Mfundo Mkhize joins The Star Film Company, the director behind some of South Africa’s most loved characters

Nyathi Rider’s Michael Nyathi, KFC’s ‘Next please’ lady, AmaSopranos, Tebza from Powerball; Mfundo Mkhize is the director behind some of our most loved South African characters. Having recently joined the roster at The Star Film Company, we catch up with this top performance and comedy director about his process, nailing those cultural nuances and we get the inside (s)coop on Chicken Licken’s ‘Nyathi Rider’.

Mfundo’s reel is what we mean when we talk nuanced; relatable characters with a distinct South African flavour, grounded in truth. It’s all in the details for Mfundo and his commercials hit that elusive comedy sweet spot that comedian Conan O’brien calls the ‘intersection between smart and stupid.’ Mfundo found that intersection and his characters stay with you long after you watch them on screen.

I try and always have a very clear idea of who each of my characters are. I give them all names and they are all are based in small parts on family, friends or people I meet on my travels. The stories Uber drivers tell me are also a big inspiration, haha.’ Says Mfundo.

When rewatching Mfundo’s work we are reminded that ‘Yes, Mfundo, did that. All of that’. A reel of epic ads and fantastically funny characters so relatable and oh, so South African. Of his directing process he says: ‘I pride myself in careful casting, it’s half the job. Working with really talented performers helps too. Tebza from the Powerball ad is the same actor who plays Michael Nyathi. He’s brilliant. Casting Directors hate me because I really take my time at callbacks, workshopping with the actors. And then of course, it’s about giving them the freedom to improvise on set by creating an open and collaborative environment.

Chicken Licken Nyathi Rider

KFC Boosta Week

Ithuba National Lottery Powerball

Burger King Tender Crisp

McDonald’s ‘Hot Seat’

A commercials director for over 12 years, Mfundo has had his hand in some legendary ads. One of our faves is Chicken Licken’s ‘Nyathi Rider’ of course, where he also worked with another one of his directing loves, VFX.

When we asked Mfundo what is something nobody knows about the set of ‘Nyathi Rider’, he pulled back the drumstick curtain and gave us a lovely behind the scenes bite on how things don’t always go as planned, even for a seasoned director as himself: ‘We, um, how do I say? We miscalculated some of Nyathi Rider, haha. There is a scene where the Lambo and Kit are taking off. When we did the recce, we put Kit on the left and the Lambo on the right and then we changed it last minute, but in order for the ramp to work we had to change them back. So, if you look at the ad, the cars are on opposite sides. When they take off, Kit is on the right and Lambo on the left, then when they go to the ramp, Kit is on the left and Lambo on the right. It was a miscalculation because we back-and-forthed so often about where we wanted the jump to be and where we wanted the street lights to be and where he takes off, anyway, we ended up having to do a little switcheroo.’

Of one of Mfundo’s most recognisable characters, Kit the car, Mfundo shares: ‘In all of those shots the car had to look like it was a ‘self-drive’. In actual fact, there is a guy lying on the seat with goggles on. Definitely not as sexy as a self-drive haha.’  

On McDonald’s ‘Hot Seat’ Mfundo says: ‘This was one of my early favourites. The commercial is about a boy who takes a taxi to school. In South African taxis, there’s a seat called the hot seat, it’s the seat behind the driver where the engine is. This seat gets hot, but if you sit there you don’t pay. And we all went through this as kids. It’s very much how we grew up, a right of passage. I would make my brother sit there. I said to him ‘You just gotta sit there for a little bit and we’ll get our snacks.’ Haha. I love ads rooted in truth like this.’

Mfundo’s work is bursting with beautiful South Africanisms and cultural nuances that create detailed characters hilariously recognisable to any South African. Why not (s)talk some more? The Star Film Company IDIDTHAT Profile and Company Website.

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