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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.

The State of Our (Film) Nation

Observations on the South African Film Industry

While we only officially got television in 1976, the South African film industry is one of the oldest in the world dating back to 1895. Moving from the system of Apartheid to the new South Africa means that our political landscape and social structures have been fragmented and in a state of flux for several decades. In a broad overview and attempt to encapsulate the state of our (film) nation, Spling makes some observations on some of the strengths and weaknesses of the South African film industry.

State of our Film Nation

Positive Outlook

Writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson, who recently shot Resident Evil: The Final Chapter praised South Africa as a film-making destination. We've got some of the best locations and most professional film crews, who make the film-making process a pleasure. While there are a few niche areas of specialisation that require advanced training, forcing productions to recruit key crew from outside the country, it's an excellent destination for international film-makers. His sentiment was echoed in an interview with City of Violence director, Jérôme Salle, who had only good things to say about filming in South Africa. "Two of the four projects I have, are scheduled to shoot in Cape Town not because it's a Capetonian story but just because it's a great place to work with great crew."

"...our local film industry contributed R5.4 Billion
to the GDP during the 2016/2017 financial year..."

In terms of growth and economic progress, South Africa's film industry is one of the best performing national sectors, which deserves more focus and funding. A four-year Economic Impact Assessment study conducted by Urban Econ from 2013-2017 revealed that our local film industry contributed R5.4 Billion to the GDP during the 2016/2017 financial year. The study concluded that more than 21,000 jobs had been crafted with "an increase by a multiple of 4.9 in the employment multiplier for every R1 invested". This positive trajectory and job creation means that more TV, commercial and film productions are making South Africa this destination of choice and we should be harnessing these opportunities and leveraging the system for our own needs.

Great Talent

Salle went on to heap praise on our local film industry saying that "From a practical and technical point-of-view I think you're at the top. I've spoken with many directors from all over the world and we all think shooting here is wonderful." We've got the human tools: the crew, the directors and some promising acting talent. One missing component or unknown seems to be screenwriters. Some screenplays take more than a decade to reach the actual film-making process and there's a misconception that scripts can be written to completion in a few weeks by just about anyone with half an idea.

"...screenwriters are undervalued in South Africa..."

The screenplay isn't given as much gravitas as the rest of the production, making it a malleable afterthought rather than the time-honoured blueprint it should be. While screenplay incubators and workshops are seeking to improve the overall quality of screenwriting talent in South Africa, we're still not up to international standards. Adding terms and conditions, doesn't make it any easier as funding is largely tied to adhering to the safety of genre and formula. While arguably a good launch pad for debutants, screenwriters are undervalued in South Africa and this perception doesn't encourage screenwriters to specialise or dedicate themselves to script-writing for film as a full-time pursuit.

World Class Directors

South Africa has a good reputation when it comes to direction with a horde of established and up-and-coming directors working on big budget international features. While these talents are certainly making us proud in Hollywood and at esteemed film festivals, the majority have emerged from international film schools. Local film schools such as AFDA have a good reputation, are unearthing a new generation of film-making talent and are opening their doors with campuses at major centres across the country. When you look at our most prolific directors, most of them have received their foundational education in Canada, the United States or the United Kingdom. With mounting accolades, experiential knowledge and an ever-broadening collective of local and international experts in their employ, our local film schools are quickly bridging the gap.

...we've got a wealth of amazing South African
stories waiting to be turned into feature films...

Skoonheid director, Oliver Hermanus, who trained at the London Film School believes we're operating within a fraternity of back-slappers and says "...we are still not educating ourselves as film directors, we do not watch enough cinema and we do not broaden our horizons as feverishly as I believe we all should." There's a naievty to our films that holds us back from achieving the depth and breadth of what's possible. While our focus has been on the concept of South Africa according to the world, we've got a wealth of amazing South African stories waiting to be turned into feature films. Our diversity, rich history, state of transition, social issues and status as a country with major societal imbalances makes us a hub for rich storytelling, great conflict, thematic gravity and an array of potential. From in-depth character studies to crime sagas, South Africa is ripe with possibilities and it's quite surprising that more international film-makers aren't taking inspiration from our beautiful country and its melting pot of cultures.

