Joe de Kadt – English director and producer – also a talented storyteller and a sharp observer of human nature.
I had the supremely amazing experience of interviewing Joe, who’s using Cleeng to bring his movies to the wider audience. Among them All The Gold You Can Eat – a groundbreaking independent documentary that sets out to explore and unravel one of history’s greatest enigmas: the mysterious and secretive art of transforming base metal into gold.
Monika Zameta: Can you tell me what is so exciting about directing movies, that you decided to make the 10th muse the most important part of your life?
Joe de Kadt: I got my first stills camera when I was seven and art was really the only subject at school that I showed any promise at so yes, I’ve been interested in photography and imagery for pretty much as long as I can remember. But it wasn’t till I was in my late twenties that I decided to follow a career in the film business. And the decision to direct came much later still, rather accidentally actually. In my case it wasn’t so much a decision to ‘become a director’ but rather that I fell into the role as I found myself actually making a film that I had intended to develop with a team. I bought a camera (a Canon 5D) to film the research trip and the footage was good enough to begin putting an actual film together.
Thanks to the digital revolution anyone now can go out and make a film. So the skill and trade that was traditionally developed by working as an assistant and learning the craft isn’t needed in the same way which is both a good and a bad thing.
It means that, at the independent end of the spectrum, anyone with a story to tell can go out and make a film, but it also means that there are too many people competing for the attention of viewers. And that’s where the bottleneck is, it’s not so much money but the time people will give to watch something.
So being a director of independent movies is very different from being a jobbing director, it’s really about using the medium to quell the fire of a story that is burning inside you, something that if it doesn’t come out somehow is going to make you explode, a fact that is especially true with independent documentaries. The difficulty of course is finding a market for the film and realizing that no matter how fascinating you may personally find a subject the film still has to be essentially made for entertainment purposes. You really have to think about your audience all the time and be thinking about how and where they might watch your film – mostly people just want to be entertained.
So in answer to your original question; directing is offering me a way of making something tangible and valuable out of a passion I have for exploring and that is incredibly exciting. I am naturally quite a shy person but the momentum and passion that evolves around a film project has a way of forcing me out of my comfort zone and into some really interesting adventures. What was especially fulfilling about shooting ‘All The Gold You Can Eat’ is that I didn’t know how the story would finish, I was literally going wherever the story lead me and than made for one hell of adventure
M.Z.: Why did you decide to sell your movies online using Video-on-demand paywall? How does Cleeng help you? What do you like about our solution?
J.d.K.: As the digital revolution changed the nature of independent filmmaking, the internet changed the world of publishing. In fact, anyone who has a social media account is now a publisher and now that everyone has a voice I think people are beginning to pay a bit more attention to what they believe and also to what they say. It’s a slow process but I think it is happening and people are becoming more adventurous in their searches for entertainment and information but without the backing of an established network you do have to work really hard to get the traffic.
The decision to sell the film online was pretty straight forward as the costs have come down so much but the method of how to do it really did take some research. I decided to take a punt on Cleeng video-on-demand paywall, which offered a really great technical solution for monetizing of our own website but it meant that we had to create a PR campaign that would create the traffic. And that’s were the difficulty and opportunity lie;
You have to become an expert in publicity but once you have cracked that the opportunities are phenomenal.
We’re still in the early stages of the PR camping but the beauty of this system is that you get an instant feedback on what is working and what isn’t.
M.Z.: After a short romance with BBC you decided to go independent. Can you tell us more about the past projects and also what are you working on now?
J.d.K.: It wasn’t really a romance with the BBC, it was an apprenticeship as a camera trainee. For a while I was assisting a cameraman who worked regularly there, but when he moved back to Canada most of my beeb work dried up. After a few years of camera assisting on music videos, low budget features and commercials I decided to make the move to a director of photography myself but that’s no easy step to make. You need contacts and luck to make that happen and I have to be honest I struggled to make a living. I moved to South Africa and did a bit better there but it was still slow.
