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Starry, Starry Nation: Fostering a Film Identity and Celebrity Culture in South Africa

South Africa needs its own identity, culture and celebrity when it comes to film. Hollywood had the star system, which enabled movie studios to leverage their stars in order to gain more traction when marketing their films to an adoring public. This was done by creating personas for the young actors and originally came about because audiences wanted to know their names. In the early days of cinema, it was considered an embarassment to move from theatre into the seemingly substandard medium of film and many of the performers weren't actually identified. We've come a long way as evidenced by tabloids, intrusive paparazzi, bankable names, celebrity obsession, public personas, political clout and extraordinary salaries. There's something in us that compels humanity to raise a celebrated elite to take centre stage.

In South Africa, our sports stars have occupied this territory with names drawing more attention for sporting achievements and major endorsement deals than our entertainment industry. Social media and television personalities are also beginning to stake a considerable claim in this influential fandom, but film is languishing. There are moves for South Africa to play catch up with the idea of introducing a "star system", to help create a similar excitement around the idea of film stars. Somehow, we've been lagging when it comes to the development of name stars in our own country.

starry starry nation

Charlize Theron and Sharlto Copley, who recently co-starred in Gringo, have demonstrated that we have got the talent and star quality necessary to make it on the international scene, so what's wrong? Part of the problem is the fact that we have low self esteem as a film-making nation, not having really created our own film culture or identity, making us feel less than. This is perpetuated by the justifiable decision to leverage international stars with inherently South African films. Idris Elba and Naomi Harris were used to garner attention for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. People tend to hinge their viewing decisions on names, which makes recognisable stars critical to drawing an audience. If only we were able to build our own stars and have them carrying films rather than relying on outsiders to do the job.

It's great to see Sean Cameron Michael, Fana Mokoena, John Kani and Kim Engelbrecht making waves on the international stage, but we should be celebrating these breakthroughs and we've got a plethora of local actors who deserve much more attention than they're currently getting locally. Deon Lotz (Skoonheid, Faan se Trein, Shepherds and Butchers) is someone who you will recognise instantly if you've seen more than two South African films in the last decade. Thishiwe Ziqubu (Hard to Get, Man on Ground, While You Weren't Looking) has star quality and is turning in a number of significant performances. Christia Visser (Tess, Hollywood in my Huis, Alison) is a brave young actress with a bright future ahead of her. It's amazing that Israel Makoe (Four Corners, Avenged, Beyond the River), an actor with great presence and fierce energy, hasn't got more focus.

The media has a lot to answer for, not giving our talent enough space and commercial territory with which to create podiums. We need to believe in our stars and their amazing talent, and encourage the public to do the same. South Africa is so busy focusing on big international releases, that the smaller stuff where the real talent is blossoming is largely ignored. When we do shine with official Oscar contenders and those breaking into the international scene, there is some definite interest, but there is still not enough buildup and hype.

Generally-speaking, we have a conservative culture, which means that stars who are recognisable aren't at risk of being mobbed by fans. Perhaps this conservative, downplayed narrative needs to change. More needs to be done around stars and their media profiles to the point that the public becomes familiar and interested in them. We shouldn't be waiting for their talent to be acknowledged on a worldwide platform, but raising them up and celebrating them ourselves. Whether that be through publicists or based on merit alone - it needs to happen!

This doesn't only end at celebrity culture, but also requires a boost in support of arts and culture. Local film productions don't get enough attention in the buildup to opening weekends, which generally means that they don't last more than a week or two on mainstream circuit. Many don't even know when there is an opportunity to watch local film content. Our industry is growing in leaps and bounds but because there is still a stigma around the perceived quality of South African film, many don't really give local content the attention it deserves.

There should be a greater focus on getting South Africans to see local content, exposing them to faces that become more recognisable and generating hype around the idea of film stars. Growing confidence is essential to a viable, structured, credible and blossoming film industry. If the media takes an active role, the public becomes more interested and industry benefits, this will create a healthy self-replicating cycle. So I implore you, South African citizen, journalist, filmmaker, star, or potential funder to take a much more active promoting our country, arts and culture! Let's start these conversations, start tracking great local content and stars. Our spend follows our passion... so let's get excited about the stuff we're doing well, support it with more than a 'like' and there will be more of it!

Cinema Code of Conduct: 10 Rules to Make Movie-Going Great Again!

Cinemas are struggling to stay relevant to consumers. Traditionally, cinema complexes had a major competitive advantage offering films you couldn't see elsewhere, an unrivaled movie-watching experience and the opportunity to do movie night out with the gang. The struggle is trying to stay ahead of piracy, legal and illegal online content platforms, offering formats and experiences that surpass what's available commercially via home theatre technology.

While cinema chains like Nu Metro and Ster-Kinekor are rolling out the big guns with 3D, IMAX, Xtreme, D-BOX and VIP cinemas, they're missing one critical element of the experience... the patrons. Cinema goers are enticed by the rollicking movie experiences being offered, but the constant that is continually gnawing away at the overall experience is the human factor.

