Director Bevan Cullinan joins Together Films in the yoghurt aisle

“People either have comedy or they don’t. You can’t teach it to them.” That’s according to the late American comedian, Lucille Ball. The theory is, is that if you don’t have an innate sense of timing, which is the starting point of all comedy, you simply won’t get the laughs. We interrogate established comedy, performance and dialogue director, Bevan Cullinan, on how his approach to filmmaking has made him one of South Africa’s trusted comedy directors.

Comedy is not one thing

Unlike most genres, there are different styles within comedy; farce, mockumentary, slapstick, dark comedy, clowning… we Googled it and the list goes on and on. What you might not know about Bevan, and what perhaps sets him apart from most comedy directors, is that he has first-hand experience performing these styles and spent years dedicated to learning and understanding them. Bevan completed his Honours in physical comedy at Rhodes University, a degree which included everything from professional ballet classes to clown training with the renowned Andrew Buckland. Bevan now applies these same principles of clowning and physicality to all his work, whether it’s parodied Western and Superhero style Mweb ads or an emotive love story. As if that wasn’t enough, he focused his Honour’s year work on 20th Century Clowning, in which he traced vaudeville-based physicality in clowning from Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin all the way to a contemporary place in the 20th century with performers like Jim Carrey. Aaaaaalllrighty then!

What you also might not know about Bevan is that he didn’t jump straight into directing. After graduating he was eager to pursue a career as a theatre actor, but opposed to the idea of becoming insolvent…*bad dum tss, he became a casting director at Kayos Casting instead. It is here where he could start dabbling behind the camera while also working as an actor part-time. With his physical approach to characterisation as a performer, Bevan ended up starring in almost 30 commercials between the ages of 22 and 24. He then became a household name hosting the unscripted TV show, The Toasty Show, every morning alongside Bill Flynn and soon became one of the country’s foremost stand-up comedians and sketch comedy performers. He started honing his skill for creating comedic content and eventually realised that his background as a physical performer was an invaluable asset behind the camera. Bevan’s journey to becoming a director and his experience in crafting characters by using the principles of physicality is why he has become so trusted to ‘get the shot’ and making the script work on camera.








It either works or it doesn’t

Count yourself as one of the lucky ones if you’ve never experienced being on a set when the funny part just. isn’t. working. *Wa wa wa waaa. Most of us have unfortunately had the traumatising experience of staring deep into our client’s fear-filled eyes as the sound of laughter is replaced by the deafening noise of crickets. You see, even though comedy is so layered with different styles, comedy in fact is quite simple (and scary) because it either works or it doesn’t.

You can’t hide a failed joke or missed comedy beat behind models, actors or fancy cars. Making sure you have a director you can trust to bring your comedy script to life on the day is probably one of the most serious decisions you’ll have to make. According to Bevan the biggest obstacle we face in the South African media space is language; ‘You make comedy for the Japanese, you make comedy for the Japanese. You make comedy for the French, you make comedy for the French. But who do you make comedy for South Africa? Who is your audience in a country with 11 official languages? You make physical comedy.’ Think of the silent films of Charlie Chaplin, the many rubbery faces of Jim Carrey, or how about Melissa McCarthy crouched over a sink with food poisoning in Bridesmaids? On paper, disgusting, on Melissa, still disgusting, but comedy gold. But physicality doesn’t have to be over the top at all, in fact, think of the subtle micro-expressions from Steve Carrell or Ricky Gervais in The Office. Physical performance transcends many language and cultural barriers, and it’s Bevan’s same approach to comedy, the focus on physicality as a universal language, that he brings to all his scripts.

Bevan Cullinan and Gaye Leong – Together (in the yoghurt aisle)

Having worked alongside each other in the industry on and off since 2013, Bevan and Gaye’s paths happen to cross a few weeks ago in the yoghurt aisle. Whether it was the probiotics talking we’ll never know, but the two instantly hit it off and within a few days it was official, Bevan was signed to Together Films.

Gaye: You look at Bevan’s showreel and it’s a no brainer. We are so excited to represent one of the best comedy directors there is, who is also an exceptional performance and dialogue director. I’ve worked alongside Bevan in the industry for many years and I know the script is in good hands with him. I trust him.

All humour is rooted in pain.’ – Richard Pryor

‘If you walk into a matric art class with say 30 kids, at least 25 of their paintings will have a dark subject matter. It is the easiest default. People tend to default creatively to a dark space a lot easier than they can to a comedy space. The irony is, is that comedy comes from a dark place.’ Bevan’s example here suggests that if you can handle comedy, the inference is, that you can do the serious stuff too. And Bevan has. Over 300 commercials in 18 years ranging from performance, dialogue, everyday ads, music videos, films, series and literally everything in-between. Here are some of our unforgettable faves…

Kulula ‘Security’

Showmax ‘Taxi’

King Price ‘Tribe’

DSTv ‘Memories’

Bevan on DSTV Memories: A great example of all the physicality stuff being applied here was how we connected three decades. To make the audience instantly recognise these characters I had them do small physicalities like lifting the glasses, the tap-tap to sit down, matching angles of heads and mannerisms. There are so many ways we can create characters without ‘acting’. Think of how we can use a lens for instance to better frame characters comedically. Go back to the 90s with Pet Detective and the directors knew how powerful lensing Carrey’s character was because it made those facial expressions so much funnier.

Applying the principles of clowning and physicality to all his work has seen Bevan directing in various languages and countries around the world. You can trust that he can pretty much get a performance out of anything with a pulse and his work is a testament to that. In short, as Gaye says, it’s a no-brainer!

Contact Together Films:

Gaye Leong: Executive Producer
+27 83 267 8008

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View Together Films Website

Produced by the IDIDTHAT Content Studio – Credits: Anne Hirsch (Writer) / Julie Maunder

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