After nearly four months in the making it is finally completed!

Finding the fable, now a completed half-hour documentary available on DVD, has branched out into all sorts of new directions since last year. Spin-offs now include a music video for the film’s theme song Loaded Gun, performed by accoustic rock duo Lloyd & Bruno, as well as a short insert on climate change and adaptation for review by National Geographic Channel, all currently in production. 

Above: Michael Murphree and Nicholas Ellenbogen in a scene from the film.  On a quest to write an updated version of the fable “The Elephant Child” by Rudyard Kipling, director/playwright Nicholas accompanies Michael on journey along the Limpopo river through farm land, tribal land and military held areas along the South Africa/Zimbabwe border. “Finding the fable” informs and entertains and looks at issues of climate change and adaptation through the eyes of a diverse group of people.

It all began with an email at the airport

Unbeknowst to me the project had already started early in 2010 at the NWU’s African Centre for Disaster Studies with an idea voiced by consultant Michael Murphree. For me it began a few months later with an email that I received while I was waiting at Cape Town international airport. It was from ACDS director Dewald van Niekerk who wanted to know if I was interested in getting involved in a film project with a famous director. It basically said hold everything else that you’re working on, we’re doing this one now! I cautiously agreed, not really knowing what I was getting myself into. A few meetings and weeks of pre-production planning followed. All important funding requested and secured in a hurry. Then a mad rush to acquire the neccesary equipment from different vendors, with import and customs delays in between to add to the excitement. Overnight my living room filled up with brand new equipment and a very large Pelican transport case, immediately christened “The Beast”. A very physical three weeks of filming followed in November and finally three months of post-production editing from December 2010 to February 2011, including private screenings by Michael and Dewald to NGOs, government groups and academic workgroups to keep us moving in the right direction.

The project would eventually combine the talents of very diverse team of technical, creative and academic professionals: the staff at one, and eventually two university departments, a very knowledgable consultant/project manager and his partner, both experts on the northern Limpopo border area, a Cape Town-based theatre company with an internationally-renowned director, a rock band with a brand new song, and me: a self-taught techie with a few years' experience and a six month-old business.

Editing Finding the fable

When we completed filming in December 2010 we left our last location, Shingwedzi camp in Kruger National Park, with a thirty minute rough cut of the film. The Ellenbogens were heading back to Cape Town and I was allowed complete freedom in finishing the film. I uploaded completed sections to an online file sharing site from where the reviewing process continued via email. One unique challenge about editing Fable was that I had to juggle the massive doccie project and a number of smaller video projects simultaneously on one system. This was made possible by AMA-linked footage and the latest Avid Media Composer 5 software. This allowed me to work with externally-located media without ever having to take up precious amounts of local storage where all my smaller projects lived. Media Composer 5 on Windows 7 is a massive improvement over previous versions that basically grinded away slowly on 32-bit Win XP.

Above: Monster timeline...34 minutes consisting of 670 individual audio clips and more than 1300 individual HD video clips. Post-production editing for “Finding the fable” took three months to complete with the first shots already edited into place on location during the shoot. This allowed the crew maximum flexibility in shaping the storyline as the project progressed.

Once the final cut was approved, Fluidmotion deinterlaced the 1080i media beautifully while Red Giant Software's Magic Bullet added some stunning colour grading that gives the film a very distinctive cinematic quality.


Above: Give it the (Magic) Bullet! Extensive grading added a distinctively cinematic touch to the film's final look, turning harsh video footage into warm, rich, film-like imagery.

Having done this project I now firmly believe that the nature of post-production editing has changed forever. Gone are the days of some poor, pale-faced soul slaving away in front of a lumbering desktop workstation in a dark, windowless little room during strict office hours. Fable was edited on the move – outside at Pafuri River Camp, in the evening by fireside, in the back of the Land Rover while travelling and in a chalet in Kruger National Park. Anywhere and anytime I felt like working on it. Maximum mobility equals maximum creativity.


