Uncovering Performance Directing with Patriot Films

We tied Directors Anton Visser and Aadil Dhalech to their director chairs, grabbed our notebooks and the pen we stole from our previous meeting and found out what goes into shooting a performance-heavy script.

Every commercial script is different, each filled with different opportunities to create things like visual rollercoasters, cinematic escapism, musical journeys, sexy distractions, authentic storylines, inspirational messages, aspirational imagery, action adventures, and more. But when you have a script that needs to land a kickass performance, a script that relies on subtle comedy moments, or layered characters that the audience need to connect with or feel for in a few seconds, you need to call in the specialists.

iDidTht: Guys, we’ve noticed that Patriot really churns out ads where the performance, above all, stays with you.
Anton: Thanks! We pride ourselves on that.

iDidTht: Pleasure! So, is there any planning involved in being performance-focused?
Aadil: Yeah, it’s all planning I think. You can’t just rock up on set and expect the actors to carry everything. Like for instance, we give our characters backstories. It might seem like a waste for a 30-60 second commercial but it motivates everything you do with that character in that ad. It gives actors some kind of grounding that sends them in a specific direction on the day. And if they end up improvising then they do it within that backstory and it all stays coherent.

iDidTht: Woah, back up there! What’s a backstory? #AskingForAfriend
Anton: It’s just a little history you can make up for the character that can influence the performance. Like, the fridge salesman in our Telkom ad. We decided he’s a frustrated dancer, stuck in a dead-end job, he has other dreams, dreams of one day winning a salsa competition in Cuba. Maybe next year making a run at SA’s Got Talent. So the fridges are his outlet and his practice, and any opportunity he can get to dance and show off – he will. But he’s developing a bond with the fridges, maybe too close… I think that came across.

Telkom ‘Fridge’

iDidTht: Haha! Sweet Lord of the Dance, we totally see it! So how do you prepare your actor on the day for something like this?
Anton: Get them into a rhythm first. Get them feeling comfortable. We want to aim for the things we imagined the characters would do in castings and in prep. From there you and the actor use that as a base and start to explore. You can start to add beats, or change the time between beats, or change the intensity of the beats, or whatever.

iDidTht: Yo DJ, break down these beats for us?!
Anton: It’s just the timing that you aimed for, or that’s happening on set, or that you’re picturing in the edit. Little moments – a pause or a look, or the flow of the dialogue. They can be a big events, like a car crash or as small as a character realising something. Beats carry the action of the ad forward.

iDidTht: So do you have to rehearse with the actor on this?
Anton: A little bit, but not like in a play or film. If you work too long with an actor it can get stale. You wanna see that the actor has what you need, usually in the casting, see the spark, and then you want to cover that up and protect it and on the shoot day you wanna just open it up and fan it.
Aadil: Yes, I think you need to know before you shoot what and why something is going to be funny or sad, so that you can firstly aim for that in your casting, and then on the shoot day you know what chemistry you’re trying to create.

Anton and Aadil don’t set foot on a set without their notebooks, or what they refer to as their ‘bibles’, and amen to that! These bibles are filled to the brim with their characters’ backstories, story arcs, their beats, beats within beats, heart beats, dropping beats… you get the picture.

iDidTht: Wait, so you write down every single beat and plan every tiny moment or reaction? #AintNobodyGotTime
Anton: Exactly, because this kind of work is so character and performance-focused you can’t have a shot on screen that doesn’t contribute or somehow develop what is happening. You only have 30 seconds. So I’ll map out every single moment, with variations and ideas for timing.
Aadil: I don’t think people realise just how much prep we do before we have even stepped onto set. When working with performance you need to know exactly where you’re going and have a plan.
Anton: Yeah and that then allows you to be open to magic on the shoot.

And boy, oh boy, talk about magic! Every moment in their ads have clear performance beats all the way through in every shot that all build up to a resolution. Here are some of our top picks and a look into some of the inner workings that went into the shoot.

Patriot Performance Reel

VW ‘Learner’

SPCA ‘Buddy’

SPCA ‘Fluffy’

Robertsons ‘Rainy Weather’

Anton on VW Learner: We couldn’t find the lead gogo in this story, but we eventually tracked down a woman in Soweto and I had to audition her on Facetime two days before the shoot. I knew what beats I wanted, so at least I could be specific. And she turned out great.

Lets have a look at one of our favourite moments – the VW gogo cast on Facetime!

Anton on SPCA campaign: It needed to look and sound like these were real people doing real testimonials. We worked really hard to achieve that so that the audience gets caught by surprise when it goes off the rails.
Anton on Roberton’s Spices: This will always have a special place in my heart because these two guys weren’t actors, but we got them into character, gave them backstories, and gave them the tools, and then they just played off that. Maybe it’s just me but I always laugh at that spontaneous moment between them at the end.

Hyundai ‘Frankenstein’

Hyundai ‘Exhausted’

   Transact ‘Ponycorn’

   Transact ‘Concert’

Aadil on Transact Campaign: Cramming all that story, comedy, and performance into such a short time was a real challenge for myself, the actors, and our editor. Every single beat, moment and line of dialogue had to be trimmed of every ounce of fat. The actors had the incredibly difficult task of conveying all this emotional scarring and pain, with just one hilarious look.
Aadil on Hyundai Genuine Parts: We approached these almost like a sitcom. We wanted to create characters that people got to know and love. The scripts were pretty loose, and the agency (FoxP2 JHB) gave me a lot of freedom with performances and the edit, which was great but terrifying at the same time. So I relied heavily on instinct. I’m not sure if it paid off. Did it? I think they’re kinda funny.

Shame, we loved the look you got out of the poor Ponycorn dad.

Aadil Joins Patriot

Although fairly new to the Patriot team, Aadil and Anton worked together when Aadil was still an award-winning copywriter, which happens to be how Anton started out in the industry too. A little while after giving up his medical aid and making the move to directing, Aadil turned to Anton for advice, and it wasn’t long before Patriot saw the potential in him.

Anton: Aadil to me is the perfect blend of what you want in a director and what Patriot looks for in a director – someone who is good with performance. He has a strong eye and a visual sensibility but at the same time he understands how to build characters, and he‘s also really good at comedy, which is something we pride ourselves on.

Although we agree that Aadil has a major knack for comedy, his short film Repertoire for WAIF is an example of how delicately he handles beautiful visuals. Each moment with that actress (the badass Inge Beckmann) was treated so subtly, perfectly pitched and nuanced.

     WAIF ‘Repertoire’

Aadil on REPERTOIRE (WAIF): It’s hard to pick just one stand-out moment from the production of this film. But if I had to it would be the opening scene in the bedroom, when we meet the crying widow character. It was the first scene we shot, and up to that point I had no idea if this film was going to work. We got Inge into the bedroom, I gave her a bit of direction, and then stepped back and let her go. And man, it was a beautiful powerful moment to watch. Every one on set was either in tears, or speechless. It was in shooting that scene that I knew we had something.

Aadil also comes from an advertising background, which means he gets the business of the ad world, which for any producer is like manna from heaven. Watch out for this young gun on the scene! And for now, if you have a script that relies on performance – think Patriot!

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Executive Producer: Zayd Halim

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

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