POV: Describe your filmmaking process. How do you work? Do you storyboard? Did your filmmaking process change during the shoot?
Landon Van Soest: When I first went to Kenya, I was very focused on finding compelling characters, trying to capture a bit of their lives and establishing the conflict. As we went further into production, we did do a lot of planning and a lot of storyboarding. We talked about where the holes were in the story and specifically went back to shoot scenes that would fill some of those gaps in order to tell the story in a dramatic way.
Jeremy Levine: We had a giant wall covered with thumbtacks and different scenes, and we tried to figure out how they would all go together and how we could interweave the stories. At the beginning we had four stories, then we went down to three and eventually that got whittled down to the two stories in the film.
Van Soest: I think the blessing and the curse of making of this film is that we were very young when we started, and we had very little funding. Our time was worth a lot less than our money, so I spent a solid year in Kenya when we first started production, and after that we were able to go back three or four times and spend two or three months each time.
Filmmaker Landon Van Soest shooting in the Yala Swamp. Photo courtesy of Benard Ohanga – Line Producer
Levine: Landon did an amazing job of building trust with the communities working with us, which wasn’t an easy process. It took time. The people of the Yala Swamp, in particular, were very skeptical of outsiders. There was a time early in production when we had walked on foot for an hour with all of our equipment to film one of their community meetings. We were immediately cast as outsiders and possible spies for the company. So that trust had to be built up over time.
Van Soest: From beginning to end, the project took about five years. We were looking for a narrative arc and a resolution in each story, so we continued to follow them for a long time. To my mind, one of the great strengths of the film is that we do see a change in both of these people. We also see the ways in which the projects impact their lives. Over time, we developed an amazing rapport with them. We lived in their homes in a number of cases. During the rainy season I would be stranded there for weeks at a time because of the Yala Swamp. Just about everything that could possibly go wrong in Africa went wrong at one point or another.
Levine: You got diagnosed with malaria twice.
Van Soest: Yes, malaria twice. I was also mugged twice in two days. But, ultimately, I think all of that contributed to the success of the film.
POV: How did you meet? How do you work together as a team?
Van Soest: Jeremy and I met in college, and we worked together on another film for two or three years. We had similar interests, goals, the same sense of passion and a quick rapport. So on that other film, we worked together really well and had a great time. When Good Fortune came along, I jumped at the opportunity to get Jeremy on board so we could work together again. So, on this film we worked together every day, full time.
Levine: Landon spent a lot of time in Kenya and directed the film. Beyond that, we both did more or less everything.
Van Soest: Jeremy and I both shoot, edit, produce and direct. In most cases, everything was very even. We bounce a lot of ideas off of each other. At this point I can’t imagine taking on another project without knowing that we’re both going to be there.