SA creatives bring 80s Joburg to the big screen
Brett Morris may be one of the country’s leading creative minds, having worked with brands from Coca Cola to Nando’s, but it’s been his lifelong dream to make a movie. “Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, a friend challenged us to make it happen, and he offered to kick off the funding,” says Morris, whose coming-of-age film Just Now Jeffrey, written and directed with equally successful creative leader Hylton Tannenbaum, is in its final stages of production.
“That was the beginning of a three-year journey to write the script, raise the money, and finally get it done,” says Morris. “We have also always wanted to give a voice to a generation that grew up in South Africa towards the end of apartheid. We found that South Africans were generally painted with the same brush, and we wanted to show all of the complexity and nuances across the political spectrum during that time: from right to left and everything in between.”
Morris is executive creative chair at Nahana Communications Group. His work in advertising has been recognised numerous times at major award shows including Cannes and by his peers in the industry. Tannenbaum has directed more than 200 commercials in the past 20 years, and has shot work for almost every South African advertising agency and some international ones too. He has won awards at Cannes, Clios, and The Loeries.
Morris says the movie is “an edgier version of The Goldbergs meets Superbad meets American Pie, but set against a never-before seen on film, 1980s Jewish, Joburg canvas. It’s a coming-of-age comedy, which is a universal theme, with the unique backdrop that was South Africa in the late 1980s. While South Africa battles through civil unrest and the final days of apartheid, Jeffrey Greenbaum battles through his raging hormones and the final days of high school. Filled with lovable and familiar characters in hilarious situations, it gives a voice to those of us brought up in a crazy era, in a strange country surrounded by surreal circumstances.
“South Africa in the late 1980s was one of the most unique places in the world in one the most extraordinary times in history,” he says. “The Berlin Wall came down, Communism fell, and apartheid was about to end. This is the backdrop for a truly original coming-of-age story. So while the theme is universal, and we can make comparisons to other movies in the genre, it’s a backdrop that’s never been seen before on screen. The kind of film we aspire to make is of the same narrative style as the films of directors we admire, like the Coen brothers and Quentin Tarantino.
“Obviously, we draw on life experiences, as any good story should, but this isn’t a biopic by any means, it’s a work of fiction,” says Morris. “It’s really about creating a compelling film that draws on the many different types of characters and fictional stories we have thought of over the years.
“The point of a film is to entertain an audience and reward it for watching it. We set out to make the kind of movie that we would want to watch. We’re currently in our last week of shooting, and then we begin post-production, which will take at least three months. We hope to be ready to release the film by the end of the year, and are currently in negotiations with various distributors, sales agents, and streaming platforms.
“It’s been a helluva process!” he admits. “Every stage of making a film has its own challenges and opportunities. They happen every day, whether big or small but, as with any creative project, the important thing is to keep focused on the end goal and keep pushing forward. It’s been incredible for us to see the words of the script come to life through the wonderful actors we have on board, and finally seeing the story unfold piece by piece.”
The large cast includes familiar names like Rob van Vuuren, Shelley Meskin, and Nik Rabinowitz, with Julian Robinson in the lead as Jeffrey. “The cast and crew have been incredible, and it’s amazing to see the depth of talent that we have in South Africa,” says Morris. “From up-and-coming talent, to seasoned professionals, they have all been excited to be part of this project and make it something special, which is great for us to see.”
Their ultimate goal with the project is to “make a great film that entertains a local and global audience and delivers returns for our investors. We hope that you enjoy the film, and please support us by following us on www.instagram.com/justnowjeffrey for inside info and updates.”