The launch of Tess was an both an opportunity to enjoy the success of Tracey Farren’s novel, originally published as Whiplash in 2008, and a chance to share in where the story is going over the next few months.
The room was filled with longstanding supporters of the women responsible for bringing the story of Tess to life in print and on screen, as well as new fans who have yet to experience Whiplash/Tess. The buzz of excitement and joy at what the story has achieved made for a warm and meaningful event filled with very interesting conversation.
Colleen Higgs, publisher at Modjaji, began by speaking about the electrifying manuscript Tracey Farren delivered to her via Ron Irwin a decade ago. The history of Modjaji Books is intertwined with the novel, as it was the first work of fiction to come out of the young company and is a continuing inspiration for Colleen. Whiplash being made into a movie was always her dream, but it took a long time to come to fruition.
Tracey Farren described how she came to write Whiplash in the first place. She was intrigued by the prostitutes she encountered near her home daily and, like many of us, she wondered “Why do they do this? And how did this come to be the life they live?” Delving deep into the issues and heartbreaking realities of our society eventually gave birth to Tess, a young prostitute surviving on pain medication in Muizenberg. Tracey says Tess is a character she was deeply in love with, and translating her into a film script was a magical process.
Meg Rickards told us she was given Tracey’s novel by a friend. She did not expect to be as bowled over by itas she was, but she couldn’t put it down and read through the night until she finished it. Meg’s empathy for Tess, a character so removed and different from her, was so thorough that her pillow was sodden when she got to the end of Whiplash. She immediately got in contact with the publisher, but found that the film had already been optioned. After a year of waiting, she got the news that the previous deal had expired, and film rights were hers if she wanted them. So the whirlwind of funding campaigns, script rewrites and making a masterpiece on a shoestring budget began. In the end, she had enough budget for 24 days of filming, and was constantly thinking about how to do more with less.
A little way into the discussion Christia Visser, the lead actress in Tess, arrived and joined the discussion. She initially wanted to say no to the role of Tess, because she was intimidated by what she would have to feel as she acted out the life of the young prostitute. Colleen says in her early fantasies about the movie she hoped to see Charlize Theron play Tess, but said that in fact Christia was perfect for the movie and even better she had imagined. Tracey commented whatever acting Christia does after Tess will be easy compared with her nuanced and complex portrayal of Tess.
The panel wrapped up their discussion by talking about the process of adapting the novel into a screenplay. Tracey was the screen writer and began the process by refining and focusing the story as she rewrote. Meg said that she could not hope to improve upon the novel as she translated to film; as director she could only be inspired by Whiplash and try to pay homage to it with her adaptation. Christia Visser’s interpretation of the character of Tess was another layer of adaptation, and the final step in bringing the story to life.
Meg and Tracey also both spoke of how the screenplay was changed due to constraints while filming – like service delivery protests in Masiphumelele and the weather changing to rain. Also in the process of editing, scenes that were shot had to be cut.
Here are some photos from the event:
Here are some highlights from the event on Twitter:
- The Film Tess has been Picked Up for International Distribution – Don’t Miss the Book and Film Launches!
- Join Us for Our Muizenberg in the Movies Party to Celebrate the Launch of Tess
- Tess by Tracey Farren
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