“What’s The Deal With That!?” Learning Dialogue From Seinfeld.

Dialogue is tricky, you try and be innovative and you either end up dead on the nose, or sounding like your characters are starring in their own lifetime day show. The reason it’s so tricky is because as a writer you have to find the balance of creating a character which feels real, while sneakily writing in foreshadowing, character development and even plot developments, yadda yadda yadda.

Bottom line, it’s not too easy.

So how do you do it? One show that’s known for it’s strong dialogue is Seinfeld; the show about nothing. Now I know what you’re thinking:

“But Greg, if Seinfeld isn’t about anything, how can I use it to write meaningful dialogue for my independant-character-drama about the anatomy of the human soul?”

Settle.

Copying Seinfeld is not what I’m talking about; what I’m talking about is looking at what the show does really well and using it as inspiration for your own work.

1. CHARACTER VOICE

One of the big traps about writing for multiple characters is accidentally making them feel like the same character instead of individual people.

This is something Seinfeld does really well; Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine are all different characters that feel real and different. They get along, they clash, yet they all fit in the show’s quick-witted-sarcastic theme.

Give your character a quirk and let their dialogue reflect this quirk.

2. PULL THE RUG OUT

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Nothing is worse than cliche dialogue, it’s boring and we’ve heard it a million times.

Subvert your audience’s expectations, don’t give them the same run around again and again; pull the rug out from under them.

It’s one of the reasons shows like Seinfeld and directors like Wes Anderson, or Edgar Wright are as successful as they are. They know how to catch you off guard with their dialogue.

In Moonrise Kingdom When Bill Murray gets asked if he’s concerned that his daughter runs away from home his response is: “That’s a loaded question.”

When Simon Pegg starts excelling at work in Hot Fuzz he gets punished because “Frankly, you’re making us all look bad.”

And lastly when George gets told, “It’s not you, it’s me,” his response is, “You’re damn right it’s me!” Or when Kramer says… well when Kramer says just about anything.

When writing your dialogue remember, your audience probably has a sense of where a conversation is going, try to throw them off. Set your character up for a promotion then demote them, have them take control, or lose control in unexpected ways. It’s more memorable and you’ll probably have a lot more fun writing it out.

3. BEND REALITY

When writing dialogue, you would think you’d want to write as realistically as possible. It’s not true. In real life our words get away from us. We trail on and on and on, go down tangents and rabbit holes, until we’re half way through a story about our cousin Louie.

Point is, you don’t really want to write to reality, but you do want to cater to your theme. Going back to point 1 all of the characters in Seinfeld are their own person, but their dialogue fits the tone and pacing of the show. Exhibit A.

It feels real and authentic because as the audience we like these characters and we’ve bought into their world. It’s also one of the reasons as a filmmaker why I constantly find myself using the show for inspiration.

 

Written by Gregory Garofalo. 

“The Expanse” Will Make You Feel Lost In Space

BY KEATON J. EVANS

Netflix’s new show, The Expanse, is extraordinary, visually stunning, and has a gritty, realistic look which makes the show quite unique and creative when compared to other sci-fi shows.

There’s a lot going on right off the bat, with colonies across the solar system, a futuristic Earth, a militant Mars, and plenty of water shortage on some smaller worlds. I would say there’s a lot going for the show.

This being said, there are also a few things which the show isn’t so great at doing. Below are some thing it does well and some things where it misses the mark. All points considered, you’ll feel lost in space watching this show.

Now whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you.

The Worlds Are Incredible

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The production quality is the shows number one quality, hands down. The worlds and ships they show glisten with details and have almost a Blade Runner vibe especially on the Asteroid colonies.

The show also hits well on the realities of space and what could go wrong. One example, is the water shortage on the asteroid belt. There’s moments where shipments of ice are delayed and the people on the belt suffer because of it. It goes even farther to point out that if a second shipment is delayed then people will die.

It was refreshing to see so much thought put into the mechanics of world outside of earth, and see the messy reality, and complications which could arise. The visual aspects of the worlds and the realism they present are both excellent.

Seeing all these real intricate worlds allows you to get lost in them, a feeling which was a pleasant surprise.

Wait, Who Are These People?

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After watching The Expanse, I noticed the one thing I didn’t quite like: the character development. Probably the weakest aspect of the film. While the production design is quite superb, the characters fall short, especially in the beginning.

I thought about why this was. The characters are interesting enough, they live in incredible worlds, and the plot is good, so what gives. Well, here’s the deal. While the characters may be interesting, it’s hard to know because they rush the character development.

It feels like we are supposed to know who these people are as soon as we see the first shot. It almost seems like the beginning of the show is the middle of a show. Now, there is development of the characters, a little.

