South African Rhodes scholar. Barrister. Wall Street investment banker. Movie producer. Carrier of heavy objects. And now Ross Garland ? one of the people behind 'The Story Of An African Farm' and 'U-Carmen Ekhayelitsha' ? is a "cellulite pioneer" ? at least in 'Big Fellas', which he wrote, produced and starred in.
We speak to the boss of Rogue Star Films about his new movie, a BEE road-trip comedy set in the worlds of modelling and film-making with a cast that includes the likes of Colin Moss, Hakeem Kae-Kazeem, Cokey Falco and Minki van der Westhuizen. Along the way he tells us about landing up in the film industry, getting 'Spud' onto the big screen, hanging out with models, dancing on a floating disco on the Danube, and Colin Moss' gadgets.
'Big Fellas' is your first movie as the writer and lead actor. Wasn?t that bloody scary? And then you were a producer too, which is a full-time job as well.
It was scary on all three fronts. Producing I?m accustomed to, but not with the other two roles thrown in. The acting role was the biggest challenge because we still had all the usual budget and logistical emergencies of any indie film, and I had to step off set a number of times to deal with some crew or equipment problem, and then go back and try be funny.
Was there anything else you had to do? Like lug around equipment? Make lunch?
No, I had a good team of people. But as a producer I always like to help where I can. It?s good to carry a heavy object every now and then... as a general life principle.
With the relatively small budgets for SA movies, do you find it frustrating or challenging that one person often has to take on multiple responsibilities?
I met a top American producer last year who had very clear ideas on what a producer should do, and it was quite refreshing to hear his very specific view of what a producer should do. It seemed so far fetched given how much one has to take on here in getting a film made. The upside is the steep learning curve each time you make a film. You have to acquire knowledge in so many areas. Maybe one day that will pay off. At least I know how to carry a heavy object.
It seems 'Big Fellas' was a lot of fun to make. Was it? And were you able to have a good time or was there a perpetual worry about the budget, the schedule, and all that admin stuff?
It was equal part fun and stress. We had a lot of fun the entire way through the process. From read-throughs of the script to working with the comics on set to finding new laughs in the edit suite. But in between those moments were extremely stressful times. As the producer you have to kind of wear them and keep them away from the team, so it becomes quite a lonely journey at times.
It's difficult to quantify these things, but if possible, could you tell me what the most difficult scene was to shoot? Were there any serious mishaps along the way?
We had to lose some scenes because we ran out of time in the shoot. That hurts a lot. The most difficult scene was probably one of the scenes affected by the weather. With local films, we usually don?t have the time to wait for the sun to come out, so for example the scene with Minki [van der Westhuizen] and Gina [Athans] was meant to be on the beach and then we had to move it to a gym the day before we shot it. It?s hard to completely nail the scene when you have to shift like this at the last moment.
Where did you come up with the idea for 'Big Fellas'? Was the idea to make an all-out comedy? Or did you want to make people think about the BEE concept? Was any of it ? for example the idea that you needed a BEE partner to get anything done ? autobiographical?
I don?t see it as a BEE movie. It?s set against the backdrop of BEE which creates a comedy that is of this time. I wanted people to laugh first and foremost, and if there was any thinking to be done, I think it?s more generally about race and identity. My personal view is that we have moved into a dangerous time when race is being emphasised more than ever before since 1994 and not always with good intentions. The story isn?t based on something specific that happened to me, but like anyone else operating in the South African economy today, these issues come up on a daily basis.
What's the craziest road trip you've undertaken in real life?
Yoh, good one. Probably in Yugoslavia in 1997 when I travelled on my own through the Balkans to meet a Serbian friend. They?re pretty insane there. It was trains, buses and automobiles through a crazy landscape... and they drink alcohol that smells suspiciously like petrol... but when you end up dancing on a floating disco on the Danube then you know it was a road trip worth going on.
Come on, be honest, were some of the scenes just written to hang out with supermodels?
Well those scenes didn?t hurt, that?s for sure. Amazingly in the early drafts of the scripts the main characters had made a film about midgets. What was I thinking?
Was attracting all these stars an important part of the project? Do you think it would have worked with lesser-known actors?
It gave the film a certain energy that was fantastic, and they have drummed up a lot of press for the film. The film would have played with lesser known actors but I think there would have been less buzz around it.