Face-to-Face with iDidTht: Featuring Ernest Nkosi from Bioscope Films

It’s not every day you get to meet a Feng Shui, rugby-playing, teetotaler, vegetarian, Rastafarian, award-winning director with an obsession for motorsport. So when we had the opportunity to sit down with Ernest Nkosi from Bioscope Films, we literally dropped everything (Read: We paused The Handmaid’s Tale).

You’d struggle to find a director more determined, down to earth and goal orientated than Ernest. He’s sacrificed more than most to realise his dreams, doesn’t take a minute in this industry for granted and his story is truly remarkable. He’s early and carefully chooses his seat around the artisanal deconstructed craft coffee roaster’s vintage horizontal surface (Read: coffee shop table) Ernest: ‘I actively do that, especially for pitches. I’ll sit here so I can see the door. If I’m on the other side, then you’re constantly watching the door, it’s a distraction and then I can’t work my magic.’ Whether his seat has anything to do with it is negotiable, but you can’t take your eyes off him for a moment, in case you miss something extraordinary. Ernest often comes to Cape Town to replace the Joburg hustle for the peaceful pace of the Mother City. Ernest: ‘I’ll fly here, lock myself up for a few days and just write. It’s quiet because nobody knows me here.’ Just then, no lies, we’re interrupted by one of Ernest’s besties, who comes over to say hi. And not just any bestie, actor Siyabonga Radebe. Obvs we force them to pose for a photo, because fangirling and memories #Blessed

Where it all began.

Ernest grew up in Kathelong on the East Rand. He still recalls vividly watching Sarafina with his parents and the impact it had on him as a youngster. Ernest: ‘It was the first movie I saw where people looked like me, spoke like me and the environment was familiar. I couldn’t fathom that they were acting. The experience completely changed my life. I realized that they would let us tell our own stories and then I knew it was what I wanted to do.’ After losing both his parents when he was 14, Ernest was determined that he would make them live on through his art. If you’ve ever had the privilege of working with him on set, you might have noticed that he shoots under the pseudonym ‘H. Spencer’- a homage to his late mom and dad; Helen and Spencer.

‘Every time I see that in shot it makes me feel like I’m protected. It’s important because they gave up everything for me to have the life I have.
I don’t have a lot, but I’ve got enough. I get to do what I love every single day’. 

After his loss, Ernest focused his attention on rugby, joining one of the many travelling rugby clinics that went around South Africa after the Springboks won in ’95. Ernest: ‘Rugby gave me a chance out of the hood. I found a real love for the game and it has given me everything. It gave me the opportunity to stay at boarding school, which meant I was off the streets.’ Ernest was on the verge of signing a professional contract with the Lions when he tore his ACL. Despite a successful surgery, the time had come to leave rugby behind him. Little did he know that he was about to embark on something much greater (yes, believe it or not, there are things greater than rugby).

After completing his film studies at AFDA, Ernest joined Ireland Davenport as a copywriter, winning the first pitch he ever worked on, for Vodacom. He was there for 5 years, spending time with and learning from every single department and getting to know the ropes of the industry. Ernest: ‘I’m serious about this. I’ve got no plan B. This is it. If it doesn’t work out it must never be because I wasn’t ready.’

iDidTht’s Director’s Chair for Ernest Nkosi

After spending some time with Ernest we’re awarding him his very own iDidTht Director’s Chair. This award is as, if not more, prestigious than any Cannes Grand Prix, we promise.

Congratulations Ernest, you get this modern wire chair- don’t get too emotional, you deserve it guy!

As a storyteller and director Ernest is unashamedly transparent, drawing from his unique journey, background and accolades. You can feel his life experiences, good or bad, in his work. He is comfortable with who he is, honest and unapologetic, and that’s what makes his direction so real. Ernest is bravely living his truth, which can be very compelling to any story he has to tell on camera and he leaves an everlasting impression on you.  He’s been around, but he’s also going places.

Lights. Camera. Ernest.