But for the most part, all the introductions are rushed and end up leaving you feeling  little connection with the people you are watching. I think to myself, “A spaceship explodes and people might die! Oh no! Wait, who are these people?”

If they want the events to hold any weight, they need to let us get to know the characters, and then put them into dangerous life-threatening situations, or we won’t care.

If you feel stranded and not quite sure how to feel then don’t worry, it’s an effect of rushed character intros.

Feeling Lost Could Be Either Good or Bad

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Both the best qualities of the show and the worst qualities of the show will make you feel lost. But which feeling sticks with you? Does the production design and visuals carry you through the hard-to-know characters, or do you feel not knowing the characters takes you out of the show?

Either way, it’s an inspiration to anyone who wants to make a science-fiction show.

How to Discover the Subtext of a Script

BY KEATON J. EVANS

Subtext is arguably the most important focus for actors to grasp in their acting. The iceberg serves as a simplistic illustration, showing the subtext as the majority of ice which lays underneath the surface or words of the script.

The most common mistake for actors to make is to cling onto the top portion and go off the words alone. As soon as we read a script we figure out how the words should sound, instead of finding out the “why” behind the words. The “why” behind our actions.

This is how you find the why, and why it is so important.

There’s a million ways to say “hello”

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An example of subtext and not reading it comes from the classic line in a ton of scripts: “Hello”. Now here’s the scene: Jim meets Pamela at a train station and says the greeting.

Without digging and looking into the subtext of the scene, I would say hello like a greeting. That would naturally be the first thought most people have when they see the word. However, oops! plot twist. The “Hello” line was really a code to signal the sniper to hold their fire and spare the life of Pamela.

Thing is I would never know this just reading the line, I would need to do some digging to find the juicy piece of subtext meat. Here’s how.

Do some digging and ask the tough questions

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The best thing you can do in order to find subtext is by asking a bunch of questions. Ask questions about your character, about the circumstance, the relationships between the characters, and your motivations and goals.

To find out what’s really going on underneath the scene you need to comprehend how things actually work in life.

Using substitution will aid you in understanding the subtext of a scene. How would you personally react in this scene, or in these particular circumstances? Have you ever experienced something like this?

For example, I was workshopping a scene from the movie Wall Street, as part of a university project, and the subtext of the scene included the themes of betrayal and hurt between the characters. The girl and guy were previously in a relationship but now they differ when it comes to their work.

I thought about how I reacted when I felt betrayed by someone, similar to the guy in the scene, and it really helped me.

The hidden gem is your foundation

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From my personal experiences, I learned when you study the subtext and marry it with the physical action in the scene, you will remember your lines like there’s no tomorrow.

Here’s another thing to remember: when you’re in the scene you must trust the subtext you studied will remain with you during the scene. Let your focus be on the other people in the scene and what you’re doing and let go of the subtext. It’ll stay with you as you practice living in the moment.

The subtext, once learned, will be your foundation. Once you know the why, everything else will start to piece together.

Subtext is vital to learn. Don’t rush the process of studying your script, but ask the hard questions. It’ll take time to figure out what’s going on in a particular scene, it’ll take a little digging.

But the digging is worth it when you find out the precious subtext in the end. To me, finding the subtext in a scene is like finding buried treasure. It’s a precious gem just waiting to be discovered.

Subtext should act as your support. Don’t look to your words for your support. When you focus on the lines, they will try their hardest to escape you. But when you focus on the why of the scene, and everything that’s going on underneath the surface, you’ll find your anchor, and it will make a world of difference.

Actors, I cannot stress it enough: discover the subtext!

 

How To Dirty Your Actors Without Using Dirt

Written by Keaton J. Evans.

Across popular movies there have been teams of make-up artists getting the right look for characters who seem to never take showers. I’m talking Sam Neill in Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Matthew McConaughey in Mud, and Jack Sparrow.

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You get the point. Whenever a character rolls in the mud or falls off a pirate ship, there needs to be an authentic dirty look for the character.

I researched different ways to get the dirty look for any upcoming short films where I would need to portray a character who skips on the washing.

Here’s what I found.

Before I get into the steps of applying make-up, you’ll need to find these supplies:

Supplies needed:

  • coffee grounds
  • loose tea leaves
  • lotion (sunscreen)
  • brown eye shadow (I used Vino colour)
  • wet sponge
  • willing victim…er, helper

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After acquiring these supplies you’ll be ready to start with step one.

Step 1: apply eyeshadow

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In this step, you’ll use your index finger to apply the eyeshadow to the parts of the face where you think someone might get dirty. I noticed that the forehead and the upper parts of the cheekbones get dirty more than other parts, also the nose.

