Producer, writer and director Bonnie Rodini has worked in the television and film industry for almost two decades. Best known for producing and writing the feature film The Story of an African Farm starring Richard E. Grant, Good Life serves as her feature film debut as a director.
Good Life is the story of brokenhearted 30-something and oral hygienist, Olive Papadopoulous, who escapes everything she knows in Cape Town for small town life in Greece. When she discovers the remnants of her family home, Olive’s hostile and miserable welcoming committee force her to endure the great outdoors when she’s turned down at the only hotel in the village. Good Life stars Erica Wessels, Robyn Scott, Caleb Payne, Sven Ruygrok, Leon Clingman and Nicky Rebelo.
How did your own travels influence the film?
My father was Greek so a big part of my life is about Greece. I started writing the first draft of the script while visiting my aunt in a small village in Greece called Galaxidi.
The resourceful young refugee Jetmir, who gives the film its name, has something of the street urchin in David Lean’s Summertime in him, but as I understand it, your own son was a greater inspiration?
I didn’t know there was going to be a little boy in the film as I didn’t know that one day I would be adopting a boy. While writing a little voice popped into my head saying “What are you looking for?” I literally swung round in my chair to see where the voice was coming from. I’m not sure if Jetmir or my son came first.
Can you tell us about the crowdfunding initiatives you implemented to get the film’s funding in place?
I’ve been trying to raise the finance for 15 years. I got very close in 2009 on a trip to Greece but didn’t quite manage to raise enough. In 2012 I closed the finance but it fell through a few months later. In 2019 I tried a crowdfunding campaign but it was spectacularly unsuccessful. Then Covid hit and all the crew and cast who had absolutely no work agreed to work at hugely reduced rates, I raised the money I needed on my house and as they say the rest is history!
This is a passion project 14 years in the making. What was the genesis of Good Life, and how similar is the final film to what you had envisioned all those years ago?
I wanted to try tell my story about finding love and yes it is so close to what I had envisioned. I had to work very hard on the script to get it to a place where it was worth shooting.
Could you speak to the significance of the wishing well. How do curses, clairvoyance and folklore play into a film that is fundamentally cheerful?
Good question! My aunt has a well in her garden and the villagers believe the Pappa was thrown down there and you can still hear his bells ringing sometimes. I thought I heard them one night when I was at her house on my own! Giving someone a curse or “evil eye” is quite a strong cultural thing in Greece so I was bringing that in. My grandmother, mother and I have had strong psychic experiences so that feels like a natural part of my life.
There are reports that the film was shot during the first wave of Covid, and so plans to film in Greek locations were scrapped. What was it like shooting Cape Town for Greece, especially in the middle of winter?
It was freezing but the actors suffered the most having to peel off their layers for their summer attire. We shot just as the first lockdown lifted. I have always considered the possibility of shooting it all here, if we couldn’t raise enough to shoot it in Greece. I did location scouting for this purpose in about 2012.
Do you think, considering the touristic charm of the film, and with travel on the rebound these days, Good Life finding a home on Netflix now has made for good timing?
I hope so!
Can you tell us about working with Richard Hartley on the film’s score?
We have a mutual friend British writer/director James Dearden. James introduced us and I asked Richard if he would consider scoring the film. I wasn’t too hopeful but after he watched the offline edit of the film he jumped on board, which gave me great confidence.
There are several characters in the film who you could get a read on from their appearance alone (the gossipy gang of Greek grannies who spend most of the day floating in a semi-circle unpacking the latest developments comes to mind). Then there are a number of the villagers who have to come around to Olive’s presence. How do you suppose your extensive experience as a casting director aided in your work on the film?
I think my casting background was hugely helpful. If one actor wasn’t right for the film it would be a disaster. I had to hold castings very quickly to see if we did indeed have all the actors to play the key roles, otherwise I really would’nt have made it. There would be no point. To my huge relief all our South African actors rose to the challenge of learning Greek accents with our wonderful Robyn Scott who plays Haroula. Casting Jetmir was also a huge challenge and again if you don’t have a good actor the film will bomb.
Erica Wessels (Olive) has said that she was reluctant to take on the role she had played in a pilot more than a decade ago, feeling that she wasn’t right for the part anymore. In the final film, Olive’s arrested development plays into the importance of her trip. How did you accommodate the time difference for the character and performance?
I did try and cast the role when Erica felt “the ship had passed” but none of the other actresses were quite right for the role. I knew in my gut Erica was still Olive and she could still play 35.
What do you hope audiences take away after watching Good Life?
That love comes in many shapes and sizes and not just the traditional ones.
The Story of an African Farm took about 13 years to come together. Good Life has taken 14. What have been some of the biggest challenges in the filmmaking process?
Patience, earning a living in between trying to get it made. Finding the money!
In retrospect, would you have done anything differently and do you have another project in the pipeline?
I think in the end it was made exactly at the right time and the right place, I’m currently working on the prequel to Good Life.