IDIDTHAT is obsessed with Darling Films director Zee Ntuli. He’s a filmmaker and a writer. Working in commercials and long-form, Zee always brings his passion for storytelling and style to his work. In 2021 he was ranked 1st for Direction in South Africa by the IDIDTHAT Craft Awards, so naturally, he was the perfect candidate to kick off IDIDTHAT’s new OBSESSED Series. Poetry, artificial intelligence, aeroplane seats and the commercial he wishes he directed, this is what Zee Ntuli is obsessed with.
WTF is IDIDTHAT’s OBSESSED Series?
Here we showcase the humans in the film and commercial industry that we think you need to know more about. We invite selected heavyweights, tastemakers and rising stars that have not only had their work awarded at IDIDTHAT’s Craft Awards but are also contributing to raising the standards of film craft in South Africa. In this series, we get to share who we are OBSESSED with and get them to share what they’re currently OBSESSED with too. Find out what they’re binging, the work they wish they did or what trends, apps and even snacks your favourite filmmaker is OBSESSED with.
What is a South African commercial you WISH YOU DID?
Zee: I love commercial work with meaningful, constructive and poignant messaging. There’s nothing more inspiring than when we are afforded the opportunity to sell meaning, sell ideas that positively contribute to our society at large. Often this work can land up being didactic or preachy, but when well executed it can be profound and beautiful. Thina Zibi’s piece for the Department of Education ‘Raising Better Men’ really stayed with me. It is so delicately and gently crafted. Elegant in its simplicity. Beyond the lovely filmmaking, I love the messaging of this piece. I believe it’s always incredibly powerful to use very specific, focused moments to impart much broader messaging.
What are two things you can’t live without?
Zee: A healthy balance of optimism and cynicism. Enough optimism to remain passionate and joyful. Enough cynicism to stay sharp.
What seat on the plane do you simply have to have?
Zee: The window seat. The notion of being hurled across the planet at absurd speeds without making use of the opportunity to see the world from a unique vantage point is absurd to me.
What is the best advice you’ve received?
Zee: Someone once told me that creativity and play are one and the same. That our inner child is responsible for any meaningful creativity we are capable of. So, considering that our work is to play, the naivety and freedom required to create can easily be smothered by the cold, hard professional reality.
I find that when I’m able to set aside the countless pressures of our work and instead allow myself to operate in an uninhibited space, trust my instincts and enjoy myself, the better the work. I think the hardest leap was to let myself understand that in our line of work, playing doesn’t mean you take your work any less seriously. In fact, it can mean the opposite.
What were you obsessed with last year?
Zee: Poetry, and that’ll probably remain the case. Due to the fact that we work in a largely visual medium, words are often used to merely impart clear and direct information, or sometimes they’re only decoration. By the time our work is on screen, the words that inspired the work are most often long forgotten. In an industry that utilises a rigorous and literal process to craft visuals with incredibly specific detail, we so rarely have to imagine anything. We have renders and storyboards and mood boards and actuals and lens tests and light studies and and and… To me, poetry serves as a very clear and accessible reminder of the potency of words, and their ability to paint images within our imagination. Poetry serves to keep supplying some ventilation to that part of my mind.
What app are you obsessed with right now?
Zee: I’m obsessed with Midjourney right now. I know… Me and just about everyone else in the world. When Artificial Intelligence has access to, and the ability to manipulate and exploit an almost infinite wealth of information, the kind of knowledge that an entire, dedicated human lifetime couldn’t hold a candle to, what does the role of the artist become? AI understands us in a way that I don’t believe we even do. Artists, and art itself, will have no choice but to evolve in order to survive. When the camera was invented, it pushed painters to entirely re-examine their perspective, quite literally. It forced art to evolve and reinvent itself. In a way, entering a mechanical contender into the ring contributed to many artists interrogating what it means to be human. The world of fine art was pushed to explore what only a human soul is capable of exploring, capturing, distilling and creating. I hope the same will one day be said for AI-generated imagery.
Best movie you’ve seen this year?
Zee: Triangle Of Sadness. I really can’t even begin to explain the many reasons I believe it is a work of genius. All I’ll say is that it has been a long time since I’ve watched a film in which I genuinely didn’t have any idea of where it was going. Watching this film I was lost in the best possible way, the kind of lost that feels like an adventure, where you are safe in the knowledge that you are in the hands of a masterful filmmaker.
What would you love to see more of in our advertising industry?
Zee: I’d love to see a more genuine sense of community. Sharing. Less competitive thinking. Seeing ourselves as a team competing on the world stage, not insular factions competing with one another. Our filmmaking identity often feels fractured and somewhat schizophrenic. I hope that we will come to place more emphasis on what we have in common to create a more coherent voice for South African filmmaking.
Who’s the person on set you couldn’t live without?
