Bibi Slippers on her debut feature film as a director

23 February 2024

Bibi Slippers on her debut feature film as a director

Poet, screenwriter, and now also director… Matilda & Matthys is the debut film from writer-director Bibi Slippers, a multi-talented creative who’s won awards for her poetry, journalism and short stories and received nominations as a scriptwriter, TV presenter, and theatremaker.

For her Showmax Original romcom, Bibi adds feature film director to her long list of accolades – and says it’s by far the most fun job she’s ever had.

Watch the trailer for Matilda & Matthys

Rozanne Els spoke to Bibi to find out more.

In Matilda & Matthys, an ambitious young writer and a super-rational tech entrepreneur go on a series of fake dates as research for their novel and their dating app algorithm respectively. But even the smartest people can’t outsmart love. Tell us a little bit about where the idea for the premise came from. How much of yourself and your beliefs about love are part of the story?

I was on my way to hike the Fish River Canyon when Danie Bester from Film Factory approached me to present a proposal for a romantic comedy. The first image I got when I started thinking about it was of two people meeting each other but pretending to be other people. As I hiked, I thought about it some more, and began to invent scenarios where something like this could work. There were several early versions of the story, but it was eventually simplified into the story that ended up in the final script.

I don’t think it initially had anything to do with my own beliefs about love, but as you continue to write and stay busy with something for a very long time, your own things just start to bleed into it.

I think what is closest to my own life is the idea of vulnerability, and the different ways you find to protect yourself.

Bibi Slippers, director of Matilda & Matthys, on Showmax
Bibi Slippers

You are an award-winning veteran when it comes to writing, but directing movies is still a fairly new adventure. Here you have both roles. How do the two roles you had to fulfil on Matilda en Matthys, as screenwriter and director, differ?

Writing movies is still relatively new to me, but yes, directing is probably even newer.

Screenwriting is very different from the other types of writing that I’ve been doing for years. It is, in my opinion, the most difficult kind of writing, because there are so many things that you have to keep in mind at the same time, and every word you write for a movie has financial implications. I struggled terribly with the script, and sometimes almost died of self-doubt. I was convinced I was making a huge mess of the script.

In a surprising twist, directing was just a joy and a thousand times easier than writing the script! As a director, you can plan, and imagine how things should look, and do your best to convey your vision to your team, but ultimately you have to make many decisions on your feet, and immediately deal with the implications of your decision. There is no time for doubt or to overthink things. In that way, it’s much more fun than writing, where your job is to ponder everything for months and months, and live with your doubts. Being the director of a movie is the most fun job I’ve ever had!

Adrian Steyn and Emma van Heyn in Matilda & Matthys

Do you think it was easier or harder to stay true to the script and the vision you had because you were also directing?

I feel incredibly privileged that Danie Bester and the team at Showmax trusted me to direct.

I would be way too scared to be the director if I had to work with someone else’s script, because what if you screw it up?

Working with my script was great because I knew exactly what I meant and how I wanted to see things. I think it’s easier to do justice to the script if it’s your own words and ideas you’re working with.

Where do the three questions that Matthys uses for his dating app’s algorithm come from? Is there a story behind it?

The three questions were a suggestion made by my life partner, Corné Koegelenberg. He is also a filmmaker and, after reading an early version of the script, thought that I should find a way to make the app’s operation concrete for the viewer. He then came up with the proposal of three questions; from there I came up with questions to which I thought Matilda would give atypical answers.

What are your own answers to the app’s three questions? (Are you someone who squeezes the toothpaste or do you roll it up from the bottom? Do you follow rules or are you a rule breaker? Do you believe in happy endings?)

a.) I am a random squeezer. I squeeze that tube as much as I want. In our household, we each have our own tube of toothpaste. The “zero conflict” approach.
b.) I am a rule-bender, like Matilda.
c.) Yes, I believe in happy endings, but I don’t think we always realise how simple the things are that will make us happy. We often aim for the wrong things. I think our instinct about what will make us happy is often completely off.

How did you decide on the narrative style, specifically breaking the fourth wall?

I didn’t initially plan to break the fourth wall, but when I started writing Matilda, she simply insisted. When I thought further conceptually about the story, it made sense to me that Matthys would do this as well, since it is the two of them, to some extent, telling us as viewers the story of their romance. The style also suited both of their personalities; characters who are smart, sarcastic, and witty. So it kind of happened by itself.

