Africa Dispatches: Dan Mace — YouTube-star turned TVC prodigy
by Charlie Mathews (@CharlesLeeZA) Dan Mace (@Dan_theDirector) hasn’t even hit 30 and he’s already won an African Cristal Grand Prix, a Silver Young Director Award at Cannes Lions and two One Show merits for the very first TVC he ever made. That was for Tusker and Net#work BBDO, and it’s a one-minute wonder. An entertaining, multi-sensory thrill, the advert is immersive and oh so watchable.
If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to fix that immediately (I’ll wait for you.)
Other accolades for the work include coming second in TV, Film & Video in Creative Circle Ad of the Month January 2017; Ad of the Week here on MarkLives; and a Special Mention on ididthat’s SA Film Reel, among others.
So where’s Mace come from? He’s part of the YouTube.com generation, one of those savants who’ve effortlessly taken to digital cinema and grown with each new project. His channel on YouTube has over 70 000 subscribers and his work there has garnered close on 20m views. He cut his teeth with documentaries, shorties and music videos (he’s done over a hundred of these) working with the likes of Red Bull, CNN, Roxy and Matt Simons. GrindTV calls him “more than the best up-and-coming surf filmmaker in the business… a voice for his generation.”
Mace recently joined Egg Films, so Africa Dispatches asked him few questions.
Africa Dispatches: Who are you?
Dan Mace: I am a 27-year-old film director from Cape Town, South Africa. Actually, I shouldn’t introduce myself as a film director because that’s not what makes me who I am. I am a SMALL dude with a MASSIVE vibe and I really like to make films that make people feel something.
AD: If you had to sum yourself up in one word, what would that word be?
AD: When did you first pick up a video camera and why?
DM: Strangely enough, it was for a class oral in English. I used to be super-nervous to talk in front of a room full of people. I was pretty socially awkward. After a couple of sleepless nights before the oral presentation, I came up with the idea to rather make a film of what my topic was. Long story short, I picked up my dad’s DV camera, called over a mate of mine, and shot this terrible piece about Jack the Ripper’s internal dialogue. I even added in fake rain (sprinkler), some blood (tomato sauce) and a violent stab scene (cardboard knife spray-painted silver). After creating that piece of shit, I knew that this is what I wanted to do for as long as I could. I was fully consumed by the art form from day one.
AD: What was the first movie you ever made?
DM: I wouldn’t call the one above a movie so I’ll speak about the first ‘real’ documentary I ever made, a year or so later. I must have been around 17 when I took all my savings and bought a small DV camera, which gained a lot of interest from my peers. I was making all kinds of no-budget films, from music videos to 80th birthday bashes. Then a big opportunity presented itself for the brand O’Neill, where they offered me the opportunity to fly to Madagascar and create a surf film for a bunch of surfers, including myself. I realised that I was spending far more time in nature and in the local villages, filming the people there, than I was with the crew surfing and hanging out on the beach. I think this is where my style really started to take shape. I still have the film and it’s interestingly average, to say the least, but what’s great is to see that the techniques I started to develop back then are what I am still using 10 years down the line.
AD: How did you learn to make movies? Is this something anyone can do?
DM: When I had to learn to edit, there were no tutorials online or large online forums, but there were really expensive dudes from the industry who would offer classes once a week on using Final Cut Pro, which I attended a couple of times. When it came to using a camera, I just taught myself slowly from moving across from auto to manual. The best way to learn is to literally pick up a camera of any kind (yes, even an iPhone or Android) and shoot something, anything. Then import it into whatever kind of editing software you have available to you and watch YouTube tutorials of how to use the program. Nowadays, you have a whole universe of knowledge in the palm of your hands — use it. If you’re reading this interview, you have access to the internet, so there is really no excuse.
AD: When did you first join YouTube? What have you learned from that journey?
DM: I joined YouTube in 2011. YouTube teaches you about making films for yourself first and then an audience will begin to follow. But, ultimately, it’s about your vision and you have to be comfortable and confident with it. Once you have done that, the online world teaches you how to package your films correctly and execute them. It also teaches you to listen to the people, take their comments and use them in your next projects. I’ve learned to remain curious; stop listening to answer, and start listening to understand.
AD: What makes you different or unique?
DM: I don’t want to give away my secrets just yet; I just started in this industry.
AD: What’s the first commercial you made?
DM: My first TVC I made is Tusker “Here’s to the US in every Tusker” in Kenya.
AD: How has the social age changed commercial moviemaking?
DM: It’s made people a lot more aware of what an ad is — of when a brand is trying to sell something. I believe that, in order to start a conversation with the viewer, you first need impact; then you can communicate your idea and start to persuade your audience to see things through a new lens. But it starts with impact. When doing this in the right way, one can still create hugely engaging ads, with the viewer being aware from the get-go that they are watching a TV commercial or online piece of branded content.
AD: Why movies?
DM: Films to me are music for the eyeballs. Rhythm created with visuals. I am a musician at heart but could never pursue that, so I decided to make music visually instead.
AD: How many commercials have you made? What have you learned?
DM: I am on my sixth TV ad now [at the time of writing; his latest, “This is Your Time 4” for Vodacom, took Ad of the Week on MarkLives last week —ed-at-large]. I have learned a shitload. I started working with Egg Films a few TVCs with a new producer, Vjorn du Toit, who has been around a lot longer than me. I respect her loads, which makes it easy to learn from her and let her guide me. I think the space that I have grown the most is by working with the full team on set, and especially the client — keeping them in the loop and feeding back about what’s happening. It’s so important, and makes all the difference when you know that everyone on that location is on the same page.
AD: Tell us about your documentary work?
DM: Documentaries teach you how to not alter the space in front of camera, but rather change the direction of where you point the lens to capture the most-beautiful parts. Authenticity to me is key and you really learn how to look at the world through this lens when making documentaries.
AD: What’s the best movie you’ve ever watched and why?
DM: Requiem for a Dream. The most-beautiful depiction of a mother and son being torn apart because of drugs — legal and illegal. It’s a difficult watch because of the truth attached to the powerful imagery. I have an original poster from the cinema framed in my office.
AD: Where are you going?
DM: For now, I am just super-stoked to be where I am in my career already. I am concentrating on bringing freshness to each commercial I create and taking one project at a time. I guess I will think about my future when I get some time off.
AD: What advice do you have for aspirant movie makers?
DM: I always say this, but learn how to give up on your good ideas because, if you try and pursue all your good ideas, you will never have time for the great ones.
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