As one of South Africa’s most loved filmmakers, he has, in his own way, attained a license from the public to do the things he does – and in most cases get away with a few swear words or a klap.
Producer Andre Scholtz, who worked with him on his latest film, Schuks! Pay Back the Money, says it well: “We catch these people out in difficult circumstances and Leon takes them the whole ten yards. But we cannot use those gags if they don’t sign off and give us permission to. Not once were we refused permission. In the end, people feel it’s an honour being caught out by him.”
While some publications have alluded towards a retirement, Schuster points out although this will be his last candid camera movie, it is certainly not the end. He and his team referenced a new project that involves a different kind of film, which is more narrative based and likely to extend to a larger, international audience.
He explains: “I am older now. I don’t want to do 20-25 gags in a movie, because that will kill me.”
Building a sensible narrative into the film allowed for sizable breaks between shooting.
Another reason is fear. According to the filmmaker, the psyche of the nation has changed dramatically since his early candid camera days.
“Because I live in Gauteng, I’m used to road rage. I get many fingers pointed at me in the rearview mirror. I just know that people’s tolerance levels are very low.
“In the nineties, when everybody was looking forward to the new democracy, they were much gentler. Before, it took time to work them up.”
Things, however, were not the same in this film. Schuster describes approaching a lady and before even saying a word, she was already swearing at him.
“The guys don’t have time to talk,” he says. “They just go into a rage about the government, about bad services, about Eskom. And my knees are vrot, I can’t run away like I used to.”
With this being his last gag film, Schuster hopes the younger generation will take the bull by its horns and carry on the tradition.
“Candid camera is a very popular form of entertainment,” he says.
“We’re a pranking nation. You look at the guys at university: they’re pranksters.
“There are so many opportunities to grab and make movies in this country.”
Ivan Lucas, who returns as the senseless crook Bossie, says: “We like to laugh at other people’s misfortunes.”
Schuster, however, prides himself on gags that people can identify with, which have some semblance to life in South Africa – as opposed to the new breed of comedy that’s surfaced, which sees people purposefully hurting themselves for amusement.
He concludes: “That has become very popular and I don’t think it’s going to stop. It has, I’m sure, led to deaths in some instances.
“That’s how far they are willing to take it.”