A 13-episode educational youth drama, the first sePedi production in South Africa in many years, is currently shooting on locations in Limpopo and Gauteng.
Skeem Saam, directed by Norman Maake, will tell the story of three teenage friends who grapple with tough issues as they navigate their way from boyhood to manhood in a Limpopo township. It will air on SABC1 on 13 October.
According to creator, producer and head writer, Winnie Serite, South Africans have a voracious appetite for good local content, regardless of language.
“The subject matter will appeal to viewers across the country, and the series will also go a long way toward affirming and promoting the sePedi language and culture,’ says Serite.
To make the series more accessible, hearing impaired viewers, as well as those who don’t understand sePedi, will be accommodated with wall-to-wall subtitles. However, working in sePedi brings another set of challenges.
“The biggest challenge is that there is no vast pool of experienced sePedi speaking actors to tap into. We held auditions in Limpopo and Gauteng and discovered some hidden gems – we are proud to be nurturing new actors and creating a deeper pool of actors,’ says Serite.
Rite of passage
Skeem Saam was conceived in response to a 2008 SABC Education brief for a series about the rite of passage for boys. According to Serite the series is loosely based on a successful radio drama called Ispecial, of which they produced two seasons with SABC Education.
“In townships there are no formal rituals to mark the transition into adulthood, so teens often celebrate in their own misguided ways. Stories of teenage boys’ attempts at a rite of passage often make news headlines,’ explains Serite.
The team of five writers did some research and drew on their own experiences and those of people around them to develop storylines.
Serite notes: “Central to this drama is friendship and how guys use it to build and assert their identity. Hence the title Skeem Saam, which refers to a friendship clique and all the scheming and collaborating that goes on between the boys as the story unfolds.’
Characters Tbose Maputla and Kwaito Seakamela form the backbone of Skeem Saam and the series starts as they celebrate Tbose’s 16th birthday and the fact that Kwaito just won an essay writing competition. However, a hit and run accident thrusts the boys into challenging circumstances and tests their friendship.
Storytelling in the series is driven by the boys: “It also draws upon a wide pool of other characters to create a world ripe with dramatic possibilities. It gives us a glimpse into different family structures – nuclear, single-parent and gogo-headed – and the role parents play in helping boys to become responsible men.’
The setting of the series is the Turfloop township in Limpopo. Serite says Turfloop is a place of contrasts where rural meets urban, where working class meets middle class and where university students mix with ordinary folks. “The setting was chosen because it allows for the exploration of issues relating to community life and has a different social culture to places such as Soweto and Alexandra, where previous SABC youth dramas have been set. This gives us an opportunity to portray new, fresh characters with a culture that is rarely seen on our television screens.’
Production has passed the halfway mark and according to Serite one of the challenges has been shooting summer scenes in the rough winter weather. They are shooting on locations including Turfloop Limpopo, Temba-Hammanskraal, Sasani Studios and Tembisa.
Director of photography Chris Vermaak is shooting on a Panasonic AF-101 in full HD at 50 megabites per second to a nanoflash, which allows for seamless integration into Final Cut Pro. Therefore no transcoding is needed as footage is delivered as an uncompressed quick time file using an XDCAM codec.
“We have put together a small but strong team of people that work well together,’ explains Serite, “and we are putting in long, but satisfying hours.’
The target audience for the series is youth aged 14 to 34, with spill-over to age groups on either side. Serite believes the talented cast, a mix of experienced and new actors, together with the strong, emotionally engaging stories will attract viewers to the series. “The stories will resonate not only with young people across South Africa, but also with their parents,’ she explains.
Funding for the production came from the SABC and The Gauteng Film Commission.