Abongwe L. Booi a revolutionary filmmaker in the making

Abongwe L. Booi, who often goes by “Abo Booi”, is a visual creator based in Cape Town and Johannesburg. His love for film and photography began at an early age. Since then, the passion and drive has been unrelenting. His unwavering passion for cinematography and directing propel him to the consistent advancement of his craft. As well as the  experimentation of film forms and approaches. He aims to pioneer a new wave of South African cinema that tells authentic South African stories never done before.

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Abongwe L. Booi

Welcome to TV Series Hub, how would you introduce yourself to our audience?

I would introduce myself as Abongwe L. Booi, but I often go by Abo Booi. I am a visual creator based in Cape Town and Johannesburg. I like to refer to myself as a visual creator so as not to limit myself to a specific medium of creation,, but rather a creator of visuals by any means necessary! The mediums I currently focus on are filmmaking and photography.

What is something that very few people know about you?

Coming from a musical family, we always grew up singing and all know how to play instruments, so a lot of people don’t know that I can sing and play about 4 instruments.

How did everything start for you? What inspired you to become a visual creator and filmmaker? At what age did you realize that this is where your future lies? How did you work on improving yourself to the point you are at now?

Some say the first time they fell in love was in high school, when the new girl walked into class with the sparkle of a million stars in her eyes, and decided to sit next to them in Science class. Or when their eyes met for the first time and he smiled, with a smile so bright that it lit up the whole room, leaving no corner untouched. Or when your best friend bought you a new football, itching to be kicked. But for me, the first time I felt love was the day my father returned from a business trip to Korea. I remember it was sometime in 2008 and my father came home with a brand new bulky silver Sony camcorder from his Eastern excursion. I didn’t know it back then, but that small chunk of glass, plastic and metal would shape my future forever. All through primary school, my best friends and I would spend our weekends making really badly written, and even more badly filmed, thriller/horror movies with these seemingly creepy puppets my twin sister and I “borrowed” from the American missionaries at our church. Being a clumsy 10-year-old, I wasn’t always allowed to use Tata’s expensive, new gadget without his supervision, but every Friday afternoon, before he came home from work, I would sneak into his room, steal the camera for an hour or so for some rouge, guerilla filmmaking, then return the camera, PERFECTLY, back to where it was left. I knew the risks that I was taking by undergoing these missions especially considering the fact that I have black parents. I knew that the belt and my backside would meet, like the reunion of long lost lovers, if my mission was ever compromised, but for me, it was worth the risk. And after every painful lashing, I would smile, with tears running down my face and tell myself “It was all worth it!”From that point, the love affair grew exponentially and any opportunity I could get to record something I would take. I would use Nokia phone video cameras and mess around with the video pause feature, so it seemed like we were teleporting. We would show the whole school and impress the teachers with our profound filmmaking skills. But eventually filming on a phone wasn’t enough, so I began my task of saving for a new camera all through high school. Obviously, I couldn’t afford a camera for myself so I spend weeks working on a business proposal to pitch to my parents. A proposal that would outline the price ranges, industry revenue projections, sales online and reviews. I included anything I could to convince them that this would be one of the greatest assets they could bless me within my development and after months of convincing they finally agreed. And from there the love story continued on a journey of ups and downs till we find ourselves here now.

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Abongwe L. Booi

South Africa has a lot of stories that haven’t been told yet. What role do you see yourself playing in changing the industry?

My vision for filmmaking is telling authentic South African stories in the most beautiful way possible. Stories not just of struggle, but of the beauty in this nation. I want the voice of the South African child not to be a stereotyped silenced voice in the massive western dominated market, but rather to be as loud, authentic and powerful as any other voice. I want to solidify a position for the South African film industry to compete on the same scale as the West and North because our stories are just as important as any other.

You currently studied at the University of Cape Town. What do you study? How does getting higher education in your degree help to improve your craft?

I originally started off studying BCom Information Systems in the Commerce faculty, believe it or not, because I was afraid of the idea of lack of job security, but I was miserable, barely just passing and my parents could see where my heart was, so they allowed me the opportunity to change over to the BA Screen Production stream at UCT and that was such an amazing experience. Although I had learnt technical skills far exceeding those of the school program before I even arrived because of my passion, I learned so so much about the pre-production and production process that was by far some of the most helpful tools I’ve learnt and put into practice to date. The course gives you an opportunity to meet with people you would have struggled to otherwise, but it allows about the extra work you do behind closed doors.

Studying must take up a lot of your time, how do you balance your career and education?

What’s balance lol? There were times when I was all over the place and had to juggle so much under such heavy pressure constraints that it was very tasking on my mental health, but with a good support system and meticulous scheduling and planning I was able to find some sort of balance. It’s all about time management and prioritising things that are going to help your future.

