Bringing Spud’s world to life

2010-12-23 00:00

IF you’ve watched Spud, the movie, then you’ll no doubt have been blown away by the cinematic beauty of the South African film.

While much of the praise for the film’s look must go to the cinematographer, Lance Gewer, credit is also due to production manager Tom Gubb, whose gorgeous set designs helped bring Spud Milton’s world to vivid life.

Gubb, who worked closely with director Donovan Marsh, costume designer Mariano Gomez, and Gewer, said his biggest challenge proved to be the scenes for the school production of Oliver!.

“I’ve never done a stage design before, so that was quite a challenge. I wanted it to be a good high school standard production but still be a school production made on a budget using old flats which had been lying in the basement for years,” he explained. “We made use of simple hessian backdrops. It worked really well for two of the core sets — Fagan’s lair and the workhouse. The most realistic backdrop is the upmarket street in London where Spud sings for the school on a raised balcony. I think it’s the heart of the film — the moment when Spud is accepted by his peers.”

Gubb, who has previously worked as a production and set designer on Master Harold and the Boys, Confessions of a Gambler and Big Fellas, added that the crew had been exceptionally lucky to shoot most of the film at Michaelhouse, adding: “The school provided all the great tradition and grandeur and layers that we wanted.”

One of the unexpected bonuses for the team was being able to use Spud author John van de Ruit’s actual dormitory from his time at the school. “The dormitory’s look was guided by the book which describes it as a ‘dark and creepy place’. We stripped it of all its existing elements and made use of a false brick wall where we scenicked­ a sense of history into the bricks,” Gubb explained.

The production designer’s biggest headache proved to be finding the green 1973 Renault station wagon, which is owned by the Milton family and makes life difficult for Spud by breaking down or announcing itself with a huge explosion.

“The car was a big challenge right from the beginning,” Gubb said. “Every­one has a clear idea of what it looks like from the book, so we knew we had to get it right. We sent out feelers, scouts, did ads in the papers, all to no avail, until a few days before the shoot started.

“We found a beat up replica of a Renault station wagon on [the website] Gumtree. We sent someone from Johannesburg to buy it and found it was in terrible condition. A team of mechanics did extensive repairs through the night, then we sprayed it lime green and scenicked it to look aged and rusted. The car was then brought to the set where it was greeted with applause.”

As for his favourite set, Gubb says: “I’m very proud of the Guv’s study. We brought in in excess of 6 000 books — mostly from the Pietermaritzburg SPCA — and were given some by an English professor. It was one of our busiest sets and is full of layered textures. All the furniture is made from South African imbuia and has a particular elegance that the Guv and his wife would appreciate.”

That level of care went into every aspect of the film, from finding the right clothes from the late 1980s and early 1990s, to a toploading VCR for the common room, to era-appropriate packaging and money.


• Spud, the movie is currently showing on South African screens.

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