Amazing Locations

Cape Town is frequently listed as a top 10 city by many travel magazines, newspapers and websites. Table Mountain, the Cape winelands, pristine beaches, beachfront promenades, informal settlements, varied architectural styles in the CBD, incomplete freeways, varied suburban dwellings, farmlands, forests, mountainous regions, rivers, quarries, lakes, game reserves... it seems that you can emulate almost any part of the world within a 2 hour drive. Just one region in a country with many characterful metropoles, natural environments, plenty of fair weather days and a stable climate, makes South Africa a major contender and world class film-making location.

Cost Effective

The film industry has adjusted to the effects of globalisation introducing the art of outsourcing. Whether employing post-production services in another country or choosing to film in a country where the exchange rate and tax incentives reduce overheads, South Africa is competing on all fronts. For instance, hiring an expert pilot, a helicopter and top end equipment costs a fraction of the cost of shooting the same scene in the UK or USA and is at the very least competitive with other similarly poised film destinations. The high costs associated with carrying a large scale production over a number of weeks are greatly reduced without sacrificing on quality, making South Africa a strong contender for international productions working within tight margins. The demand is so high that there's a need for more film studios and more production crew as major productions tend to usurp most key working talent available.


There's a drive to introduce the "star system" so that local acting talent can be better aligned with international cast members and win more acclaim. For many years, local actors have been overlooked in favour of international stars. The excuse of hiring bankable name stars is justifiable when you consider these productions need to win over an international audience, but with the likes of Charlize Theron and Sharlto Copley, who are set to co-star in Gringo, one feels there needs to be a shift of belief. We've got the raw talent that converts to Hollywood material, but how do we leverage and sharpen our offering?

...[it's] more of a challenge to quash the air of naivety
that is still perpetuated by many local productions...

In a film workshop discussing District 9 at the Cape Town International Film Festival & Market in 2017, Copley said that he believes acting is our country's weakest link with much of our shared knowledge evolving from our country's strong tradition of theatre and television. His refreshing honesty did rattle some members of the audience, but having gone through the meat grinder and worked on both sides of the camera, he's in a position where we can't simply ignore this sentiment, however tough to swallow. While it seemed like an affront and treacherous blow to our national pride, it was more of a challenge to quash the air of naivety that is still perpetuated by many local productions.

Money, Money, Money

The South African film industry has by-and-large depended on the Department of Trade and Industry (dti), the National Film & Video Foundation (NFVF) as well as the Industrial Development Corporation for funding. While there are mixed reports, some of these traditional channels have been criticised for not being viable or open enough to fund local films. Their policies preclude many film-makers from making the films they want to make in order to safeguard box office returns instead of recognising talent.

Adapting screenplays, adjusting production crews and changing characters to meet these guidelines is meant to work towards effecting transformation, but is actually diluting ambition, stunting creative freedom and stifling the artistic pursuit. It is ultimately a business, but in a fragmented film industry where we don't have a national film identity, the terms and conditions are making it increasingly difficult to get worthy films to market. As a side effect, this has led to "a rise in funding from the private sector".

...our industry's greatest challenge is money...

This is probably why many film-makers are turning to film investors like KykNet to get their films made. With Afrikaans as the main proponent and what appears to be a hungry film audience, this segment seems to be growing with more and more Afrikaans films being produced each year. While "romcoms" have probably been the most profitable in terms of box office returns, there's a growing maturity as more varied genres are getting their time in the Sun. Despite these allowances and several outstanding South African productions, many local film-makers are still not satisfied and are relocating to Los Angeles to continue their pursuit and hone their craft.

Jérôme Salle believes our industry's greatest challenge is money. His advice for our country is to take a page from France, where they create a tax for every ticket sold, saying: "You take a percentage and you give it back to make movies. We still make 150 movies a year in France thanks to that." Local cinemas are currently reinventing their offering to keep patrons interested and stay ahead of advances in home theatre. While the cutting edge technology of IMAX and luxury cinema experiences are creating some renewed interest from film goers, locally produced films are struggling to crack the Top 5 at the box office. There are one or two exceptions, but there's not enough hype around local releases going into the critical opening weekend. Without the support of local audiences, these films aren't getting the attention they deserve, dropping from the circuit after a week or two.

Decline in Media Exposure, Publicity and Interest

Film-going has been downgraded from being regarded as a regular entertainment activity to an occasional pursuit. While advances in home theatre technology, the prevalence of piracy, economic recession and rising movie ticket prices are contributing factors, the bottom line is that less media presence means less awareness and front-of-mind decision-making.