Networking is one of the most important aspects of the industry, what strategies have you used to build your network?

I think networking comes more naturally to some people that they don’t even know they’re doing it. I enjoy meeting new people, hearing people’s experiences, and socialising; so networking to me was going up to a guy with a nice camera on the street and asking “Hey, is that the Canon 5D MkIII?” and the conversation would always led to a point where we exchange social medias or numbers. From there it’s all about investing in relationships, helping people out for free, asking people to help you work on things, and encouraging people when they do something dope. I find myself sending tens of hundreds of emails and messages to people asking if I could help them out on set with something or just meeting for coffee to learn as much as I can from there. It’s all about putting yourself out there, investing in yourself, but also investing in other people’s craft. Artists that support each other are an extremely powerful force. And for people who aren’t social butterflies, who can’t just walk up to some stranger on the street and ask them something, my best advice is just messages and emails, stay in communication with people as best as you can. Show them what you’re interested and you will be bound to find a community of people who are all interested in that exact thing as well.

Diving into what you do, what is the biggest lesson you have learned so far that people tend to forget or underestimate when it comes to filmmaking?

Simpler is better. Overly complicated narrative structures, deeply leveled plot developments and all these filmic complexities are hard to nail and if you don’t it ruins the whole story because it isn’t understandable or relatable because it’s all over the place. A simple story can be the most impactful, the most thought-provoking and capturing. It’s all about the principle of a good story, told well.

How does a typical shoot work? Do you have any rituals you do beforehand?

Other than all the planning and set up when I’m about to shoot something I close my eyes for a second and whisper something like this: “Lord God, show me what you want me to see. Allow me to capture it in a way I didn’t even think I could. Amen.” And other having prayer before shooting it’s all run and gun.

“Echoes”, “The Four Walls” and “You”, how would you describe each? “Echoes” even has yourself starring in it, what inspired it?

I would describe “echoes.” As a reflection of my lowest low. A cathartic project I made when I was going through some seriously difficult times with my mental health and life. I shot most of it the day before my birthday as a means to just clear my head and shoot something I’ve been wanting to for so long. “The Four Walls” was a school project I worked on with my production class of some very talented individuals. It was an expressionist piece of the darkness that every person, whether they would like to admit it or not, go through. Those tough times that you never see yourself coming out of but find peace and hope in the end. Both these pieces were a reflection of the distressed mind and I think they are really beautiful artworks.

“The Four Walls” really gives you the Hollywood-y filmmaking vibe. What went behind the scenes to create it?

First of all, thank you! It’s very rare for a student film to be referred to as “Hollywood-y” so I’m just gonna take that as a compliment even if it wasn’t intended to be hahah! The bts was crazy! We had cake flour being thrown everywhere, water all over the floor and being poured onto our actor, tripods breaking while no one was holding the camera the and the camera almost falling, it was such an expressive, fun experience and everyone in the team wasn’t afraid to throw in their own ideas whenever they wanted, it was super collaborative and that’s the best part when you work with passionate people who are in sync perfectly with your vision for the project and want to elevate it however possible.

“You” takes a different spin to the two with a lighter tone with poetry in the background. How did that come to be?

One of my best friends, Wessley Thring, is a poet and so we challenged each other to make something beautiful. He wrote these beautiful people about loving someone and every step of the poem I could visualise it. We went to a couple of locations with our new French friend, who was a dancer, and we kind of just went for it. Anything and everything went but it was all about visually emulating that warm feeling you get in your chest when you see someone you love.

Finally, your final year project called “Aliyah” is another experience you had. What is the film about? What role did you play?

The film ‘Aliyah’ was my final year film, directed by Rahimah Ismail, which told the story of defiance. The film tells the story of a girl who wishes to be a writer, but her extremely traditional father doesn’t believe that can be a career that can be successful. She applies to Oxford’s writing program and is accepted, but her father will not allow it for many reasons so we are faced with the question of whether she will follow her father’s instructions or chase after what she loves. It was a really interesting script to read and it appealed to me because of how she pitched the visual aesthetic of the film with a magical realist, dream-like tone to the poetic interludes. The team I worked with, Riya Poken, Emily Norris, James Redman, Cian Small, and Rahimah, were all willing to go the extra mile for this film and we really came out with something we were happy with and this reflected in the films reception and the marks we received.

Going a bit more personal, you have established a company called “Artistic Intent”, how did it all happen? How has it been since you started?

So, Artistic Intent, Ai, was a creative collective me and my older brother, Bubele Booi, created. A collaboration between my filmmaking and his music-making. We worked on a couple of projects, but as my brother’s production clientele grew larger he felt he needed to focus on this music and so I took the project on as a platform for creation. I see Ai producing films as a South African production that competes in the international market. I’ve been approached by some very interesting individuals, who I shall not name or give any further information about right now, but Ai is on the rise.

