Fantasia 2019 – Interview with 8 Director Harold Holscher
Films have the power to teleport their viewer to places of wonder… and despair. It is a power that directors and creators have, and one that can lead to some amazing and truly terrifying experiences—especially in the world of genre cinema.
First premiering at the Fantasia Festival 2019, 8 is a story that transports viewers to South Africa, with sweeping looks at the landscape, the people, and the horrors within. It is a tale that is deeply personal, touching on relatable topics like loss, struggle, and overwhelming grief.
Catching up via Skype, CG Magazine had a chance to talk with the director Harold Holscher. Touching on the film and the way the final product came together, Holscher gave a candid, honest take on his process, what it took to make 8, and why the final film feels as tight and enjoyable as it is.
CGMagazine: I wanted to start by quickly touching on the landscape that seems to be the focus of the film. You have some gorgeous shots of plains, mountains, the forests, and the trees. How did you go about finding those locations and how did you go about making them such an important part of the film?
Harold Holscher: Interesting story, it was originally supposed to be set in KwaZulu-Natal because, in theory, it was to be authentic to the folkloric aspects of the story. The story behind it was from Zulu and Tulsa; basically it’s a folk story drawn from both of those tribes. I actually decided to go to the Eastern Cape, which is beautiful, and the Knysna forest was the backdrop of this. The Knysna area is one of the most ancient forests in the world that still had elephants roaming around it only a few hundred years ago, and we found a place called Port Clint Manor, which is the actual manor house we shot in. So we used the forest and the backdrop of the Eastern Cape, which is an ancient place, and the Manor House itself [that] was built in 1846 and is filled with a rich history.
CGM: The cinematography is stunning…
HH: Yeah, thank you!
CGM: How did you achieve that and how did you incorporate it into the story you’re trying to tell?
HH: It was thanks to David Pienaar, who was my cinematographer. We’ve worked together for ages and although he’s done a small feature way back in the day, this is also his first feature.
First and foremost our main objective was to try and see if we can get a pure image—meaning in-camera. It was very important for us for the photography and production design and wardrobe to work hand in hand. We were very impressed when we got to colour grading and the colourists were like, “Y’all could do that. The image is 80 per cent there, we just have to enhance.” But that was all made possible with great lenses and an exceptional cinematographer and camera team—and the rest of the team. I’m glad you appreciate that.
HH: Although it’s a horror genre film, at its core it’s more like a character-driven movie. Guilt can become a heavy burden to bear, so each one of these characters really suffers from a tremendous amount of guilt. Lazarus with the death of his daughter. Mary feeling guilty after her parents died and now feeling like a burden. Sarah feels guilty she can’t have children of her own, and William is burdened with the fact he squandered all their money and that he needs to make this farm work. At its core rests an underlying theme and all the characters suffer from that.
There are all these themes that that come into play that made it quite… I won’t say easy, but to keep it as a human story, it was very much more complex. I had to simplify it much more because of the spiritual elements and the beast stories and stuff. It was good to sort of have a nice core, our human core, which I could have always gone back to.
CGM: I want to talk quickly about the character of Lazarus. The actor you picked portrayed that role perfectly. How did you find him and how did he get into that mindset of that character?
HH: Tshamano Sebe was an interesting find. I was struggling really hard to find someone that I saw that fit the role, because Lazarus is a very complex character. He plays both sides of the spectrum. He is sort of the protagonist and antagonist. You have to love him and hate him, and to me, he creates this polarity in the viewer. As I said, it was always supposed to be coarser, and he’s a Venda and the Venda have an amazing tribe. Actually president Cyril Ramaphosa is also Venda, and the Venda speak a lot of languages and they always have to fit in like chameleons.
When I discovered Tshamano Sebe was Venda originally. I was like, “Dude, you have to play [Lazarus].” It adds these little intricacies that only South Africans would really get that, and he played it so well. He really embodied the character. I mean, the lullaby that he sings, he came up with that himself. I was like, “Dude, we need to create a lullaby that’s haunting but also you can sing to your daughter,” and then he created that himself. It eventually became his song and also a very big part of the score.
Also on the flip side, that African tribal beat also came from Tshamano. It was also a very, very tough schedule, but what an absolute legend. He comes from a theatre background, although he’s quite a loved character in TV space in South Africa for playing more of a comic role and such.
But he was also on Black Sails and ironically my friend Garth Breytenbach that plays William, he sent me a picture of this guy Tshamano and I was like, “Who is this man?” I immediately fell in love with him. I was like, “I don’t even care if he can’t act, I’ll get the performance out of him for the movie, he can just give me that look.” We met and the rest is history. I’m so glad I found him, he was an amazing find.
And so when I started removing, I saw that the script was so tight and the characters were so developed that removing was actually adding—if it makes sense—and so what happened was it’s more of a horror film now. This has got rich characters and the pace is much better now.
CGM: 8 has been getting some of the most buzz from the festival circuit. How has it been for you, the director, to see that and how do you take that and move forward for this project and other projects?
HH: I can’t explain to you the insane feeling when that trailer dropped. You’re so busy with this thing for such a long time and everyone’s like, “Dude, how do you feel [about the film] being screened tomorrow?” I’m nervous man. This is insane and the journey of 8 hasn’t even started yet. I am just blown away and I know that and I’m happy. I’ve got so many projects just waiting to see the light of day. I hope that when people see it, they sort of understand where I want to go and are interested in my next projects.
I’m going to New York and then I’m going to stop over in Los Angeles and meet all these people that want to meet me and just have a discussion. it’s amazing. I’ve got no words really.
CGM: How are you enjoying the Fantasia film festival, are you seeing the other films this festival has to offer?
HH: Fantasia is absolutely amazing. I’m so happy that we were having a premiere here. It’s the community and the people and what they’ve actually done for my film and what they are doing for filmmakers. I’m blessed to be a part of this because the films that show here are insane. Fantasia for me is 100 per cent the perfect fit.
I met so many people last night and everyone just spoke so highly about the film. There’s humility to it, you know, where it’s like a family. I’m so glad that it was received and that they decided to premiere it here.
To read the full review, check out CGMagazine #37