Whilst I was out there I read about the basic story behind the documentary ‘All The Gold You Can Eat’ and decided to go to the States to do a bit of research, more as an adventure than with the idea of actually shooting a documentary myself. I ended up moving to Los Angeles as a result of contacts I made there and worked on a couple of low budget feature films too. One of them I actually produced too, a kind of thriller horror road trip movie, kind of a cross between Jacob’s Ladder and Thelma and Louise. It’s still in edit but is shaping up nicely.
I have also started researching and developing and idea for a TV series about the evolution of domestication, or rather why it is that humans so often have such profound relationships with animals. The truth seems to be that we have the notion of domestication on it’s head, that it was through our relationship with animals that began 150,00 years ago that we evolved the way we did.
M.Z.: What is ORMUS?
J.d.K.: That is a very difficult question to answer and that’s exactly what I had to go and make a film about it. The best that I can do at this point is to say that Ormus seems to be a certain group of elements (including gold, platinum, silver, copper, rhodium, iridium and few others) that exist in an altered state, a state that to the eye appears as a kind of white powdered ceramic, that is unrecognizable to modern analytical techniques but that under certain conditions can be flipped back into their metallic/usual form. However, in their altered state they seem to posses some really remarkable properties.
M.Z.: All the gold you can eat – why did you decide to document this topic? What did it take to make this project happen? What was the most difficult part of it?
J.d.K.: I had read some extraordinary accounts on the internet about the subject and really needed to know for myself if there was any truth behind the stories. So whilst visiting some friends in America I decided to track down some of the people I had read about and see if there was maybe a film to be made. All it took in the end was a £2000 camera and a desire to jump head first down the rabbit hole. The hardest part about it was deciding that I was going to direct it myself and film myself on the journey. Once I had made that decision everything else just kind of happened; the journey started developing it’s own momentum. I spent two years on the road and a further two years cutting it into a film that I was happy with but once I had started there was really no way I wasn’t going to finish it. Actually making the film was in some ways the easy part, marketing it is where the challenge is.
M.Z.: How has the making of ‘All the gold you can eat’ influenced you and changed you?
J.d.K.: Well for one thing I now know how to make gold! I’m often asked why I don’t just make gold for a living but the truth is that firstly, the technique I was taught is very far from being profitable, but secondly and more importantly I am a filmmaker and I think I would get really bored trying to make a living that way. However, the journey itself was a very profound experience that helped me connect with some interesting personal issues too. Taking the leap and deciding to direct the film myself was a massive step for me and it’s when we confront our biggest fears that we learn the most about ourselves. So coming out of this project I feel have developed an increased sense of personal confidence and of my own capabilities and a much greater sense of the possibilities out there .
M.Z.: What inspires you? Who is/are your mentor(s)?
I’ve just read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s a really inspirational book that kind of humanizes the achievements of some characters that we all view as especially successful and it has really given me kick in the arse to get on with some other projects I have been putting off.
But generally I’m inspired by everything and anything. Everyone has a story to tell and a skill to teach and there’s so much extraordinary beauty in nature that you really don’t need to look far to find something utterly inspiring. In terms of specifics though I take a lot photographic inspiration from the work of the impressionists who I think had a way of understanding and modeling the chewy, three-dimensional quality of natural light. And for that I love Turner especially, although he wasn’t exactly an impressionist, but who doesn’t love him? And the Baroque painters such as Caravaggio and Rubens and later the Dutch like Vermeer and Honthros who all really knew how to make light work for them.
I’ve never had a mentor in the film industry but I have always been inspired by the great directors of photography such as Darius Khondji, John Seale, Gordon Willis, Roger Deakins etcetera. The technology is out there for anyone to capture the exact image they want and I think it’s lazy film making if you don’t work the visual side of the medium to it’s greatest potential. If I had a mentor in life though I would say it was Kendre Allies, a gangster turned ‘horse whisperer’ that I worked with in South Africa who taught me more about myself than anyone else I can think of. He taught me to ride bareback by teaching me to learn from the horse, a very simple but extraordinarily profound lesson.
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