You also are part of “Three Fine Guys”, how did that begin? What role do you play?

Three Fine Guys all began when I asked my two friends Matt and Tebs to feature on my personal channel. We enjoyed shooting so much that we eventually decided that we should actually make a channel just for fun. It all was just for fun and we never expected it to blow up the way that it did! Initially, I was doing all the work ,but by a few months into the channel both the other guys had learnt editing so quickly it was so impressive! And that’s how TFG became TFG!

How do you create content for it? Is there any secret formula you have going for your success?

Yoh. Nah we just shoot whatever we think will be funny. It’s actually that simple! I think what makes it so appealing is how much effort we put into the comical edits that grab people’s attention. There’s no formula, no secret, we’re just being ourselves and having fun as friends and that’s what people really relate to!

What challenges have you faced so far? How do you keep pushing through?

I think in creation the biggest challenge can be the creation itself, sometimes you’re so uninspired that nothing seems to work and forcing it doesn’t work either. Sometimes you just don’t want to shoot anything and the pressure from having a lot of people screaming at you when you don’t post is a lot, but I think the most important thing and the thing that’s gotten me through my journey is understanding that it’s okay not to make anything and just experience what you’re experiencing and using it to inspire something new. It’s okay to change your style, format or design, it’s all a journey and I think people aren’t often told this enough.

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Stills from his projects

5 years from now, where do you see yourself?

I see myself working on the production of my own feature film on a massive scale as a director or cinematographer, whether it be in South Africa or overseas. Planning far in the head is tough in our industry because you can never know where you’ll be, but all I know is that I will be making films, continuing to challenge myself, my networks and my ability to put together a masterpiece with thousands of moving parts. The future is both exciting and frightening, but I know that I will never stop dreaming, will never stop innovating, and will never stop trying to tell our stories as South Africans to the rest of the world in the most authentic, beautiful and high-quality way possible.

If you had to sell yourself to a potential project, how would you? Why should someone hire you?

When someone sees an empty box, I see an object with the potential to carry the most valuable of items. When someone sees a broken mirror, I see a new way to show the world life through the shattered pieces. With every sunrise, sunset, and any moment in between and after, I see the opportunity to create something that has never been seen in any sunrise or sunset before. I strive to see the world, its problems, and its stories in a new light every day, challenging myself to make something no one would dare to, in a way no one would think to. This is the age of innovation, of new disruptions that change how people see each other and challenging of the status quo of who “WE” as humans are and can become and I will innovate and disrupt until I draw my last breath.

What keeps you motivated?

God and my spiritual life. That’s a huge part of my life and I find some much inspiration from my spirituality, God, the Bible and just hearing people speak about their experiences of a breakthrough with God. Coupled with this, the people around me who keep pushing themselves and me to do better and make better work. My brother and sister constantly push me, challenge me to new things, and always give honest criticism. My friends do the same and I surround myself with ambitious people that aren’t afraid to dream and don’t believe that any dream is too big.

What future projects are you working on? What should fans be looking out for?

I’m working on some really crazy films, which have been halted due to the current global pandemic we are facing but they should keep an eye out on my youtube channel (Youtube.com/AboBooi) and my socials (@abobooi) to stay in tune with the next big project!

Who has been your support so far? How important of a role have they played?

My family have been the biggest support I have. They are all so willing to check up and go the extra mile when I need it. To encourage me when I’m uninspired and remind me of the goal. My friends have held me down at my lowest points and fought for me and I’m so grateful for these two support systems that have lifted me up and kept me going. I learnt the hard way that you don’t need a lot of friends, just the right few to help you get to your goals!

What projects do you hope to take on or work on? Any movies or series you hope to be a part of?

Tough. There are projects that I wish I made, like every one of my favourite movies, but something I wish I could be involved in right now is I would LOVE to make a Black Mirror episode! That to me would be one of the craziest things ever!

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Stills from his projects

What do you do for fun? Any hobbies?

I enjoy spending time with my friends making noise, freestyling and making dumb songs. My music friends always invite me to their sessions and we just jam and make a whole lot of stuff whether it’s good or bad is another story lol. My goal has always been to make my hobbies my career so that my job isn’t a job but rather doing what I love and getting paid for it and that seems to be going really well. I just enjoy experiencing new things and so that I feel is a hobby.

Thank you for joining us, if you could give a younger you some advise, what would it be?

BE AUTHENTIC, don’t try be the South African Tarantino, don’t try to be Zeno Petersen, just be yourself. Invest in how you want your voice to be and work on being the most holistically strong YOU that you can be! Be consistent in your learning, be consistent in your growing and NEVER STOP DREAMING!