Brett “always had a camera” growing up, and he was always telling stories. From gathering friends together to act in pieces he wrote, to selling storybooks to his parents before he could even read, “stories have been a big part of me,” Brett reflected, “and filmmaking is only one side of the story making process.”
Brett attended one of the most prestigious film schools in his home country of South Africa, where he studied directing, producing, and screenwriting. Film became his life, but something wasn’t right. It was as if filmmaking had transformed into a practice he idolized, and he wanted to focus more attention on ministry and the church.
But film couldn’t stay away too long. Shortly after giving up filmmaking to work at the church, the staff asked him to help with video production. He ended up traveling to Sudan, Mongolia, Sierra Leone, France, Italy, Turkey, Nepal, and many other countries to document mission work the church was doing around the world.
Three years ago, Brett felt compelled to start telling stories through film again. He wrote a screenplay based on The Story of Racheltjie De Beer, an Afrikaans folk tale about two siblings that got lost in the wilderness. Ultimately, the sister sacrifices her life to save her brother.
But documenting the story came with risks. The legend had never been told outside of local schools, and not being Afrikaans dampened his credibility and authenticity. He wanted to make sure that he honored the Afrikaans culture surrounding the tale, while still maintaining a different perspective that balanced the core of the story.
Brett wrote The Story of Racheltjie De Beer in two weeks to get it to a producer in time, but decided he wasn’t happy with the producer’s offer. Instead, he kept the script and decided to produce it himself. While he raised funding for the film, he released the story in novel form, filling in the gaps that the script had left, and it became a national bestseller.
Filming for The Story of Racheltjie De Beer should start this year, and Brett is also in the process of fundraising to produce four other screenplays.
The process of converting a screenplay to a novel was no easy feat.
“If the outline looks horrible, the coloring won’t be much better,” he said. “On a creative level, it’s a great gift to give to my actors. Instead of trying to figure out who characters are, I can give them a document that has [the character's] thought life.”
He admits that the novel was written with a film as an end goal—his style is more visual rather than poetic. However, publishing a novel first proved to be beneficial for several reasons.
“It garners an audience for the film,” he said. It also afforded him a passive income and financial support while working on the script, which was further refined by several people, including book and script editors.
Having been in the church for so long, Brett holds the opinion of its leaders highly, and seeks their approval before setting off to film and direct. One of the most difficult tasks is finding a balance between telling the entire unbiased story in a thought-provoking manner, without being inappropriate to the audiences he caters to. There is a way, Brett believes, to imply certain subject matter without being inappropriate—sometimes it’s better and more sophisticated from a storytelling perspective to hint than show all.
“It’s good for an artist to have a few scars on his back,” he says, especially when it comes to storytelling.
But for him, every decision is about obedience to God. And his life has reflected that at every turn.