Extras Coordinator, JP van der Merwe faced a considerable assignment to identify and recruit the thousands of individuals that were in Mandela's life; from the innermost layer of family and close friends, to rural villagers, to freedom fighters, policemen, government officials, guards, and Island prisoners, to the wider layer of township residents to the masses of angry rioters, and finally the colossal crowd assembled at Victor Verster to welcome their hero as he took his first steps to freedom. The final count exceeded 10 000.
Staying consistent with Chadwick's desire to imbue the picture with a deep-seated quality, van der Merwe explains. "I didn't want to go with the regular procedure of casting agency extras. They are used to doing movies and have lost their innocence. I wanted to get in real people, who are still living the struggle every day."
With the impossible task of navigating the relatively haphazard framework of communication in impoverished communities, van der Merwe relied on the community leaders to nominate individuals who were unemployed and desperate for work. From there, van der Merwe set up a systematic process to fulfill the scheduling requirements of the production. On many occasions van der Merwe worked through the night trying to locate and confirm the extras on call the following day. "Most of these people don't have regular phones or cellphones, it was a humungous job to run smoothly, and we also had to be sensitive to their expectations; you can't have 2 000 extras arrive and face the disappointment that only 200 are needed."
Involving the local communities provided much needed employment, and Vlokkie Gordon emphasizes the production's commitment to invest in the community. "A film is an entity moving into someone else's space and our aim was to empower people, the story is very much their own."
Discussing the vast challenges of executing a movie with 283 scenes 200 sets each with a minimum of 2 or 3 set pieces, and a cast and crew of hundreds travelling throughout South Africa, Gordon considers that the most difficult aspect, in her point of view, was the restrictive scheduling. "A typical day would involve: 'what period are we in, what do they look like and in what stage of make-up, and this would take a team of 14 skilled prosthetic make-up artists up to 4 hours to transform a character. By Call Time on a period day, we would have up to 80 people who had been working since 3:30am."
With nearly 10 000 individuals involved in the production, - the film in production scope, and budget - is the largest African movie ever made on the continent. "This film is empowering, it's employing, it's training and educating and it breaks new ground in our industry," states Gordon.