It's difficult to tell people what they can and can't do, but if one customer is destroying your product experience for another customer, you need to make changes and fast! The idea of movie-going has shifted from a regular occurrence to an occasional one... at least this is the way media conglomerates are treating the situation, diminishing their dedicated space for movie content and condensing their entertainment sections into a one size fits all. Everyone you meet will be able to tell you about a time when they had a bad movie experience, the problem is that more often than not, these experiences are avoidable.

Gyms have rules, so why can't cinemas too? You're meant to bring a sweat towel to the gym, not walk around barefoot on the weights floor and wipe down equipment after use. If everyone was being considerate and responsible, we wouldn't need rules. While our society strives to be considerate and responsible, guidelines and rules are there to uphold basic standards.

The cinema experience is a sacred one for people wanting to be transfixed by a film. Unfortunately, this isn't a view shared by everyone, which makes the buy-a-ticket-and-watch principle problematic. Not wanting to uphold any standards and trying to be everyone's buddy is actually doing more harm than good.

If cinemas introduced a code of conduct, they would go a long way to attracting movie goers for repeat experiences, turning occasional movie-going to a regular occurrence. Changing a culture isn't achieved overnight and if they're in it for the long run, they should be gently influencing their customers for the better. After opening the code of conduct idea to SPL!NG fans, we were able to come up with this list of ten basic rules that should be adhered to in order to improve cinema experiences.











Spling is encouraging cinemas to pin this poster up in their foyers, circulate this code of conduct on their channels even if it means making their own set of guidelines and campaign. If the build up trailer and ad segment is a good place to warn customers about holding onto their stuff, switch off their phones and what to do in the event of an emergency, this is a good place to influence behaviour. As an avid movie fan and someone who doesn't want to see cinema chains go down the same route as video stores, it's time to act now before it's too late. If you love movies, you'd want this list of rules to find its way to your cinema - so help us get there by sharing this poster on your channels!

Book Review: The Three Wells of Screenwriting - Matthew Kalil

three wells of screenwritingMatthew Kalil's The Three Wells of Screenwriting is a game-changing self-exploration and fresh perspective for budding to experienced writers. Identifying three sources of writing inspiration, namely: Imagination, Memory and External Sources, Kalil sets about re-organising the tools at the disposal of the writer. By understanding these three springs of inspiration, the writer is able to channel their imagination, access dormant emotions or memories and an array of experiences to hone their craft. Great screenwriting requires a balance of these three foundational inspirations and Kalil's able to activate these three channels, taking his own advice in the process.

By acknowledging, understanding and identifying the sources, one is able to use each perspective to self-analyse one's writing, to rewrite with more purpose and in some cases to cure writers block. Tapping into one's imagination, memory bank or trove of pop culture is empowering, and Kalil is able to plumb the depths of the mind to activate secret weapons: motivating writers to realise their true potential, coaching them to better utilise their unique frame of reference and training them to leverage experiential knowledge to aid their writing. Through carefully laid out and fun writing exercises, one is able to apply his principles, using techniques to open the floodgates of creativity and mining parts of the mind that seemed abandoned.

Through inspirational quotes, classic movie references, honest sharing and referring back to knowledge gleaned from conducting screenwriting and acting workshops, he unfurls great wisdom and many critical teachings in an accessible and entertaining manner. Using his insights, gathered over more than two decades of industry experience and coaching, he's perfectly poised to motivate screenwriters to up their game, reposition their craft and stretch their boundaries with some challenging and honest advice.

The Three Wells of Screenwriting is an excellent filter to prepare for writing and rewriting, and serves as a wonderful source of inspiration worth revisiting. In addition to acquainting us with the concept of The Three Wells, Matthew Kalil shares a number of insider tips on the writing process, visualisation, testing a scene by acting it out and creating a much richer canvas for the story to unfold. While geared toward screenwriting, The Three Wells of Screenwriting is a worthwhile read for any creative writing process or conceptualisation. Whether you're writing a novel, screenplay or just wanting to stretch your imagination or memory recall, you will find The Three Wells of Screenwriting a valuable resource and an empowering read. (Read sample, ISBN: 978-1615932863)

SAFTAs to be dubbed McSAFTAs?

The South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) also known as The Golden Horns was established by the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) in 2006 to acknowledge and celebrate talent in film and television. While the SAFTAs is now in its 12th year... it feels like we've taken a step back by enabling headline sponsors to run amok with flagrant advertising, tarnishing the austere and reputation of an event designed to celebrate excellence and purity of craft.

A glimpse at last year's highlights... try counting how many times you see the McCafe logo.

In February 2017, McCafe - a lifestyle coffee product from McDonald's South Africa - announced its headline sponsorship of the awards ceremony hosted in Sun City. Prominent McCafe logos from photo backdrops, television titles, official event logos, nominee cards and guest gift bags essentially dominated proceedings to the point that you'd almost expect to find a McCafe logo engraved on the actual Golden Horn award. This blatant disregard for awards etiquette and the true meaning of the ceremony, created a cheesy and pervasive tone that made the overarching alignment of a coffee drink with an awards ceremony inelegant, vulgar even.

