Leon van Nierop placed it under his top 10 international movies for 2020 and says that it is one of the rarest movies you’ll ever watch. Actor Pietie Beyers says it’s real and honest; a South African film you won’t see every day. I recently had the privilege of chatting to Pietie Beyers about the movie, Wesens over a cup of coffee in the middle of Melville.
For the first full-length South African science movie, featuring the likes of Pietie Beyers, Albert Maritz and Morné Visser among others, Wesens has truly come to turn things upside down. This found footage movie – now available on DStv BoxOffice – was shot a few months before the COVID-19 lockdown and shows some immense creativity and talent.
The found footage that the movie, Wesens, revolves around is “true” footage of four national intelligence officials who worked for the South African government in the 1960s. They were summoned to investigate and document a foreign object that has landed on a farmers land in the Karoo. The four individuals have very different views on life, which brings about a lot of internal conflict in addition to the sci-fi element of the movie. While the characters have their political differences, they need to find a way to work together in figuring out what the foreign object is.
Pietie Beyers plays the part of a weapon engineer, one of the four intelligence officials that have been tasked with investigating the foreign object.
The movie is fiction but appears to have some real-life elements, like the discovery of a camera and film rolls at an antique shop which really happened with director and producer, Derick Muller. In fact, this was what initially sparked the idea of the movie.
Derick privately produced the movie with his wife, Karen and this allowed the crew – a rather small team – to work in clever ways. With it being a found footage movie, they were able to shoot the film without having to spend too much. Beyers also says that there was no need to budget for expensive props and gadgets as the movie includes a lot of suggestion, which helped a lot with production costs. Still, there was no compromise on quality in the movie – everything was done cleverly and classy and it has been brilliantly put together into one very fine South African movie that its producers, cast, crew and fans can truly be proud of.
The Wesens team was rather small, which allowed for them to truly get to know each other and work together as a team on this unique project. “With any project, it is very much about the people you work with,” says Beyers. “If you trust them and you invest in each other, it makes it so much better. It’s like a sports team – you play for the guy next to you, and he brings out the best in you.” He says that due to the casting crew being so small, they all had to tap into the atmosphere of the movie to make it appear credible and that that the atmosphere on set has a large influence on how the viewer will experience the movie. “I have experienced how what you put in directly correlates with what you get out…If the actors don’t believe in the story, their performance won’t be credible and then the viewer won’t believe it. Then the whole thing will feel false.” This is one thing that Derick Muller clearly succeeded in when choosing the cast for Wesens, as the actors all believed in the project and the atmosphere he wanted to create.
Beyers says that Derick already knew which music he wanted to use where and in certain scenes he would play the piece of music for the scene that the actors could truly live themselves into the part and the moment. “It puts you into that level of energy,” Beyers says. He has worked with Derick on many things – from Derick’s ad agency (The Suits) to acting in his movies – and he says that they agree on one thing: They like to bring the art class and the rugby field together. Making movies with humanity and teamwork takes skill and this skill is evident in Wesens. For Beyers, the Wesens cast was amazing to work with, because they all believed in the result of the project.
“It helps that [Derick] has so many interests and experience in so many things. He tells one story, but he is so specific and authentic to the time. When viewers see it; feel it… from the outfits to the grading – the way the film was handled… It’s like a time capsule. You press play and you go: ‘What is this?’ It pulls you into another world,” says Beyers.
Wesens was shot in the Karoo; a timeless piece of earth. “We got there and there was that audible silence; that thick silence,” says Beyers. “Those things all come through in the movie,” he continues. He says that Derick has a unique way of doing things and that he urged the actors to become one with the environment; to try to step into the time the movie plays off in from the moment they set foot in the Karoo. “The atmosphere of the movie, for me, is something tangible,” Beyers says, “and I think the environment plays an important role in it.”
