A first look at speculative fiction author Charlie Human’s film adaptation
It must be pretty surreal seeing your imagination translated onto film. When your imagination is the catalyst for a monster-porn peddling teen who joins up with a drunk war-vet-turned-supernatural-bounty-hunter to take on an underworld full of crow-men, tokoloshes and other fantastical South African creatures, well, perhaps you’re slightly used to the surreal…
Charlie Human’s debut novel Apocalypse Now Now has been turned into a short film and was recently featured on Short of the Week, an online film festival that discovers and promotes emerging talent. With Lauren Beukes in his corner, his supervisor during his MA in Creative Writing at UCT, could Apocalypse Now Now go the same distance that The Shining Girls did?
The Way of Us presents a first-look at the film version of Charlie Human’s book, and spoke to the author about his exciting next chapter.
So you publish a book and then someone buys the film rights and you’re in Hollywood, how does this all work?
I have an agent who has done an excellent job of getting me published in nine countries. Really, if you have a manuscript, get an agent. But the film deal was actually a happy accident. Todd Brown, the Head of International Acquisitions for XYZ, was here for the Durban Film Festival. XYZ have done some great films and Todd was the producer on The Raid films. He picked up my books at the airport and started reading them on the way home (I like to think that Joey HiFi's killer cover art did a good job of convincing him that the novel might be a good fit). He got in contact and they optioned Apocalypse Now Now.
How much did your relationship with Lauren Beukes help?
Lauren has always been an incredible inspiration to me. She carved out her own niche in the speculative fiction world and made it a lot easier for other South Africans to do the same. Probably the best piece of advice she ever gave me was to get an agent. It's the same advice I dish out when asked about how to get published. In South Africa the publishing industry is small enough that you can submit directly to publishers but an agent is going to be able to help sell your book to publishers in multiple territories. That's what you need if you're really trying to make a go of it.
You were inspired by tabloid lampost screamers. What are some of the better ones you've read over the years, and how did these find their way into your book?
My favourites always involve the tokoloshe. “Tokoloshe was twerking for my husband” is a good one. “Tokoloshe Blow Job Terror” is another classic. Sure, they don't top the UK' Sunday Sport headline “Gordon Ramsay Sex Dwarf Eaten By Badger” but you know your country has a weird urban mythology when the most famous mythological creatures are sex-pest goblins with giant dicks. The whole concept of Baxter selling monster porn was based on the idea that if tokoloshes did exist there would definitely be sleazy businessmen exploiting them. That naturally led to the Ron Jeremy of Tokoloshes working in an undead sex club in Cape Town.
Baxter is a bit of a dick. How much more fun is it writing a teenage protagonist rather than a fully-formed adult?
Baxter is unholy blend of the all-selfish, cynical, idealistic impulses and contradictions of teenagerdom. He's an angsty asshole who thinks he's the smartest dude in the room and doesn't want to believe he's just like everyone else. I neither confirm nor deny that's he's partially autobiographical. I think there's a reason why young adult fiction gravitates toward the fantasy genre. Teenage life is this strange liminal place where the boundaries and borders get hazy and blurred.
Then there's Jackie Ronin. What does having Louw Venter in this role mean to you?
I didn't participate in the casting process, which is probably a good thing because I obviously have a very clear vision of what things look like, and may have tried to stick too close to the book. Filmmaking is a collaborative process and having other input actually makes the whole thing stronger. Louw Venter makes an incredible Ronin. He really captures the essence of the character. Or maybe Ronin captures the essence of Louw. On set it was hard to tell when he was in character and when he was being Louw.
As far as contributing to the spread of South African culture, what are you most proud of?
The international community justifiably seems a little confused by the title. It's mostly read as Apocalypse Now, NOW! But if I can help spread the flexibility of South Africa's way of measuring time, then I'm happy. Everyone also assumes that my name is a nom de plume. I get told “Charlie Human sounds like the kind of name a robot would make up to convince society that's it's not a robot” a lot.
So we'll watch the short and then what: crowdfunding, voting mechanic, an online petition?
Who knows? There is talk that it could start shooting next year, but I don't really understand the intricacies of film financing. “It takes as long as it takes” seems to be the rule-of-thumb in the film industry. Proof of concept and then everyone gets excited and throws money at it. Like I said, I'm no expert on film financing. It takes a special alignment of producers, actors, director and financing for a project to actually go into production. But everything is looking good.