Interview with Gerhard Ehlers | director of ‘Smoorverlief’

IMG_2755Please introduce yourself:
Hi my name is Gerhard Ehlers I’m an independent filmmaker from Pretoria South Africa.

When did you start your career?
Since I can remember I’ve always been fascinated by the art of cinema. I always knew and realized early on that I was a storyteller at heart. I produced my first independent short film at the age of 17 entitled “Friendly Conscience” an 11-minute suspense thriller. Two more short films followed that same year.

Can you describe us the reasoning behind Smoorverlief”?
I made “Smoorverlief” or “Murderous Love” when I was in my third year at film school. It’s actually a very weird story of how I got the idea for the film. One night back in early 2008 I was coming back from a party, it was probably around 2 or 3 am when I stopped at a gas station to fill up. I noticed that I wasn’t the only one at the station. A Light green 1950’s Studebaker was parked at the fuel pump next to me. I noticed that he had some damage to the back of the trunk-it looked like somebody reared it from behind. My thoughts started to wonder…I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be really suspenseful to have a bride, still in her wedding dress, trapped in the back of a trunk, and have her veil blowing in the wind as the car drives of…and so the concept just took off from there.

How long did the development of your film take?
It took a good 5-6 months to develop and get through the pre-production stage. If I can remember correctly, I rewrote the script several times and only shot the 11th or 12th draft

Can you describe what was most challenging about shooting your film?
Where do I start?
This was without a doubt one of the most difficult productions I’ve worked on as writer/director. For those who don’t know, the Overberg district in the Western Cape province in South Africa, has a reputation for unpredictable weather-the locals call it “the one place where you can experience all four seasons in one day”– and I can vouch for that! We had to move shooting days around, or completely change shooting schedules, always keeping an eye on the ever-changing weather…
Another difficult aspect regarding this production was capturing the time period. If there’s one piece of advice I can give to other aspiring filmmakers out there it’s this – think very carefully when you are considering a period piece, unless of course it is essential to your story. Today I look at “Smoorverlief” and I do feel that we captured the feel and look of a 1960’s period film quite well. This did not go without blood sweat and tears…

Who or what is the main inspiration for representing the concept of your story?
I would say, my favorite (and somewhat of a role model) filmmaker-the master of suspense Sir. Alfred Hitchcock.
I’m a little obsessed…

How do you see the role of an independent artist nowadays?
Personally I feel that the role of independent filmmakers is not only vital in today’s modern and ever expanding digital age, but it is crucial. We as filmmakers are trying to do what we believe in, and tell the stories we want to tell, and share with the rest of the world. This ability enables us to go against the tide of big studios. We see hundreds of blockbuster, mainstream films being released every year by Hollywood and other major industry players. The question everyone seems to avoid is, how many of these so-called big budget films are still staying true to the essential magic of what cinema in essence is? Are we still experiencing those almost forgotten “new wave” movements and historical cinematic moments? Are we really still getting mesmerized by what we see and experience on screen? In my opinion big studios are just regurgitating the same old concepts and franchised productions and are still re-producing these “popular” films purely because they have a following and make profits.
I truly believe that the smaller more intimate short-and feature films are the only way we can return that spark to a “new” appreciative audience to ignite and rekindled the deserved passion for the ultimate cinematic experience that is, the moving picture.

What’s next? Are there any other projects that you are currently working at?
Currently I’m lecturing at a local private collage, teaching film and television production, as well as non-linear editing to the final year students. I am working and developing a concept for a documentary film about a local female serial killer which I plan to release and enter into local and international festivals next year.

Screening films online – what are your thoughts about that? What do you think is the future of web and films?
My short answer to this question is; web and film is the future. Technology is enabling us as independent filmmakers to do more with less. If you look at films being shot on smart phones for instance, the sky is really in a sense becoming the limit. This also proves yet again, that it doesn’t really matter how you produce your film, if it’s done well and the story is told well your audience will engage and become part of the world you create on screen. With Netflix and other online streaming services, great and exciting new doors are opening for us in the small arena to be seen and heard on a massive, much needed scale.

 And finally, what do you think about EuroIFC?
Awesome! I’m a great fan, obviously, and find the EuroIFC an inspirational modern “stage” for giving us,independents, not just a platform but also a launch pad for mesmerizing experiences to come…

Watch “Smoorverlief” here.