren't all given the opportunity to express it," said van Niekerk. "We have a history of storytelling, a good culture of creative work and our crews are amazing!"
"It just proves what can be done when people want to do something," said Van Jaarsveldt. "South African crews are among the best in the world. Our technical guys are just amazing and it shows the guys overseas that we can genuinely compete – even with some quirks, Shotgun Garfunkel is still a competent, entertaining film."
Making movies about fun South Africa
"It also shows that we don't only have to make movies in South Africa about our history, about people who are sick, about people who are dying. There's an element to South Africa that is fun, alive, driven and incredibly creative – if we just had the chance to show it," added Barbuzano.
According to Van Niekerk, lack of budget, opportunity and decent platforms to showcase work are the greatest stumbling blocks to South African creatives. "Our country has such a small market for the kind of work we want to make, so it's incredibly difficult to get the necessary funding. That's why we made a plan – and now we have a feature film under our belts!"
Van Jaarsveldt doesn't mince his words when it comes to factors that are stifling creative progress, particularly in the film industry. "It always comes down to money. Time equals money. The only reason we could do this is because the guys only had to offer up four days. Six weeks to shoot a feature is a long time if you need to pay your bond and school fees."
"People are also inherently greedy beings and self-enrichment is a major issue in this business. Guys need to start thinking about the bigger picture of creating a sustainable industry rather than quick bucks, fancy cars and nice shoes. Let the money end up on the screen, not in your bank account."
Although Team #FastestFilmSA have made a record-size splash purely by getting Shotgun Garfunkel from script to screening in under 11 days, this is hardly the end of the road.
"Once the official world record accreditation has been received, the next step is to submit the film to global festivals like Sundance, Tribeca and Cannes next year," said Sharman. "This is where the true potential of this achievement will be realised if it punches above its weight against the world's best indie films."