The creator of DAM on the challenges and joys of making the series

2 March 2021

The creator of DAM on the challenges and joys of making the series

DAM is an eight-part psychological thriller about a small Eastern Cape town that is filled with secrets and built on deception.

Yola Fischer (Lea Vivier) returns home when her father, the town leader, dies in unusual circumstances. She’s reluctant to be back, especially when she discovers that the farmhouse where she grew up, which her father left to her in his will, starts trying to tell her something.

Update: Season 2 of DAM is now streaming on Showmax.

But Yola is running out of her medication while being confronted with repressed childhood memories, and starts uncovering one secret after another. How can she be sure that the voices she’s hearing are real, and not just in her head, when the rest of the increasingly threatening townsfolk seem determined to tell her that everything is business as usual?

The all-star ensemble cast includes Pallance Dladla as Themba, a biker on the run and Yola’s love interest; Faniswa Yisa as Lindiwe Zita, Themba’s aunt and nurse, who develops a terrifying illness; Neil Sandilands as handyman and spiritual singer-songwriter Bernoldus; Natasha Loring as Yola’s sister Sienna; and Siv Ngesi as the man after Themba’s blood.

From left: Gerald Steyn, Faniswa Yisa, Pallance Dladla, Laudo Liebenberg, Lea Vivier (front), Natasha Loring, Francis Chouler in DAM

Alex Yazbek, the SAFTA-winner behind Unmarried, Isibaya and The Wild, wrote and directed the series. He told IOL that what he wanted to do with the series “is make TV that shows a South Africa that looks similar to my experience of the country and the people, where there’s a variety of us and we speak various languages and look different and wonderful and we all have a place.”

Alex Yazbek, writer and director of DAM

We asked him about his highs and lows during filming on location in the Eastern Cape in the year 2020, and here’s what he had to say.

Shooting during a pandemic

We filmed during COVID, which was difficult. We had certain rules and laws we had to obey, which was challenging. We were lucky we only had one break in the shooting.

The monster loses his power when we see his face.

Alex Yazbek

Making this kind of show on a budget

I was trying to make a thriller-horror on a South African budget, so I knew we had to cleverly use the medium to convey the sense of threat and tension. I had to study what thrillers are. Thrillers are withholding narratives. They pass out the information like feeding a hamster, little tidbits.

You have to give a little info so the hamster stays there, but you don’t want to tell the hamster the end of the story, because once they know they can’t unknow. Thrillers are an escalating narrative; the stakes have to keep rising.

Creating monsters in the audience’s mind

Someone once said the monster loses his power when we see his face. As soon as we see a monster, it’s not as frightening any more. So I needed to create the tension by relying on the imagination of the audience to conjure up the monsters.

This isn’t new. Spielberg did it in Jaws; you only see the shark after an hour. But that was my main challenge: how to create tension, and how to engross the audience. I built in cliffhangers at the end of each episode, so they would watch the next one, and I had a lot of help from Brendan Jury in the music.

But from the beginning, this show felt like we had the wind behind us. It was a very positive experience.

Having the cast and crew as company

I loved sitting outside each night with the actors and crew members. I don’t drink, but they would have a glass of wine and I’d have a glass of sparkling water, and then we’d go to bed and do it again. Tom Marais, Lea Vivier, and the cast – they are wonderful human beings, and my son James was there – he did the drone footage.

So it was a wonderful experience; it was life-affirming. I can’t wait for Showmax to give us Season 2 so we can do it all again.

016FM, coming to Showmax
Born Into Fame, coming soon