Mzansi steps in the right direction

2012-07-13 13:37

The short, snappy romantic chick-lit Nollybooks have taken the local reading public by storm. And now they are set to debut on TV.

From next week e.tv will broadcast Mzansi Love, a series of romantic comedies that have been adapted from these books.

They are published by Moky Makura’s MME Media and written by new authors. Similarly, the TV series has been left in the care of young, relatively inexperienced directors.

Two of these are actors Neo Ntlatleng and Mmabatho Montsho.

Ntlatleng has been carving a name for himself as an actor. Currently, he’s on the SABC1 drama Zone 14.

For his first stint in the director’s chair, the 25 year old worked on PHD (Pretty Hot Damn), based on the novel Finding Arizona. The episode stars Nozipho Nkelemba as Arizona and Yonda Thomas as Zimele Khoza.

Of how he got into the female psyche, Ntlatleng says: “I had a bit of time to prepare, so I watched lots of romcoms and works by directors like Gary Marshall and Christopher Nolan. And I chilled out with my female friends.

“I even went on a girls night out to get more insight. I just sat there and let the girls talk.

And on the job, I relied on female characters for nuances, topics and themes. For instance, there is a waxing scene where I asked for assistance – you need to ask when you’re not sure.”

He says 50% of what he learnt as a director came from his acting roles.

“I am not intrusive. I totally detach myself from directing because you end up directing yourself. I am a needy actor. I like interacting with the director.”

And now he found himself having to direct a soppy love story.

“I would never have thought that I would kick off my foray into TV directing with a romcom.

But I enjoyed it. It challenged me and I think we did a good job with the cast and crew, despite the gruelling conditions and constraints we worked under. I had fun and learnt a lot.”

He says the show deals with serious themes. “I had to be sensitive to reflecting empowered women with my direction. It’s a story of coming of age and the truth on different levels – self-truth and external truth.”

Ntlatleng appears slight of build and has boyish features, so what does he do to take command on set?

He says: “Any actor, whatever their age, will relate to a director who knows what he’s doing regardless of his age.

If they can see that I’m clear and we can meet somewhere, then the work will get done.

In fact, I think older actors are easier to direct because of their experience. They know what you want even before you say it.”

Now he wishes to be a triple threat – writer, actor, director – like George Clooney.

“Acting is in my bones and directing is a love I developed later. It’s so much harder and demands a lot more attention.”

Ntlatleng says he knew he wanted to be a director in his mid-teens after he directed his debut play, 66367, about five convicts who end up pulling off a big heist. He even took it to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

When he completed his studies at the National School of the Arts, he went to the Afda film school to study directing and writing, but found more acting jobs. He has since shot a few corporate videos and a music video for rising star Naima Mclean.

The Mzansi Love series was shot over six weeks in and around Braamfontein in Joburg.

Publisher Makura, who is now the TV show’s executive producer, says an adaptation was always on the cards for Nollybooks.

“We wanted young people to read and find content for the African market at a good price – the romantic novels retail for R69 and now we are hoping for more success elsewhere.

“We wanted a medium that people love and watch. We hope that there will be renewed interest in the novels – like what happened with Bridget Jones’s Diary, Slumdog Millionaire, The Twilight Saga and Harry Potter. Hollywood does it all the time.”

Makura is confident that TV viewers will tune in.

“Romcoms are some of the biggest releases in Hollywood because they have a formula – they are a great, easy watch with a happy ending.

We all know the line, ‘I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her’ from Notting Hill. That’s what these movies are about.”
She says the process of taking the novels to the small screen allowed them to expand on the narratives.

“But we kept the essence of the books even though we had to use a limited number of characters, locations and crew. And it works.”

Although women watch more romantic comedies than men, they hope to attract a crossover audience with universal story lines.

“Who doesn’t want to fall in love? And who doesn’t like seeing two characters falling in love? It’s fun, it’s entertaining and you can learn a thing or two.”

»Mzansi Love starts on Tuesday, July 31, at 8.30pm on e.tv


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