Zee: A strong Unit Manager. It’s so easy to take for granted the complex practical and spacial mechanics of a film set. A well-run unit is often invisible, but absolutely vital. Unit is in charge of our safety, comfort and overall efficiency. Normalize praising the Unit Manager!
BEST IN CRAFT (Direction) MTN ‘Voice’ Darling Films | Zee Ntuli (Direction)
Awarded by Nkanyezi Masango
‘This is an ambitious idea. It relies on so many components to work: performance, animation and storytelling. If just one of those elements is compromised, the whole thing would tumble like a house of cards. But Zee Ntuli not only managed to make each of these work – he elevated them so much that they’re not distracting from the narrative. That’s the purpose of craft, to get out of the way. Zee understood the assignment and delivered. It’s a magnificent achievement.’
– IDIDTHAT Guest Judge: Nkanyezi Masango, Group Executive Creative Director at King James
‘The first piece that stands out is from the agency that I recently joined. The work speaks for itself. It is simply an enjoyable spot. It is beautifully shot with great casting and performances to match. It takes you on a journey that is refreshing with every watch. Zee nails every shot, from the very intimate, to the awkward, somewhat comedic, and that jolt of high energy at the end. Slick and clean camera work that builds anticipation at the right moments as well as the gradual suspense frame after frame, and then boom, so much excitement that rekindles that feeling of those moments that we all have missed since the whole world has turned upside down.’
– IDIDTHAT Guest Judge: Kabelo Moshapalo, Chief Creative Officer Ogilvy Johannesburg
‘Once again Zee illustrates why he is a special talent, the pacing of this ad is perfect. The rhythm has the sensibility of a jazz song . You’re not sure what the next frame will give you but you know it’s gonna be delicious, sumptuous. The attention to detail that Zee has permeates throughout all his work and he takes it to another level on this. I’ve watched this ad numerous times but I’m delighted each time. Bravo Zee. Oh, and salute on that slick finger-licking moment.’
– IDIDTHAT Guest Judge: Tebza, Director at The Star Film Company.
Best in Craft (Direction) Darling Films | Zee Ntuli & Slim
MTN ‘One Last Push’
Awarded by Mpho Twala
‘Navigating a script that speaks to a current mood and relies heavily on capturing nuanced performances is not an easy task. Getting the tone right is tricky. Zee manages to capture the tone in a visually arresting way while still showing restraint with each character. It could have wandered off into the well-trodden space of everyday frustrations with something we are all familiar with, or it could have been just another beautifully shot spot. But instead, the spot engages with the audience on a deeper level. Textured locations, deliberate camera moves and well-chosen cast combined with interesting personal moments make this spot resonate with the audience and hopefully does give them one last push. The director’s job also doesn’t end until the edit is done and having a firm hand in the edit room is what takes this piece over the line. Another great spot for the ever-growing body of work for Zee.’
– IDIDTHAT Guest Judge: Bruno Bossi, Director and Owner of Carbon Films
Craft Mention (Direction) Darling Films | Zee Ntuli
Solidarity Fund ‘Wise Words’
Awarded by Mpho Twala
‘I love everything about this commercial. Zee has given this spot the right amount of drama, emotion and humanity. From cinematography to the seamless transitions through these well-articulated worlds of characters. Zee represents all that is great in the commercial (filmmaking) space. All his creative decisions are informed by research and an understanding of his market. He’s a reminder why (the future of) advertising is in good hands. A star that continues to rise above the rest, with the work he and his team produce.’
– IDIDTHAT Guest Judge: Mpho Twala, Partner and Director at The Rudeboy Collective
Darling Films is asking people to have a fling, a Darling Fling. Executive Producer heavyweights Lorraine Smit and Melina McDonald have launched Darling Fling with Mmameyi Mphahlele appointed as the Executive Producer. Darling Fling is an extension of Darling Films and a new offering that will bring any of your wildest creative ideas to life by sourcing the right talent for your project. With the trio’s years of creative problem-solving experience and the production backing of Darling, you know you’re gonna have a safe fling.
This month’s IDIDTHAT.co Craft Awards were judged by the distinguished Brendan Hoffmann, ECD at Joe Public Cape Town and the esteemed Ian Gabriel, Director at Giant Films Thank you sirs! Congratulations to Production Designer (or if you prefer, Art Director) Louise Knepscheld on her work for Kruger and Slim from Darling Films for his MTN spots. Well done you crafty beauties!
June’s IDIDTHAT.co Craft Awards were judged by two creative powerhouses armed with their impeccable artistic palates; Camilla Clerke, Executive Creative Director at Ogilvy South Africa & Thina Zibi, Independent Director. Thank you for lending us your fiery brilliance. Congratulations to Slim from Darling Films for being awarded Best in Craft by both judges - BOOM.