Film Interview: John DeVries – The Other Side, Or The Filmmaker Strikes Back

July 3, 2021

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In director John DeVries‘ short film The Other Side, part of the Durban International Film Festival programme, a young woman and her pursuer are transported into an alternate dimension that challenges their view on reality. After coming into contact with an ancient being, their lives are transformed forever.


Was there a single moment when you first realised you wanted to make films or TV programmes – a specific movie or show in a particular context? What was it that caught your attention?

My journey into film was influenced in two major ways. The first one was Star Wars. Growing up, I was in awe of the incredible universe created by George Lucas and how I could lose myself in the wonder of a manufactured world. I watched my treasured VHS copy of The Empire Strikes Back over and over until it was so worn out it was barely watchable. Both Lucas and Spielberg’s films were the first catalyst in my journey into film. The second way was my first introduction to the medium. My parents started a massive outreach to children in the townships back in 2001. They needed to raise funds for the outreach so, at 13, I picked up an old home video camera, and taught myself the basics of filming and editing – this was way before YouTube tutorials! Despite my rudimentary skills, I was blown away by how even my meagre attempts at making content were able to affect real change in the world. This was the big moment that stirred my passion to make films that make a difference. 


Do you prefer doing as few takes as possible or as many as are necessary? Both choices have their pros and cons…

We’re always tempted to get as many takes in the bag as possible for safety. There are so many variables to take into account: performance, blocking, camera movement, lighting, focus, and so on. Any one of those elements could make or break a shot and they’re often not in sync! You can sometimes have the greatest performance only to have it ruined by focus missing their mark. It’s important to get in your prep time beforehand and trust your cast and crew, especially your assistant director, to make the day. Very often you have to compromise to get it all in the can, which is where a clear vision, adaptability, and leadership come into play. 


Getting (in conjunction with your team) the exact look or feel you want onscreen: what are the most helpful outside factors for you in this process (from location to make-up or costumes to framing or editing)?

Orson Wells said that “A writer needs a pen, an artist needs a brush, but a filmmaker needs an army.” That’s one of the greatest observations of the medium. There are so many elements that come into play when I want to communicate a specific vision, the lighting, camera movement, lens choice, blocking, camera – all of it. Each of those elements build, and rely on, each other. I’m obsessed with the craft of it all and I’m constantly learning from the myriad of master directors of photography and directors out there who leave me constantly challenged to better my own craft and tell more engaging stories. 


While everyone is looking to you for guidance, how aware are you of needing to limit what you say or do in order to let the combination of everything in the frame (the location, the lighting, the costumes, your cast) be as effective as possible?

Although it is true that as a director, you’re building your vision for the project, films are the greatest collaborative undertakings for a reason. I’m so privileged to work with many masters of their own crafts. There are times that I have to fight for my vision and get involved with the minutiae, but for the most part, I like to empower my heads of department to take the initiative and lead their departments. A good director communicates their vision clearly from the start, ensuring that everyone is making the same movie.


The pandemic has created enormous challenges at every level in the film and television industries, but there is still fantastic work being created. What, or who, are the brightest lights in terms of work you have done recently or films or shows you are watching at the moment?

The pandemic has been brutal on our industry, locally and abroad. In 15 years, I’ve never seen a harder time than this. Despite it all, content is still being made somehow. Film people are some of the most tenacious and passionate individuals there are. Although the world crumbles around us, the future is uncertain and we’re threatened with losing everything, we’re still out there taking risks and telling stories. My team and I are pushing ahead with development on multiple projects through it all despite taking massive knocks. I’ll be honest, it’s a terrifying time for our industry, but I’m really honoured to be part of such a legendary group of people. A key part of that group is my friend, producer, and actor, Greg Kriek. He has backed and encouraged me every step of the way since we met while working in Los Angeles in 2013. I doubt I would have gotten through this time without guys like him.


Please unpack your current project? How did you get involved and what is most satisfying about it?

The Other Side was the product of a group of us wanting to make entertaining films that challenge the status quo and ask questions that need to be asked. With this project, we felt that at a time of division and fractured societies, shared profound experiences can help us find our common humanity. The film explores this concept in the backdrop of a dystopian world, where the remaining scraps of civilization are being fought over by two factions, both intent on each other’s destruction. Without giving too much away, the basic story follows a young woman and her pursuer as they are transported into an alternate dimension that challenges their view on reality and their identity. After coming into contact with an ancient being, their lives are transformed forever. Our long-term aim is to make a six-part sci-fi anthology with this being part one. Each part or chapter will have a specific theme and variation of the genre. We had an amazing team that pulled off a world-class production in only two days of shooting, with a microscopic budget and COVID measures forcing us to find creative solutions on the fly. I’m incredibly proud of what we were able to create on every level from pre-production to post, we don’t have to make any excuses for the film. It’s a real testament to what we can achieve.

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