SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: Linda Krige writes… Pay-TV channel M-Net launched its “revolutionary’ new locally produced soap The Wild with a glamorous function at Nu Metro Montecasino on Sunday, despite unhappiness about actor contracts and a picket by the Creative Workers Union of South Africa (CWUSA).
The first four episodes of the soap by M-Net’s in house production company Magic Factory was shown to industry and media guests and was greeted with loud applause. The soap is set on a five-star game lodge and the first episodes feature feuding families, love affairs, wild animals and rhino poachers.
CWUSA members took up their post on Montecasino Boulevard before the launch and displayed posters calling for a boycott of M-Net because of the “unfair dismissal’ of actor Tony Kgoroge due to his refusal to sign a contract that would see him lose all commercial exploitation rights and the right to residuals. Before the event CWUSA President Kid Sithole said: “By picketing the launch of The Wild CWUSA is sending a strong message to broadcasters not to tamper with actors’ rights.’
Kgoroge has been replaced with Putla Sehlapelo in the important role of Tiro Lebone, and cast members at the launch seemed keen to focus on the strengths of the production, which they were seeing for the first time along with the guests.
M-Net’s director of general entertainment, Theo Erasmus, said at the introduction to the new soap that it was revolutionary because it was shot on location, based on a model used by South American telenovellas. Erasmus said they also looked for a concept that was very South African.
Former Generations star Connie Ferguson, who plays Marang Lebone, agreed that shooting on location and in high definition is groundbreaking. “You are so part of the environment, it’s also very unpredictable’.
Ferguson said M-Net has been a somewhat untapped market for black actors, which makes the new soap with a very strong black cast all the more groundbreaking for the channel and the industry.
According to James Alexander, in the “role of a lifetime’ as conservationist Tristan van Reenen, shooting The Wild on location feels like working on a film set.
The location is in the scenic Heidelberg area of Gauteng, with actors meeting in Johannesburg every morning for an hour’s drive to the location, where they shoot 14-hour days. “It’s been hard,’ added Alexander.
However, he believes shooting on location is elevating the quality of production in South Africa in general, and taking crew and actors to a new level – a significant development for the hard-hit industry. M-Net has said in a statement that the production has created 120 jobs.
“I don’t think we fully realize the significance of this production to the local industry yet,’ said Alexander.
With regard to the controversy surrounding Tony Kgoroge, Alexander said it has created a difficult situation for cast of The Wild, with many scenes having to be reshot when Kgoroge was replaced by Putla Sehlapelo.
According to Alexander there are issues that need to be dealt with, and while he respects Kgoroge’s way of choosing to fight the issue, he supports the South African Guild of Actors (SAGA), which focuses on negotiation rather than protest and has arranged a meeting with M-Net on 14 April to discuss contractual issues and residuals.
Ferguson said while she admires and respects what Kgoroge is doing, she sees herself as more of a diplomat. “It’s a battle we’re all fighting, but there has to be a way to negotiate a mutually beneficial contract. The cast have negotiated much that we’ve been unhappy with, and some of it has been changed,’ said Ferguson.
Alexander said he knows of many actors leaving the country in search of greener pastures. While he believes there is a future for actors in South Africa, there needs to be reasons for them to stay, and contract negotiations are part of that.
He said while they have talked about the issues as a cast, they are trying not to let the controversy reflect in the production.
“What is interesting is that there has never been a project of this calibre that makes the fight so worth having,’ he explained.
The Wild also stars Shona Ferguson, Ian Roberts, Tumisho Masha, Milan Murray, Lele Ledwaba, Faye Peters, Melusi Yeni, Gail Nkoane, Michell Bradshaw and Nathaniel Ramabulana. It starts on Monday 4 April at 6pm on M-Net.