This year McCafe has continued their sponsorship of the SAFTAs and from the announcement of the nominees, it appears this year could be even more overwhelming in terms of sponsor ownership to the point of giving the awards event the contemptible nickname, the McSAFTAs. Spling discusses why the SAFTAs... why we as South Africans, deserve better.

McSAFTAs - McCafe meets SAFTAs

South Africa needs and deserves a prestigious event to honour and encourage the on-going efforts of our talented local film and television industry. South Africa is in the throes of a film-making boom. The local film industry contributed R5.4 billion to the GDP in the 2017 period, raking up from R3.5 billion in 2013. It's clear that international film and television productions like working in South Africa thanks to our versatile locations, talented production crews, wealth of raw talent and associated economic benefits.

While we're growing in confidence and stretching our capacity to accommodate more big budget projects simultaneously, our local film-makers are making equally impressive strides, graduating from homegrown stories to broader pictures with more universal appeal and marketability. Our directors, cast, crews, studios and post-production facilities are producing excellent work and enabling over 20,000 film and TV jobs per year.

The SAFTAs deserves better than pandering to this kind of shameless advertising. While the McCafe sponsorship must have contributed the lion's share in terms of financing the event, it turned a prestigious red carpet celebration of national talent into a fully-fledged ad campaign, dwarfing achievement, honour and prestige in favour of a tacky brand alignment. While the televised event has generally been a bit mixed in terms of execution and even a bit iffy in terms of selection over the years, trying to encompass growth and variety within two mediums, the awards ceremony has seemingly managed without a headline sponsor or associate partner in previous years.

The SAFTAs need to find the right balance between awarding purity of craft and advertising contracts. This is best exemplified in film and television product placements, where commercial projects are much more prone to overt slapdash style advertising, knowingly sacrificing their audience's suspense of disbelief to make an extra buck or two. There are two ways to do this... and while some are discreet about their placements to the point of near-invisibility, others are about as subtle as a mechanical bull. Getting the right balance means every party is given due respect, honouring the recipients and tipping the hat to the sponsors.

12th SAFTAs 2018

Most international and national film and television awards ceremonies do not have to roll over to the "needs" of a headline sponsor or associate partner. These red carpet events are held to honour talent and purity of craft. When a ceremony plasters product logos in every conceivable space, however respectable the brand reputation, it undermines the actual achievement, integrity of the event and the notability of the guests. This disrespects the craft, the event, the people and the legacy - making for a rather tawdry affair that brings itself and its history into disrepute.

The SAFTAs need to be smarter about how monies are raised. Africa, and more specifically South Africa, is on the rise in terms of global interest as a film-making hub, tourist destination and melting pot for storytellers. There have got to be major investors, international co-ops or unions looking to get involved, who would only be too happy to co-produce the country's only official film and television awards event - there should be one for each.

If the European Union can co-fund over R51 million worth of civil society grant programmes for better accountability and governance in South Africa, there must be scope for similar film, media and TV funding initiatives.

The SAFTAs (and NFVF) need to petition government for more comprehensive funding. While our film industry is one of the oldest in the world, we're still considered an up-and-coming film nation in contrast with Hollywood and many equally productive film industries.  If we're struggling to raise funds to produce local film and television productions, then perhaps it's time to put more pressure on government for additional funding, improved incentives and better tax rebates for private companies that invest in our local film market.

Our movie industry is booming, contributing billions to the GDP and creating thousands upon thousands of jobs - surely government should be nurturing this growth potential even further through greater education initiatives and more efficient funding?

The SAFTAs need to be more subtle about how media assets are exploited by partners and sponsors. There need to be limits in terms of what can and can't be tagged by partner and sponsor branding. If an advertiser's contributions have been so extraordinarily generous that they essentially "own" the event, it would be much more discreet for them to dominate space during ad breaks than blistering the actual ceremony and its decor.

Our local entertainment industry must surely be at a tipping point where fans of local TV shows and films want to see their favourite stars winning accolades and delivering acceptance speeches. So why does it seem like a struggle to find suitable partners to mount and broadcast the production?

If the SAFTAs continue to allow McDonald's South Africa as McCafe or any other major sponsor, to dominate proceedings as a headline sponsor or associate partner, we'll have no choice but to start calling it McSAFTAs until they change their tasteless protocol for future events, or until people lose all respect for the awards ceremony.

If McCafe really wanted to celebrate and support the industry they'd realise that their ongoing "support" would be better served in a more inconspicuous fashion behind-the-scenes or better yet at a grass roots level to encourage young film-makers. If a premium brand like Jameson is able to align itself with and get behind up-and-coming film talent, there's really no excuse for any other big brand wanting to make an advantageous and meaningful partnership that meets marketing requirements and gives back to society. Here's hoping we can make some positive long-term changes for the SAFTAs and local entertainment industry in 2019.

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