Behind the scenes
As with any project – especially projects that require many people and personalities – there are challenges. Beyers says that overall, the project was an amazing experience. Still, he says that to make something look easy or simple takes hard work. To make something look as if it happened accidentally and to make it appear real, took a while. That often meant being on set at 6AM in the morning while it’s 4°Celsius outside. Some days were long, being in the Karoo with its scorching midday sun and ice-cold evenings. “I think it was a big challenge for the production team, more than for the actors,” Beyers admits.
For him, the challenge often lies in preparation. He refers to Energade’s slogan: “It’s what you put in” and says that it doesn’t promise a result. It only says that it’s what you put in and that the result will take care of itself as long as you ensure that what you put in is fruitful and valuable. “Derick and I spent a lot of time talking about the character, exploring how the character is. We sat with the text, changed things, added things, cut things to see what we really wanted, who the character really should be…how we could ensure that people aren’t estranged by him.” He says that viewers can believe in a character, but one racist comment or a blasphemous remark from the character could completely throw them off. “You want to keep people’s trust and give something to them through that.”
Beyers says that he did a lot of prep work beforehand. “The last couple of years I’ve been taking my work more seriously and I’ve come to realise that what you do in private, will be appreciated in public.” He says you need to be willing to do the unglamorous work and to create your own vision of what you want to achieve.
In addition to the challenge of the pre-set prep work, he says that once they had arrived on set, another challenge he faced was to trust the director.
And then he jokingly says: “I think I was perhaps also a challenge to the production team sometimes, with the requisites and the wardrobe. But, it was definitely more rewarding than challenging.”
Watching the movie for the first time
According to Beyers, Derick is a humble leader and that the work he delivers is amazing. That’s also how he describes the first time he watched the complete film: “Amazing. It’s so amazing that I think some people won’t know what to make of it, because [Derick] is so original in his thought process. In my eyes, he is a visionary in a way and the fact that he is so relatable in person, makes it so much fun [to work with him]. He is the humblest guy from Kimberley; a down to earth guy who respects everyone and really cares about his fellow man and I think all of that comes through in the movie too. The movie has many philosophical undertones, without being pretentious or artful. It’s just human. Raw, honest, human,” says Beyers.
The movie premier was held in Cape Town – a small, intimate premiere (like the movie itself) – and Beyers says people were gobsmacked after watching the film. The film has a way of confusing its viewers, as there is nothing to compare it with. You can’t place it in a box and it takes a while to figure out what to make of it. That is probably exactly what Derick Muller had in mind. “There is something original to the film that Derick envisioned, and very deliberately created in that way… Something that is marketable, is not something that ticks all the boxes. Disruption makes people talk,” says Beyers. Many people have a negative connotation to the word ‘disruption’, but there is something like positive disruption. It can be beautiful and surprising. “In my opinion – when I watched it – it was a beautiful surprise,” Beyers says.
He says that from script to the final product, things just got better. “It’s an atmosphere piece.”
A story with a lesson
As I am always a fan of a story with a lesson, I had to know what Pietie Beyers learned from acting in Wesens, but also what he thought viewers would get out of the movie. He says again that his lesson was that it’s what you put in – for life; for everything. It can be implemented on so many things. Whether it’s a relationship, your job – you are what you give. He also says that it is important to give more value to the spiritual side of things than to your ego.
His thoughts on what message viewers might take home after watching Wesens is that everyone is different and that is what makes us the same. “So, it would be kind if we could respect each other, and have empathy and compassion for that what makes us differ from one another, instead of having it drive us apart. People will always differ from one another.” He says that people differ in ideologies, in language, in race, in culture. “Just because we differ, doesn’t mean that one of us is good and one of us is bad. We can both be good and just be different,” says Beyers. He says he would like people to get the message that it would be good to have respect and love for things that are different and to give it a chance.
Watch this exciting South African film on DStv BoxOffice now.
P.S. Did you know that you don’t need to have DStv in order to watch movies on BoxOffice? Just find the BoxOffice section on DStv’s website and get the movie directly from there!