Above: Editing on the move...”Finding the fable” was cut anywhere and anytime we needed - from a bush camp on the SA/Zim border to my studio back in Potchefstroom, allowing maximum creativity and flexibility in putting the story together.

So if by the end of the project the editor does not have the same leathery suntan and numerous mozzie bites as the camera operator, you've just done it the wrong way!

Post-production audio editing

Our run-and-gun approach to filming the original documentary (a large portion of the film's footage was shot from a bean bag from the roof or bonnet of the Land Rover!) provided a lot of very unique footage. But it also meant that the final soundtrack would need a lot of work to match the carefully graded final visuals.

I spent valuable time with audio wizard Pieter de Bruin at the NWU's Artema Recording Studio in October last year, establishing a digital workflow between my editing equipment and his digital audio workstations. I approached him and studio manager Glenn Cunniff to help me with the doccie's final mix and I'm absolutely amazed by what Pieter did with the film's very wild soundtrack. The workflow entailed moving the pre-mix soundtrack from my Avid to his digital audio workstation, completing the final mix with a low resolution video file as visual reference, then exporting the final mastered soundtrack back to my Avid and finally syncing the audio up to the original HD visuals. The final half-hour sequence was then mastered in pristine Avid DNxHD185 format with a highly polished soundtrack courtesy of the folks at Artema Recording Studio. And I just love it!

Above: Mix master...Pieter de Bruin at the NWU's Artema Recording Studio mixing the documentary's final soundtrack. "Just record it, Pieter will fix it for us" became the answer to any audio-related worries we had during the shoot in November 2010. What more can I say - the man is an artist!

Visit Artema Recording Studio's website at

Theme song and upcoming music video

From the start of the project everybody was determined that Fable had to be different from the stereotypical natural history documentary. Fable needed to inform but also entertain at the same time.

This approach also extended to the soundtrack and score.

After the documentary's first cut was completed and Nicholas Ellenbogen's vision of a changing Limpopo landscape emerged, it became apparent that the documentary would require an equally powerful musical score to properly set the mood.

Generic production music just wouldn't cut it, but Gauteng-based acoustic rock duo Lloyd & Bruno had just the sound that we were looking for.  After Lloyd Peltier and Bruno dos Santos were shown the first rough cut of the film the guys were onboard and their hit song Loaded Gun would become the signature theme song that would set the mood for the rest of the documentary.

Listen to the song on Lloyd & Bruno's Facebook page.

At the start of the year I was fortunate enough to watch a live performance by them and I got to meet the band afterwards. Besides being very talented musicians they are also two very cool guys! The combination of the song and the documentary's visuals has proved to be a perfect match.

The film's production crew finally got an opportunity to return the favour and a music video for Loaded Gun will be produced during March 2011. The music video will use images from the documentary and will communicate the same strong disaster risk reduction message as Finding the fable . The music video is aimed at broadcast television and will also be available as a bonus feature on DVD copies of Finding the fable .

Collaborating with artists and professionals

For me this entire project has been a shining highlight in an twelve year working career.

What I enjoyed most was the people whom I worked with. They are all true professionals and artists. I have particular admiration for Nicholas Ellenbogen. During the first days of filming, to get some of the travel footage we required, I would sit in the Landy's passenger-side window, feet hooked under the dashboard and then lean outside the vehicle and film Fable's signature camera-by-the-side-of-the-wheel driving shots.

It was quite a workout but I was getting some awesome footage that particular day. But Nicholas stopped filming early that afternoon. Reason: he was concerned that we were pushing too hard. He insisted that I put the camera away for the rest of the day. His genuine interest in the well-being of his crew is truly striking and those who know him well say that he has always been equally concerned with the welfare of his actors and staff in his theatre productions. I can honestly say that I'm not accustomed to someone of his stature being this kind and caring. Thanks Nick for being a role-model and a truly remarkable human being.

Finding the fable is available on DVD through the African Centre for Disaster Studies at the North-West University. Visit

Regular updates on this project will be posted here and on my Facebook page.