If you don’t want to get your hands dirty then you can choose to use a small make-up sponge.

Gently rub the eyeshadow back and forth over the surfaces you think is best. After doing this in all of the appropriate areas you’ll be ready to move onto the second step.

Step 2: mix lotion with coffee grounds

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For this step, first ground the coffee beans, preferably of a darker variety, and then mix with the lotion. I used sunscreen in this step, and it worked well. This step is quite messy.

You don’t need to use much of either. Small chunks of coffee and a bit of lotion should do the trick. After mixing the lotion with the coffee grounds, then move onto the next step of applying.

Step 3: apply the mixture

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As far as applying the coffee/tea and lotion to the person’s face, you’ll need to do step 2 a few times, as there may be a few spots to cover.

Do a little mixing, then a little applying. A little mixing, a little applying, you get the drift. Apply the coffee and lotion to the same places which you touch in step 1, to have those layers.

Add to any place where you think dirt would be, say if the victim fell down face first into the dirt. With the coffee grounds, you don’t need to apply heavily, just a few small chunks here and there, unless you really want you character to look like dirt was just caked on.

After doing this enough times you should get a result similar to this one. (For me, I was trying to get a “stuck-on-a-deserted-island-for-years” look).

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After you’ve gotten all the shots you need with your actor, wash the makeup and coffee off with warm soap and water. Once you’ve washed the coffee and lotion off as well as the make-up, be sure to dry with a clean towel.

And there you have it! You now know how to make your characters look as dirty as ever, and best part is, you don’t even need to use dirt!

What is nice is you can also apply the make-up in a variety of places on the face as well as a variety of thickness, to get a unique look for each character in your film.

Hope this makeup tip helps all you independent filmmakers out there who are trying to get that professional look.

How to Willy Wonka Your Way to an Acting Technique

BY KEATON J. EVANS

Follow me and you will see a world of pure imagination full of creative ways to develop your acting technique into the stuff of wonders.

For me, my journey of developing my own unique acting technique was similar to the ones of the children in Gene Wilder’s, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

While I was learning about all the different techniques, Meisner, Stanislavski, Uta Hagen, to name a few, I was a bit overwhelmed by which ones to use and which ones to avoid. I didn’t have a clear picture of what to do.

Then I thought about the analogy of a kid in a candy shop. Similar to the children in the movie, I was able to choose different acting techniques like candy. And in doing so, created my own ‘collection of sweets’ comprising a pile of style.

Try all the candy you want!

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Contrary to what our parents would tell us about eating candy, in this metaphor of creating your own technique, the best thing you can do is try all the candy. From the zany sours of Meisner, to the chocolate of Stanislavski, there’s so much to choose from.

For me, it’s an easy temptation to try to find one proven method and just stick to it. I want to be able to have a technique which will get me through various acting struggles I know I will encounter.

But the thing is, one technique alone probably won’t be enough. It might take certain tips from other people and experiences to help develop your style.

It takes time

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Imagine being given the challenge to try every type of candy in the world. How long do you think it would take you? Chances are, a fairly long time.

Same goes for developing your acting technique.

When approaching your own unique style, the best thing to have is patience. It takes people years, sometimes even decades, to get comfortable with a certain style of acting.

Give yourself time to try all sorts of different ones to see which of them you like.

Create your own candy

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Just like Wonka had his own recipes and factory, make your own factory of techniques. When you’re under pressure to learn something, you’re able to come up with your own strategies.

For example, during the first few short films I was in I had to scramble to study the scripts. Under pressure I was able to find out how I study: through many scribbled notes.

I wasn’t taught this, but I used it all the same and it worked. Thing is, you don’t have to use the techniques people suggest. You have the creative freedom to come up with your own unique system.

What I have found, through wrestling with what it means to act, is there’s no one correct way, it all depends on what works best for you. You have the ability to try every approach and technique, you’re not limited to one specific one.

You may find the best thing you can do in your acting is adopt a few things from each technique and disregard other things. In this way, there’s no pressure to find a technique as quickly as possible, because again, it will take time.

There are no limits here; take as much as you want. And fortunately, unlike candy, you won’t get a toothache by taking too much. So let Wonka’s story be inspiration to your own acting journey, and step into a world of pure imagination.

How To Use Comic Books To Improve Your Filmmaking

Written by Greg Garofalo.

Film is a visual medium, unlike other forms of story everything is told mainly in what isn’t said. The classic rule of thumb is “Show don’t tell.” It’s something you have to get used to when you become a filmmaker.

