Nare Mokgotho is an exciting, multi-disciplined creative talent from South Africa who caught our eye with his commercial directing debut. The pair of spots for South African streaming service Showmax reveal a talent for cool, understated comedy. Nare shot the spots through Massif Media, where he was working as a creative researcher – but before entering the world of production, he actually spent time working agency side as a copywriter at shops like J. Walter Thompson and Grey. With an art school background and a knack for copywriting, Nare’s nurturing that elusive directorial double whammy of style and storytelling.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Nare to find out about his meandering journey into the world of commercial directing as well as his creative experiments through artistic collective MADEYOULOOK.
LBB> Zero Bucks Given marks the first commercial that you’ve directed – what was it about the script and idea that jumped out at you?
Nare> Firstly, it had a strong and simple proposition. The clarity of the creative concept and the communication are number one above all else. This aspect made it so much easier to workshop and to develop the scenes and the commercial as a whole with Philippa Heal and Tree Pechau, the creative team for ShowMax.
And secondly, it made me laugh out loud. If it’s funny on the page, it’s bound to be funny on screen.
LBB> And what were the most interesting challenges in bringing the project to life – and how did you address them?
Nare> The most challenging aspect was striking the right tone and getting a subtler form of humour than you might typically expect from a script like this. We also had to ensure that the audience was always in our hero’s corner by making certain the feeling of being carefree was a point of connection with people. The hero had to be relatable and charming to pull this off.
At every stage of the process Philippa, Tree and I made sure that whatever we decided on, related back to the clarity and simplicity of the idea. And equally important, it had to reward the audience with some laughs.
LBB> I enjoyed the RapidLion film Wreaths – it must have been fun to really dissect the tropes of arthouse films and their trailers. What was your starting point with that?
Nare> The starting point was realising that wreaths are marketing tools. Sometimes the marketing is honest and at other times, it isn’t. I was interested in the latter case, when you go see something that was littered with wreaths and sold to you as one thing – only to discover it’s the most self-serious nonsense.
In the research phase I dug up the trailers for some of my favourite (ahem) arthouse films and the work of some of my favourite directors. Writing it involved a combination of dreaming up the most ridiculous scenes I could, and constantly referring back to the masters of pretentious arthouse. Gradually, I began to identify the tropes and started to escalate the inherent absurdity in their work to the point of comedy.
LBB> And how did it make you reconsider the whole awards circus?
Nare> As with any circuit, there are the credible award shows and festivals that are well regarded, but that wasn’t who I was interested in. I was interested in some of the obscure and inadequate festivals that will award anything that is entered. The festival that awards the wreath is very important. One reputable wreath is far better than countless obscure awards.
LBB> Tell me about MADEYOULOOK – when and why did you set the collaboration up?
Nare> MADEYOULOOK started in my final year of art school with my collaborator and good friend Molemo Moiloa. We started with a project called Sermon on the Train
where we invited academics to give lectures in their area of expertise on Johannesburg’s Metrorail. In this way we explored possibilities for new ways of producing and disseminating knowledge and recognising everyday practices like the tradition of preaching on trains as a way of opening up broader discussions with implications for South African society.
We started the collaboration because in many ways our art school education placed a premium on Western Art history and didn’t reflect the context it found itself in or for that matter how we had both lived and grown up.
LBB> Is MADEYOULOOK still active? And what projects from the collaboration do you have fondest memories of?
Nare> Yes, MADEYOULOOK is still active. We’ve been working together for almost a decade now so there are a lot of fond memories. We currently have an exhibition and project running at the Johannesburg Art Gallery called EJARADINI
, where we explore the practices and histories of black urban gardening in South Africa and what learnings we might be able to extrapolate from them.
LBB> How did you come to work at Massif?
Nare> My journey to Massif has been a meandering one. After art school I spent some years in the advertising industry as a copywriter for a few agencies like J. Walter Thompson, Saatchi & Saatchi and Grey Johannesburg. I then had a conversation with a former executive creative director, Ben du Plessis, about crossing enemy lines into production to try my hand at directing. He introduced me to my current executive producer Peter Carr at Velocity Films. I spent some time at Velocity before heading to Bouffant Films and then finally settling with him and the rest of the team at Massif.
Peter was the one who recommended I start my career in research to really get a rounded sense of production: the creative side, forming relationships with agencies, the pitch process, the pre and post production aspects, etc. This gave me a solid foundation and the rest as they say is history.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what kind of kid were you? Did creativity play a big part in your childhood?
Nare> I grew up partly in Alexandra Township and spent the bulk of my childhood in a neighbourhood of the city called Berea. I spent most of my time as a kid watching too much TV, drawing and reading. Suppose no surprises there.
LBB> And at what point did it occur to you that directing was something that you really wanted to pursue?
Nare> The idea of it was always there, but when I got into the industry and found myself on the sets of commercials, the dream reared its head. Working closely with established directors in research confirmed my interest and passion for it.
LBB> Directing is such a multifaceted discipline – for you, what are the most rewarding and satisfying parts of the process?
Nare> I enjoy all of it, but I love coming up with the treatment and interpreting the script. That’s where you put your spin on things and sharpen the communication.
LBB> Who are your creative heroes and why?
Nare> I could fill a telephone book. There are too many to mention by name, but two that immediately come to mind are Dean Blumberg and Marc Sidelsky. I think they embody what I admire most in all the creative thinkers I look to. There is always a strong conceptual core, as well as a subtle and sophisticated approach to the creative process. All of my creative inspirations consistently manage to keep it simple. Simplicity is a difficult and complex thing to achieve and that’s what I aim for and admire in others.
LBB> As an artist and director active in Johannesburg’s creative community, how lively and active is the creative and arts scene in the city, and how would you characterise it?
Nare> It’s growing by the day, which is a great thing. There are also a lot more artists who are taking the independent route, which only serves to enrich the creative environment. I think the kind of work we’re seeing is gradually
transforming so that we have a variety of practices and flavour of work.
LBB> Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Nare> Applying my subtle brand of humour to other brands and working on more conceptually driven scripts.