Kerry Harvey, Stuff | June 4, 2020
South African series Trackers is a high-octane thriller where the danger is just as real behind the camera as in front of it.
Just ask the drama’s Finnish director Jyri Kahonen who, only days into filming, found himself running for his life from a stampeding rhinoceros.
“In the script it says, ‘Flea walks the rhino from one cage to another’. We shot three long shots with three cameras of the scene before the rhino just bolted. It was a nightmare,” he says, adding fortunately there was no need for a second take.
“It just went berserk, raving mad. We had to grab everything we could carry in our hands – like 100 people there in the middle of the night – and then we just had to run.”
It was an eye-opening introduction for the first-time visitor to South Africa who admits to being blown away by that country’s cultural diversity and landscape.
“It’s like New Zealand where you can actually swim and ski on the same day but in South Africa – while there is no snow – in the space of 100 miles you can see a beach, then drive through mountains to a desert,” he says.
Both Kahonen, and successful crime author Deon Meyer who wrote the book the series is based on, hope Trackers will catapult South African television on to the world stage.
In the six-part drama, its stars James Gracie (Scandal, Alex Rider), South African Rolanda Marais and Brit Ed Stoppard (Knightfall, The Politician’s Husband) become embroiled in a violent conspiracy involving organised crime, smuggled diamonds, rhinos, state security, the CIA and an international terrorist plot.
A collaboration between South African streaming service M-Net, Germany’s public broadcaster ZDF and American network Cinemax, Trackers out-rated even Game Of Thrones when it debuted in its country of origin.
A second series is already in the pipeline and Meyer – who worked with Death In Paradise creator Robert Thorogood on the screenplay – hopes it will prove as popular around the world as it did at home.
“We, as South Africans, are extremely proud of this TV series,” he says.
“I think that it is really the sum total of so many talents in this country – the cast, the writers – it employed a lot of young South African writers – the production team, the crew, the director who brought some wonderful international talent.”
Meyer also believes Trackers may help to dispel the negative perceptions people have of South Africa as a violent, crime-ridden country with a lot of poverty,
“I think people will see a different South Africa, a South Africa that is vibrant and beautiful and successful and operating on a very high level,” Meyer says.
The novel Trackers was written 10 years ago and much has changed in South Africa in the intervening decade.
“We had to make a decision on were we going to do a period piece or were we going to update Trackers to make it a very modern story which (is what) we eventually did,” he says, adding there were other changes too.
While Meyer was happy to be involved in adapting the book, he was pleased to be doing it as part of a writing team.
“As an author I think you are always too close to the book and too subjective to take the adaptation decisions on your own,” he says.
“We spent perhaps more time discussing and brainstorming the script than on any other aspect of the TV show and I was very involved with that. I think we all had a similar vision. Let’s use the book as an inspiration but not as the gospel.
“Our approach was let’s try to stay true to the book as far as great television allows us.”
Meyer admits large parts of the novel didn’t make it to screen and that hurt a little.
“But I really believe we made the right decision to stick to what works on screen. If the TV show is good enough the readers who love the book won’t mind if we moved away from the book a little bit,” he says, admitting he was still a little apprehensive until the series screened.
“So far not a single reader has ever said, ‘Oh but you’ve changed the book’. Everyone said they loved the TV show. To me that is the real measure of success.”
Trackers, Soho and Neon, Sunday June 7