Filmmakers Sean Drummond and Michael Matthews have been working together for over a decade.

Ten years ago, the talented duo decided to combine forces and create a production company – primarily concerned with making films in their own South Africa – Be Phat Films, and a decade on they are celebrating the outstanding success of “Five Fingers for Marseilles,” which is about to get a huge wide-scale release on US theater screens.

The western, says Sean Drummond, was initially conceived as a way of displaying some of the beautiful landscape their country had to offer and he discussed the film in an exclusive interview on August 28, 2018.

Tones, reviews, and South Africa

Meagan Meehan (MM): What inspired you to become a filmmaker, sir?

Sean Drummond (SD): I think I’ve always known I wanted to be a filmmaker. My brother and friends and I would make films and terrible music videos on my grandfather’s video camera when I was a kid. As a teen the films got better and better, and I was a full film nut. I forgot for a little while in my early twenties, but while I was at university doing a philosophy degree, I found my way into a screenwriting class, and my love was reawakened.

MM: What was the big break, like was there a project that did so well it convinced you to push on?

SD: I think the collaboration I have with Michael (director of “Five Fingers”) and the rest of our creative family is what convinced us all to push on.

Filmmaking is a grind, and it’s a joy, and this project took seven years to develop and raise the finance for. I think there were mini breaks along the way – a couple of feature documentaries I directed, and a short film we did, all did well at festivals.

But "Five Fingers" was the big one we kept pushing towards, and I think we kept joining forces with amazing collaborators like Game 7 Films, Stage 5 Films, and others, to keep pushing until we had it done.

We had amazing industry support in South Africa and incredible actors on board very early too, and the combined effect was what kept us going.

MM: How traditionally ‘South African’ would you say the movie is?

SD: It’s obviously a play on the western genre, but I think it’s a very South African interpretation of that genre and we did 1000s of miles on the road scouting and researching, then lived on location on and off for the years developing the film, to make it at authentic to South Africa as possible.

It’s a full SA cast, speaking Sesotho. And I think the themes and world are very South African, filtered through the genre of the western.

MM: How would you describe the tone of the movie for those going into it?

SD: It’s a low burn, for sure. There are elements of drama and elements of a thriller. A little mystical in parts. It has been described as an exponential upwards curve, so it starts with a bang and then slowly starts setting pieces in place, ramping up the tension and pace throughout until its almost unbearably tense by the end, and then it all explodes. It’s been called ‘almost too entertaining for its own good’ too, which I think is a good thing. It’s dark in places and violent in places, but we really wanted to create a world that draws an audience in and takes them on a real journey.

MM: Did you have to leave anything in the editing room?

SD: We definitely did, but I think most films do. We had a version that was almost 2 and a half hours long, but it was too long. The film now is in a good place. We also knew that there would be dialogue and scenes we would leave in the editing room if they didn’t absolutely need to be in the final version. Being a western, but in any film, I think silence is king, so if you can say something or play a moment without needing dialogue, it’s almost always the right decision. Some of the strongest performances in the whole film are nearly silent.

MM: How much do reviews mean to you?

SD: I actually don’t read all of them, unless they’re recommended to me.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care if people like the film. We put so much into this project, and it’s been rewarding to see such a positive response. Likewise, with screenings we’ve attended and getting to talk about the film with audiences afterward (those who’ve liked it and those who haven’t) has been incredible, especially traveling festivals with the film.

US release, sequels, and advice

MM: How much does a US release mean to you? I imagine it’d be quite something!?

SD: This is huge for us. I sometimes think in South Africa; there’s a perception that what we do is cut off from the rest of the world and that we make films just for our own audiences. We always wanted "Five Fingers" to travel and find audiences around the world, and a US release is a dream goal for sure.

MM: I imagine there’s been some interest in a sequel because of the film’s success overseas?

SD: There are a lot of fans in South Africa asking for a sequel. Because of how it ends, there are a few limits to where we could go, but we have some ideas. And prequel or spin-off ideas too. I’d like to say that if we did another film in this world, we’d get very smart with what story we wanted to tell and how we wanted to tell it. Also, you don’t want to neutralize or undo the symbolism or the themes of the first film, so there’s a lot to consider there.

MM: What’s next for you, Sean?

SD: Right now, our two priority projects are a supernatural thriller book adaptation called Apocalypse Now Now, from the novel by the same name by "Charlie Human." It’s a very South African thriller played out in the deep, dark underbelly of Cape Town.

A smartass teen and a supernatural bounty hunter team up to rescue his missing girlfriend (and clear his own name) and find a lot more than they bargained for. My other priority is a psychological thriller TV drama series, also South African, but again for a world market. It looks at the legacy of colonial religion in SA in the wake of a small-town murder and the hysterical witch hunt that follows, through the eyes of three city police called in to investigate and wound deeper and deeper into the fabric of a town that’s eating itself. It’s called "Acts of Man."

I’m also writing on a dark fantasy thriller called "The Blue Lady," set in Miami, for a US director. Hopefully, in ten years still making films that travel.

The aim is to continue working between South Africa and the US and getting projects, going both sides. And making sure I’m taking time to be walking dogs on weekends.

MM: What words of advice would you provide to a person who is aspiring to enter the filmmaking industry?

SD: For me, it’s always been about the strength of the collaborations. As a writer and as a producer I enjoy the process of breaking a story collaboratively with directors, co-producers, and other creative voices.

The film is the most collaborative medium - no one person can propel a film to greatness, but when voices unite towards one vision, that's when the best results come out. Our creative family goes back as far as 15 years in some cases.

Michael and I and our DP, editor, sound designer, and composer from "Five Fingers" all go back to film school days together in the early 2000s. So, I’d say find your people; find your creative kindred spirits and keep pushing together with a shared vision.