One unconventional way of studying this is by reading comic books. Yep that’s right, comic books.

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Comics are an extremely visual medium, they also happen to base themselves off of cinematic angles. As in film, most of the story is told through what you see and not what is said.

I always like to go back to Matt Fraction’s run on Hawkeye.

Honestly, I believe this could be translated almost shot for shot into possibly the best movie ever made (and yes that is part of my pitch to direct, Marvel if you’re listening my contact info is at the bottom).

Take this panel for example from that particular run.

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Now let’s pretend this is a scene from a film and each panel is a shot and the characters aren’t drawn, they’re framed. What do you notice about the Femme Fatale?

Let’s dissect it visually shot for shot:

Shot 1) You never see her face you only hear her voice.

Shot 2) We only see her feet walking towards Clint.

Shot 3) We see most of her body but she’s turned away from us.

Shot 4) We finally see her face, but part of it is framed out.

Together, we are given a scene that visually supports the narrative of Clint’s question: “Are you lying?” We never see the woman fully for who she is, she’s revealed to us slowly as we gradually see more and more, but still not a full picture. We can assume that whatever she says is only a partial truth; we won’t get the full story.

Reading further, we see that the dialogue supports this idea with the woman’s line: “Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies.” She isn’t exactly going to lie to him, but we’re not going to get the truth either.

We can do the same thing with Hawkeye’s character. From what we see of his apartment in the two above photos, Clint lives in a dirty, cheap place.

In the first photo he’s drinking coffee straight out of the pot and is covered in small bandages. We are instantly given something entertaining about his personality and know that he doesn’t really care about how he looks.

The bandages are a key point of Hawkeye’s character in this story; remember this is a superhero story. To have a hero with bandages tells us he’s not invincible. He’s a normal guy. This isn’t a superman we’re seeing, but an everyday guy.

It also adds a lot of personality to Hawkeye. There’s something that sets him apart visually from other characters and that peaks our interests as readers.

Basically, comic books are one big storyboard and can be a great tool to study and draw inspiration from.

Find a comic (probably a story that’s more grounded in reality than this…)

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…and try to mimic the feel of the book. Use it as a storyboard and see what you can make out of it.

Take notes on the visual exposition of the characters, and on the lighting in the scenes. How can you apply it to the films that you make?

Something else that works great for using comics to help you with your short film is knowing comics are self contained, while being a serialized story at the same time.

It’s a perfect format for short films because instantly you get thrown right into the action without being bogged down by exposition. I’ll use Hawkeye again for this. Here’s the first page of the first issue of My Life As a Weapon.

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Instantly we’re put into an exciting and interesting situation and we are compelled to turn the page and see what happens next.

Now, not every character is going to be falling out of a window in every short film, but it’s a great way to learn about getting right to the point. Viewers get bored easily and you need to find a way to get them hooked. Especially if you don’t have thousands of dollars invested into your project.

Now, if comic books aren’t really your thing and you hate them with a passion… well then, sorry I wasted your time.

HOWEVER!

If you love both film and comics, here’s a way to use your love of comics for film.

‘Nuff said.

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Spotlight on Botswana: revealing a ‘scandalous’ love story

BY ANNETTE LANGE

 

*** WARNING: This article contains spoilers!!! ***

 

Having grown up among the Batswana community in South Africa as one of the few white people in our township, I was always made aware of the fact that I was white, not black – from both sides.

 

Even though the Apartheid system had been abolished in 1991 (and I was born in 1995 – the so-called born-free generation), the effects of it and attitude were still ingrained in people’s minds. I never felt truly part of either the Batswana, or the white community in South-Africa – a weird limbo situation.

 

Needless to say, the trailer of ‘A United Kingdom’ sent tears streaming down my face – even when watching it for the 10th time. Seeing a powerful testimony of both the black and white community reconciled through the ‘scandalous’ union between Seretse Khama, a black inheritor of the Bamangwato chieftainship, and Ruth Williams, a white typist from London, pulled on my heartstrings even more.

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A United Kingdom follows the true story of Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), who meet and fall in love in London in the 1940’s. Their relationship is not only opposed by their families, but by Khama’s uncle, the regent of Bechuanaland, his tribe and both the South-African and British Governments who do everything in their might to prevent their union.

 

Through it all, their love overcomes all opposition, efforts and exile, ultimately leading to Seretse becoming the first president of Botswana, now being an independent country after its state as a British Protectorate.

 

Under his leadership, Botswana became one of the fastest growing economies after being the world’s third poorest country. His uncompromisable stance for equality and integrity was a beacon of hope amidst a region ruled by racial segregation, civil war and corruption.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvOWLRNxVs8

 

I applaud Amma Asante (director) and David Oyelowo (actor and producer) for their incredible efforts in making this story come alive. I am and will remain a huge fan of this film. However, there were some melodramatic and westernized elements and choices that pulled me out of the story on several occasions.

