Field Notes – Steve McDonald

Watch “The Rainmakers of Nganyi” on TERRA
and check out Steve’s website at 3rdFloor.tv.

Steve's Biography:

Steve's Biography:

Steve is the film and creative director at 3rdfloor – a concept driven short film and motion graphics studio. His films profile interesting people, projects and organisations, mostly in the fields of art, food and the environment. And sometimes a little bit of adventure…

In 2010 he shot and directed his first film "3 Wheels," the story of a crazy tuk-tuk race around Sri Lanka. The film aired on National Geographic, TV2 Norway and other channels internationally. Shortly after that he began work as a freelance film and animation director, under the name Niceonesteve. In 2013 he co-founded 3rdfloor, a Cape Town based production Company.

TERRA: What inspired you to make a film about the rainmakers of Nganyi?

TERRA: What inspired you to make a film about the rainmakers of Nganyi?

SM:The film is part of a series of shorts commissioned by the Sustainability Institute, ACCAI and the Open Society Foundations, and I think that the network that Luke Metelerkamp and his team are part of is really the reason that we had access to so many fascinating stories. I was excited about the Rainmaker’s story right away; it has the kind of elevator pitch that really hooks people in, and then it just kept getting better as I was filming until the point when the rainmakers literally predicted the rainfall within a minute! Not all stories present themselves like that. The tension between the rainmakers and the scientists was harder to represent though, sensitive and complex.

TERRA: Was it difficult connecting what you call

TERRA: Was it difficult connecting what you call "traditional science" to "modern science" with the locals?

SM: The difficulty here comes in that the relationship between modern science and local knowledge is complex. It seems at odds, but the beauty of this story is that the scientists and rainmakers have a long history of conflicting beliefs, but they are working together, sharing knowledge and learning from each other. So there is, at once, skepticism and trust, conflict and friendship; and so illustrating this is quite difficult to do.

TERRA: Give us a behind-the-scenes snapshot of creating this film.

TERRA: Give us a behind-the-scenes snapshot of creating this film.

SM: The Rainmakers film was shot over 4 days, which was fairly demanding. A lot of my time was spent travelling, and drinking tea, or beer with people involved in the project. These, sometimes quite long periods, where my camera was in the bag, proved to be immensely valuable. That’s where my understanding of the story really started to develop, and I started to shoot for, and later edit with that in mind. I think being immersed in a setting, for however long, is really helpful, and of course it helps if the places and themes you are dealing with are new to you. I have worked on other projects where a few films are shot in the same location with a similar theme, and the challenge there is to try to keep that fresh perspective. When you have the advantage of seeing things for the first time, you must use it!

TERRA: Did you have any particularly challenging moments during production?

TERRA: Did you have any particularly challenging moments during production?

SM: There was a definite temptation to romanticize the story because I am not used to working with themes that deal so clearly with the supernatural (for lack of a better word). So, for example, it was important to keep the rest of the story on par with the question of whether the rainmakers can make it rain or stop the rain, because that is only a small part of the story.

TERRA: What are the 3 things you’d never go into the field without?

TERRA: What are the 3 things you’d never go into the field without?

SM:

1. Good, strong, waterproof, light shoes!

2. a notebook

3. a chicken ;)

TERRA: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

TERRA: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

SM: I always wanted to be an animator in fact, but I realized quite early on that telling a story is the most important part of that, and so the relative immediacy of film became attractive – you can film now and watch in an hour, and you can't do that with animation. I shot my first footage, which was about Illegal Street racing in South Africa on a small Sony handicam with no idea what I was doing but a real interest in the subject, and I was completely welcomed into the scene. Being able to walk out the door with a small camera and gain entry into worlds that you would otherwise never experience is the reason I get so excited about making films.

TERRA: What would be your dream project?

TERRA: What would be your dream project?

SM: This may be a bit greedy, but I think there could be many dream projects! I hope to continue to make films for a long time, and I like the idea that the projects I want to do will change.

TERRA: What’s your favorite aspect of filmmaking?

TERRA: What’s your favorite aspect of filmmaking?

SM: As a film maker you often get to meet people you would never have known and get an insight into worlds you would never otherwise see – that’s the best thing by far.