Lost In Transmission
Jasyn Howes might not have won the inaugural Jameson First Shot competition, but taking part forced him to develop his script to fruition. A couple of years later he returned to the idea, updated it for a local context, and is now the proud father of his firstborn film: a quirky short about extraterrestrial encounters in a time of flux.
Where did the idea for Lost In Transmission come from?
I wrote the script almost three years ago for the Jameson First Shot competition. That was the first one, with Kevin Spacey. The whole script came from one idea: a geeky kind of guy in his backyard, with satellite dishes all around him, holding a tray with marinated meat and looking up at the sky. I built this odd narrative around that single image. Anyway, I didn’t make it through the competition, but I think this is where believing in your ideas comes in. I held on to my script, then at the beginning of last year I dug it up and reworked it for the South African setting and I think it found its place; it worked better here actually.
It’s one thing to set it in South Africa, but another to locate it in 1990, obviously a time of great significance in this country.
Without being too pretentious about it, I wanted to make a film set in that period. I grew up in that time, and I like that transitionary phase, which wasn’t restricted to politics alone. We were transitioning as people in terms of technology, fashion, language… it was an interesting time. I wanted to try and play on a major event co-inciding with something more mundane and unknown.
Watching it I had this half-formed thought that, for many white people, stepping into a new democratic South Africa was a bit like making contact with aliens, in the sense that there was this great big unknown.
Exactly. You’re on the right track. Which is why the dual endings are left ambiguous, there are so many uncertainties. It was a very open-ended time.
Short films tend to be more open-ended and philosophical too.
Some people say it’s because most short film-makers are at the start of their career and they don’t know how to craft a tightly wrapped-up story – that’s a skill you learn. Time can also play a factor, not having enough time to tell a full story. But any screenwriting teacher will tell you that no matter how long or short a story is, you need to be able to begin, middle and end it. Often telling an open-ended story is just laziness. But I definitely wrote this story with an intention of needing some figuring out by the audience.
Lost In Transmission has some really great cinematography, sound design, music, performances. Was the directing experience in some ways an exercise in learning about these basic elements of film-making?
I’d never made a film before this, so I knew that I needed to prove to myself that I could do it. There are a lot of guys out there who can do everything from A- Z, a lot of one-man-band filmmakers. But in the long run they all come to realise it’s a collaborative thing, and the best work comes out of the spirit of collaboration. Finding the people you want to work with, people who will bring something to it, is so crucial. For example, the editor I worked with on this film, I’ve worked with him again and I’d love to work with him for the rest of my career if possible.
Your goal is to be writing and directing feature-length films?
It must at times seem like an impossible career to create for yourself in a country where there are so few people who manage to make movies for a living.
You’re right, and it’s harder now than it’s ever been because the competition within the industry is so high, and so strong. Just spend five minutes on Vimeo and you’ll see what you’re up against. So it can be really daunting. But, at the same time, I think South African filmmakers have a real opportunity to identify our culture through established genres, like horror or action for example. I think the rest of the world would really find that interesting.
Well we certainly have an endless supply of talent, and stories.
Ja, but South Africans like to think that we’re loyal, though when it comes to the film industry we’re really not. We’re so indoctrinated in the Hollywood ideal, so that’s all we want to see. I really admire the market in places like Nigeria, India, and China, because they really support their own and audiences flock to local films. But I do think we’re slowly getting there. On-demand is changing cinema culture, but we still need to get the films out there and get them visible to the public. It feels like we need to get past this barrier of proving we’re worth it. The American and European industry doesn’t really have to do that. They just give us what they have and we say, “Please give us more.”
Should local films be challenging us more?
I think it’s about finding an equilibrium. As we know, a lot of our comedy, for example, is really dumbed down. But ultimately a film doesn’t always have to be a reflection on who we are as a people, or open our eyes to some revelation. It can just be a story on its own; an interesting one and an entertaining one.
Be part of the growing South African film revolution. If you’re inspired to write and direct your own short film, why not enter the Jameson First Shot Competition? If you’re selected as one of three winners, not only will your film be funded and shot in L.A, Maggie Gyllenhaal will play the lead role. You have to be in it to win it! But even if you don’t take home the grand prize, it’s a great incentive to get that idea out of your head and on paper. Entry information can be found at jamesonfirstshot.com