This has led many South African news media channels to condense or downsize their entertainment divisions, meaning that gossip columns, theatre, television and film are sharing the same stage. Generally-speaking, this means movies have been relegated to simple synopsis style write ups, rehashed press releases, syndicated reviews and of these, most are centred on Hollywood content or superfluous celebrity. This media downgrade means that there's not enough local publicity, awareness of film offerings, national releases or promotion of local talent in an already under-represented marketplace.

...many South African projects need to be "discovered"
and loved overseas before they resonate locally...

With film releases relying more heavily on the ability of their PR/marketing agency and traditional film news broadcasters drying up, it's becoming increasingly difficult to service the hype. Partnering with corporates is opening doors in terms of garnering a pre-existing database of prospective audience members, but it's not enough. Guerilla film marketing is becoming more prevalent and inspiring creativity in terms of getting the loudspeaker crackling, but it seems unfair for the onus to fall on the film-makers to create, market and distribute in their own capacity when they're already operating on a shoestring budget by international standards.

South Africans have been traditionally influenced by mainstream media and as a fairly conservative nation, aren't as predisposed to fostering self-made fandoms through discourse and strong opinion. Latching onto mega franchises that are already achieving on a global scale seems to be the norm. With a limited pop culture for our arts and culture segment, many South African projects need to be "discovered" and loved overseas before they resonate locally. Our film-makers are also limiting themselves in their storytelling, failing to capture universal themes that would make their movies more appealing and identifiable for broader international audiences.


While South Africa's film industry is showing remarkable growth, moving from a GDP contribution of R3.5 Billion in 2013 to R5.4 Billion in 2017, it's leaving behind much of its human capital. The industry is admittedly fragmented and while there's a slow increase in the demographic make up of actors, crews and film-makers... for the most part, it remains untransformed. NFVF CEO, Zama Mkosi, says: “There is a strong need for transformation in our industry. If the industry is to continue the same growth trajectory that has been witnessed in recent years, it should focus on transformation. Gender representation in particular remains low." There's a need for a skills development programme geared towards young, black film-makers. Aifheli Makhwanya, Head of Policy and Research at the NFVF says the view that “film-making is just an art" is limiting growth in this sector.

...we're sitting on the cusp of a film renaissance in South Africa...

While there are many pre-existing socio-economic factors at play, we're sitting on the cusp of a film renaissance in South Africa. Our industry is already showing positive growth and we haven't even activated the full extent of our human capital. If government entities can commit more funding to growing our film industry through education and attracting more productions, it seems that the demand for jobs can increase, the notion that "film is art" can be smashed and more young film-makers can find their place in the ever-widening local film market. If more jobs can be created and our middle class segment can be stretched to match other strong film-making nations, this can only improve attendance figures and lead to more locally-produced content. If government isn't willing to support this initiative, one would hope that local film schools, film-making mentorships, like-minded corporates and guerilla "Nollywood" style film-making would rise up to take full advantage of the radical growth.

The insights expressed in this opinion piece have been gathered from observations, conversations, workshops, press releases and industry articles. Being a living document, Spling would encourage you to express your views from the point-of-view that this is an on-going conversation rather than a once-off statement, designed to stimulate debate and brainstorm to solve pre-existing perceptions or inherent problems. Let's aim to make our film industry great with continuous improvements and self-reflective dialogue between all players from a corporate level to individual basis.

Spling Reveals How to Predict Oscar Winners

The Academy Awards ceremony is a gathering of the who's who of Hollywood. With Oscars 2018, just around the corner... it's time to discuss who is in with a chance from the list of Oscar nominations. The much-anticipated and prestigious calendar event separates the winners from the whiners, making this information critical. Having had their fair share of controversy with #OscarsSoWhite, they have been found at fault on more than one occasion. Forgetting Anthony Hopkins won a Best Actor for a supporting role in The Silence of the Lambs and many unusual decisions like Boyhood losing to Birdman (maybe just me?), the awards and 'For Your Consideration' campaigns have demonstrated that it's a very political guessing game.


The good, the bad and the ugly... awards season has continued to surprise with Christopher Plummer winning in his 80s and Kevin Spacey keeping his award in light of recent revelations. While a serious event, there's plenty to laugh at, which is Spling took it upon himself to reveal some top tips around the Oscars and how to predict winners. What is the Academy looking for when they vote on the final selection. What do you have to do to get your film noticed and nominated? How can we figure out what makes that little gold naked Oscar guy so coveted among actors and film-makers?

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