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Uprising: Monde Gumede’s Noughts and Crosses Career Starter

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The Massif Media director on his break into the industry coming from a game, the importance of representation and early memories of gangster films, writes LBB’s Nisna Mahtani

Uprising: Monde Gumede’s Noughts and Crosses Career Starter

Growing up, South African director Monde Gumede spent time with his dad, watching “a ton of gangster films” and experimenting with a camcorder but not taking anything too seriously. With a lack of exposure to the industry and hardly any familiar faces to look up to, being a creative wasn’t really on the cards. Monde says, “The cliche ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ hits home. I don’t think I was aware of directing as a career because I didn’t really see any filmmakers growing up (much less black ones).” Monde didn’t believe he could be a creative, until he met the director of ‘The Wire’ some time after leaving school. “He’s a funny, vulgar, laid back black guy from New York. Think that was the first real moment I thought I could do this.”

As a part of the Zulu community, the original ‘Shaka Zulu’ series – especially the theme song ‘We Are Rising’ by Margaret Singana – really inspired Monde while he was growing up. Calling it “one of the greatest TV themes of all time”, it’s safe to say that it left an impact on him. “Besides that, I can’t say I’m conscious of the ways my culture influences my filmmaking directly. I suspect it’s inherent, what’s in you shows up in the work you make,” says Monde. With that in mind, he particularly focuses on his film ‘Yahoo Boy’, which has nods to the work he watched.

“I like to think I’m pretty easygoing,” says Monde when describing his personality, but not forgetting to mention the passion he has for his craft, allowing him to have the freedom to take himself “less and less seriously” as time goes on. “Shout out therapy,” he jokes, “Seriously though, South African cinema is about to have a moment. Really cool, reeaaally original writing by some interesting filmmakers is making its way through in the next couple of years. You heard it here first.”

Now based in Johannesburg after a five-year stint in LA, Monde has been in South Africa since two months before the pandemic took over. “I couldn’t be more glad for it. The past three years have been some of the most rewarding and insightful I could’ve hoped for. I won’t deny feeling the travel bug again, I’m dying to do a stint in Berlin & New York soon. Ultimately though, Joburg’s where I want to end up.”

Monde’s start began at film school, where he lasted a year before dropping out, “It was great for technical quantitative knowledge but I’m suspicious of anyone who says there’s only one way to skin a cat.” This meant his first role came to him in a way that you’d never expect, he explains, “A friend of mine challenged the line-producer of Black Sails to napkin noughts and crosses in a bar. If he won we’d give him a cigarette. If my friend won he’d give me a job on Tremors.” Indeed, his friend won and Monde began as a PA on Tremors 5. He remembers the experience, “It’s a terrible, terrible movie. Seriously. But I learned a ton and 10 years later, the production coordinators who hazed me there are producing my first feature. Full circle.”

The way Monde began honing his skills was through a friend, who had access to all the equipment he needed. He says, “My DP buddy was responsible for returning cameras after shoots. We used to run around LA shooting anything we could come up with before the 2:30 pm return time. Most of it was terrible. Those are my fondest memories.” While reflecting on that experience, Monde also shares his most valuable lesson, “Be nice to grips.”

The first director's job Monde worked on was a national campaign for a fashion brand. While Monde learnt on the job, he also had support that was invaluable in helping shape his career. He says, “When I was 19 I met a director on a commercial I was in and annoyed him enough that he took me under his wing the rest of the year. When the same campaign came up again, he offered it to me and held my hand through the whole experience. I'll always appreciate that. Shoutout Lyall Coburn.”

When asked about ‘career changing’ moments, Monde doesn’t want to speak too soon, “I dunno if flirting with the idea of a ‘changed career’ is wise for my ego but my first feature Yahoo Boy feels like the greatest thing that’s happened to me. Being in the process has changed the way I think about everything.” His favourite aspect of anything he does is being on set, “I LOVE being on set and sparring with actors,” says Monde. By contrast, his passion means that his biggest challenge revolves around “Accepting that jobs can just be jobs. It’s not always that deep.”

There are two aspects of his role that Monde particularly focuses on when achieving his work aspirations. The first of these is filmmaking, “The craft of constructing a story through picture and sound. I love that commercials and music videos have been a great vessel to do so whilst refining what I want to say in the stuff I write.” The second is the writing, “I’m most interested in lightness as an approach to dark, hilarious and often politically hypocritical characters that make South Africa what it is.” With a unique comedic voice, South Africans don’t shy away from making light of their dark past. “The tone my writing partner and I chase is reverent of the darkly comedic tone of public access SABC soapies, Generations and Isidingo. We grew up on this and we aim to transcend this fierce comedic abandon to cinema through craft and genre. This is how I marry the sides.”

When it comes to inspiration and developments, Monde looks to the people who he believes are ahead of the trends. “Editors, sound designers and colourists always know what’s coming before the rest of us. An afternoon in a suite can make the set crew feel like the director’s cutting edge,” he says. Looking forward, he reflects on how brands are “buying into people” rather than just ideas, which excites him as his career progresses, but also mentions “the Arri Alexa S35 — biiig promises, we’ll see.”

“When we as an industry talk down to our audience,” is when Monde gets frustrated by advertising in general. “Or worse, There are times when I get the sense I’ve been brought in to direct something because I have an intimate understanding of the target audience. I get this sense because the clients always tell me, over and over again.” The notion of ‘selective hearing’ about decisions based on insights and audience can get frustrating too. But Monde also explains how “A great CD/ECD is an alchemist”, explaining how he believes they shouldn't have to yield to marketing directors or clients, but be freer in their process. 

“Representation + Trust. One without the other is disingenuous fronting,” says Monde, believing the industry could be doing more to support both, and that this would make a more harmonious environment. As he thinks of this, he reflects on those he admires, “Donald Glover is unfolding a tonal renaissance in real-time. It’s breathtaking to watch. (You need to see the new Atlanta).” The multi-talented American actor, singer, rapper, writer, comedian, director, and producer is undoubtedly inspirational to Monde. 

Aside from his work in the industry, Monde has a new hobby which he shares with his friends. “I’ve started driving to smaller South African towns in neighbouring provinces with some friends every other weekend. There are a myriad of reasons why, the simplest is this: when you live in a big city filled with cosmopolitan people who consume information in the way you do — it’s easy to start to think the country you live in is like that too.” When he isn’t exploring the nearby area, Monde is succinct in explaining his passions, “Music and cinema. Rinse repeat,” but also, comedy, “John Mulaney is cool. Michale Che too. Larry David is wild and vulgar, and not wise to align with politically. That said, the early seasons of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ are tonally revolutionary. Wow.”

When asked about his motivation, Monde comically says, “I keep asking my therapist. She won’t say until I pay her invoice.”

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Genres: People

LBB Editorial, Fri, 27 May 2022 15:42:00 GMT