Emma van Heyn and Pietie Beyers in Matilda & Matthys

Did you already have actors in mind before you started casting?

I wrote the role of Matilda with Emma van Heyn in mind, after seeing her at the Silwerskermfees in 2022 in Twinting Tone in ’n Hangkas. I thought she was wonderful, and wanted to write something for her. We also looked at a lot of other actresses, but Emma was destined to play Matilda. I think she is a star!

Bertha Le Roux-Wahl was also my first and only choice for Mireille. She had the right look, but something told me she was going to play it so well, and she was absolutely phenomenal! So funny, but also sensitive and with a lot of compassion.

Adrian Steyn was a recommendation made by Danie Bester’s wife, Lelia. I didn’t know him beforehand, but after watching his audition tape, I was instantly sold. I looked no further: he was my Matthys.

I was once again grateful that the team at Showmax trusted me to make such choices. I would love to have Mojak Lehoko in every movie I make. He was so funny in my short film Die Horries and I wanted to write something for him again. Pietie Beyers was phenomenal in Corné’s movie Valentynsokkie, so I also wanted to use him in Matilda en Matthys. Daniel is a very important role because the success of the movie’s twist rests entirely on his acting. Pietie nailed it.

We had very little time to find actors, and I was lucky to get the actors I had in mind in most cases. I think if you have the right cast, your job as a director is 70% easier. Every actor in this movie was so good; I enjoyed them very much.

The chemistry between Emma and Adrian is so electric. What was it like working with them?

Emma and Adrian were absolute champs. It was so easy and so much fun to work with them. They are generous actors who have given each other a lot to work with. It was clear from the table read that the two of them have a special spark. I think sometimes you’re just lucky, but I think it’s also just the fact that they were so open-hearted and so dedicated. Also, just so much fun! I think they are incredible actors, but you can’t fake fun. They were really having a ball! I hope that I will be able to work with them again soon. I would like to write something specific for each of them again.

How was the vibe on set?

The vibe on set was very jolly. The cast and crew sometimes, literally, cried with laughter. Maybe also from the hysteria! You work at a crazy pace – I don’t think people will believe how fast you have to work to be able to make local movies with very limited budgets. But everyone bought into the dream of what this movie could be and just had fun.

Any funny anecdotes you can share?

We had about three or four actual artists on the day we filmed the art class scenes, but most of the art students in those scenes were ordinary extras who had no art training. We photographed the real artists’ drawings, but being able to see behind the scenes what some of the extras sketched made us cry with laughter. It was incredibly funny, and I don’t know how Pietie kept a straight face at the sight of some of those drawings. What a pro!

What was challenging about the project for you?

The biggest challenge was to get to a point where one goes: The script is now finished. I could tinker with it for another three years. Danie almost had to strangle the thing out of me! I didn’t want to let it go; I kept thinking that I wanted to improve it more and more. It’s a challenge to adapt to the great team effort that is a movie when you are used to working on a collection of poems in reasonable isolation. With a movie, other people can’t start doing their work until your work as a screenwriter is finished. That pressure was intense for me!

Emma van Heyn in Matilda & Matthys

What stands out to you as highlights?

The entire two weeks we filmed stand out as a highlight for me; not just a highlight of the process, but of my life. It was incredibly fun! Apart from the fantastic time I had with the actors, I also found a work-spouse in the cinematographer Gavin Sterley. I will always want to involve him in anything I do. The whole team was a treat. It was nice to go to work every morning.

Another highlight was seeing the final product for the first time with all the music and sound design. It contributes so much; with the music I felt, “Look, mom! I made a movie!” I think Kate Borthwick, who composed the original music for the movie, is a genius.

Why should people watch the movie?

I think people should watch the movie because it will make them feel happy. It’s light and warm, but I don’t think it’s frivolous and empty. It has meat on the bone without heaviness.

Is there anything you’re particularly proud of about the movie?

I’m proud that the movie was made, and how the movie was made; of how people worked with each other, and the love and fun the whole team generated together.

I’m also proud of how the movie turned out. It exceeded my greatest expectations. The wonderful thing about working on a project like this in a team is when the whole becomes more than the some of its parts. Everyone contributed magic, and the end product makes me immensely proud.

There is also great music in the movie by Atlantiseers and A Skyline on Fire. Both are local bands that no longer make music, and it’s great that their music can live on and get a new lease on life on Matilda’s playlists.