Under the mentorship of Philip Ireland (founder and former chairman of Ireland Davenport), Ernest began edging closer toward realising his dream of making a feature film. It took him a total of 4 years to raise enough money, saving 90% of his salary every month and spending a further 3 years promoting the film. But listen up, they only had budget for 7 days of filming and they did it, they made a great film! If you don’t believe us, just ask The Academy, they’ll show the film’s official entry into the Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film category in 2015. ‘Thina Sobabili: The Two of Us’, is entirely in Zulu with English subtitles and they managed to win 8 international awards, including a standing ovation from 600 Canadians at the Toronto Film Festival. According to Ernest, the lesson here is ‘just trust your dope’.

Fresh off the success of Thina Sobabili, Ernest was inundated with offers from production companies around South Africa, but to him, the choice was easy. Daniel Kaplan, Executive Producer of Bioscope Films, had, over the years, formed a solid relationship with Ernest, always checking in on his career. When Ernest felt he was ready, he phoned Daniel and set up a meeting. Ernest: ‘When someone gives you a shot, you don’t want to disappoint them. Whenever someone trusts you with their name, you make sure that that name is always number one. That’s how it works.’ After a month with Bioscope, Ernest won his first pitch…#Boom

Oh hang on, did we mention the Spinning League thing?

Have you ever heard of spinning? No, not the torture chamber at Virgin Active. Spinning has been an official sport in South Africa since 2010 and according to Ernest, it’s bigger than soccer. Basically, people skid around in circles doing death defying stunts in and around their cars. Kind of like some of our Uber drivers, amiright?! After Ernest directed the hugely successful So You Think You Can Spin on eTV, averaging around 1 million viewers on Friday afternoons at 17:30, he and a few friends decided to put together an official league. The National Spinning Premier League (NSPL) will launch in November with Ernest as Creative Director.

‘I’m not kidding you, this is like the birth of Kwaito. Like before Kwaito became mainstream it felt exactly like this.
This is not a global sport – this is a 150% South African sport. Trust me, you’ll remember this conversation. You’ll say ‘we were there.’ 

352 Questions edited down to 10 for Ernest Nkosi

Look, we can talk to you all day because you’re amazing *screams like crazed fan* but people hate reading, so here are your last questions.

1. What was the first job you ever did?

I packed containers at Isando.

2. What ad do you wish you did?

Telkom ‘Valley’. There has never been a commercial for me that has shown connectivity more than that. It was a perfect case of insight, meeting creativity, meeting truth. That’s why, to this day, you remember that commercial, doesn’t matter who you are.

3. What influences or inspires you the most as a director?

I’d say great work from people I admire, and even some of the younger guys who are now pushing the medium. I’m a student of the game. I go to film festivals. I watch short films. I carefully watch my visual diet.

4. What’s the number one song on your playlist right now?

Ernest: Mad Cobra Freestyle
iDidTht: ‘OMG! Ours too’ (Read: Never heard of them)
Ernest: *side eyes*

5. What’s the one thing you wish an agency would say to you on a commercial shoot?

How can we get the client out of your hair…I’m kidding!

6. The toughest location you ever shot at?

Bree Street taxi rank in Joburg. We shut the whole damn place down for a night. This was for my student film about taxi violence.

7. What movie do you wish you did?

Gladiator, because I love Ridley Scott and I want to make epics. I’m going to make the first Zulu epic based on Shaka’s life.

8. If you weren’t a director what other job would you want to do?

I’d be a high school teacher because I know what the value of a good teacher is. When my parents died, that was it for me. That’s why I say I’m lucky to do what I do because so many people gave up so much shit for me. A lot of those people have been teachers, giving up their weekends or taking me to the hostel and making sure I was safe. Stuff like that is not lost on me.

9. What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten about the industry?

Ernest: ‘Trust your dope…’
iDidTht: ‘Hang on, you’re a Rastafarian, so do you mean your…’
Ernest: ‘Hahaha, trust how good you are.’

10. What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t worry so much man. Everything’s gonna be alright. I’ve learnt through the cycles in my life, that life is like seasons and some winters are better than others. But invariably there will be a winter, at the end of that winter there is a spring, and at the end of that spring there is a summer. So having understood my seasons I’ve now started preparing better for the winters and springs in my life.

It certainly feels like right now Ernest is enjoying the summer of his life and one day we will proudly say ‘we were there’.

View Groundglass

Contact Bioscope Films

Executive Producer | Daniel Kaplan
View iDidTht Profile

Produced by the iDidTht Content Studio
Credits: Writer – Anne Hirsch / Art Director – Julie Maunder

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