 

Pike and Oyelowo’s acting performances are outstanding and they have great chemistry on screen even though Oyelowo’s accent pulled me out of the story every now and then, sometimes rolling the ‘r’, sometimes not. I realize this is a daunting task, seeing that Seretse would have had the British accent mixed with the Setswana accent due to him living in London for several years. Also, Oyelowo’s occasional choice of pausing in the middle of his sentences as if he had a hard time speaking English was unnecessary, since Khama was perfectly fluent and proficient in English.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shg1hXkvT4U

 

The cinematography and production design was beautiful and aided in creating the stark contrast between the different backgrounds of both Khama and Williams, the culture of London and Botswana and the obvious presence and absence of wealth and economic stability.

 

Most of the locations were the actual locations where the story took place: the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, the St Mary’s Church in Isleworth and the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. For the scenes set in Bechuanaland, they mainly filmed in Serowe, Botswana’s biggest village and Seretse’s actual former house that was put back together after finding it in a dilapidated state.

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I realize that Asante and Oyelowo’s main focus was the love and relationship between Seretse and Williams, they do not deny the fact that they are both ‘unashamed romantics,’ but in my opinion the focus on the romanticism took away from its authenticity and led to unnecessary melodramatic elements.

 

When Ruth first catches a glimpse of Sereste, we see him sitting confidently on the armrest of an armchair discussing politics in a macho-like manner among his African brothers. In my opinion it does not reflect Khama’s humble demeanor he is said to have had. “Seretse Khama was known for his intelligence and integrity, and a wicked sense of humour –puncturing the pomposity of those who had too high an opinion of themselves.” For the sake of his country, he stepped down as a chief and became a cattle farmer for a while. His weapon was humility, not arrogance.

 

In another scene, Seretse delivers a brilliant speech to his people who are assembled to vote whether or not they want him to continue as chief. However, the part where the men raise their hands to vote was drawn out dramatically with long periods of silence was a bit unrealistic. This particular kgotla (public meeting) in which he was recognized as Kgosi (king) by his people was the last meeting following a series of meetings through which he had gained more and more favor from the people. The men would not have taken so long to vote for his chieftainship as he “was popularly recognised as Kgosi together with his wife.”

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Another element of melodrama is seen in the portrayal of the antagonists of the story: Sir Alistair Canning (Jack Davenport) and Lady Lilly Canning (Jessica Oyelowo). Even though their intentions obviously weren’t pure, their portrayal as villains was unnecessarily exaggerated. It came across that Sir and Lady Canning made no attempt to hide their pleasure in Seretse and Ruth’s misfortune, even in their company.

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There were also a couple of moments that gave away the fact that the screenplay and dialogue were not written by an African.

 

Which brings me to the following examples of ‘westernisation’:

Ruth remains in Bechuanaland while her husband is in exile. During this time, her first child is born. In her effort to integrate herself into the Batswana community, Ruth nurses her newborn baby and joins the circle of other African mothers in the bush hospital, I am 90% sure they would not have just sat in silence acknowledging each other with a smile. I think I’d have permission to assume this group of nursing women would have been chuckling or at least chatting away in their native language, at least to the point when Ruth joins their circle. It was not the behaviour I expected from a group of Batswana mothers.

 

The people of the rural villages in Botswana are portrayed as meek and quiet. In view of the fact that Ruth had become a member of the royal family, I can imagine that a certain respect or reverence towards her might have caused members of her community to feel inhibited in her presence. From my personal experience, however, I would describe the Batswana as a lively, confident people.

 

The part that was executed extremely well however (the tearjerker for me) was the scene where the women of the village gather together in song to show their acceptance of Ruth as one of their own. I have seen such a scenario many times, and it never fails to make my heart skip a beat, when I see an example of reconciliation and acceptance such as this.

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Even though these few elements distracted me from the story now and then, I praise the filmmakers for brilliantly telling the story from both sides: Seretse’s challenges in being accepted in England as well as Ruth’s challenges in being accepted by the Batswana and the white community in Southern Africa (the part I identified with the most).

 

And, a bonus for me personally was of course, to see a story told that was so close to home. I was surprised I had never heard of the story myself, but even “many in Botswana did not know the story either, despite Seretse and Ruth’s son being the current president.”

 

I’m excited to see what the response to this film will be in Botswana and South-Africa and also to see future projects of Amma Asante and David Oyelowo. Hats off to both of them and the team!