SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: Why is it that so many South African films rarely reach significant success at the local box office? According to a Box Office Report conducted by the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), local films’ box office revenues dropped by 44% from 2013 to 2014 – a discouraging figure for local filmmakers.
Vuyo Sekupa, NFVF head of production and development, referred to audience research conducted by the organisation and said filmmakers need to better understand what audiences want in order for their films to perform well. For example, in South Africa films in the comedy genre are known to resonate with local audiences and have a much better chance at success.
Sekupa added that marketing played a big role in the promotion of local films and said, “People make a decision about what movie they are going to watch based on the trailer. You’ve got to get trailers out and build some kind of a marketing strategy because local films are fighting against a Hollywood machine, with an extensive marketing plan.’
Currently English language films are struggling to draw cinema crowds, and Sekupa stated that people want to see movies in their own language. “We don’t see a lot of vernacular titles out at the box office, and that is something we potentially have to pay attention to,’ she said.
Restless Global founder Tendeka Matatu added that many local films do not do well financially or sell in international territories, not because people aren’t going to cinemas or because they don’t want to watch South African films but because filmmakers don’t yet fully understand what audiences want to see. He commented, “If you make obscure dramas that nobody wants to watch, nobody is going to watch them. If you are in the film business and you want to make commercial cinema, you’ve got to understand what sells.’
Clive Fisher, acquisitions and scheduling operations manager at Ster-Kinekor, stated that South African audiences are relatively conservative and do not respond well to films which feature strong violence and sex. “The minute your film has an age restriction higher than 13, you are losing about 50% of your cinema going audience,’ said Fisher. He added that a film’s cast played a huge role in attracting audiences and that films which feature local soap stars, especially those which are actively involved in marketing the movie, garner larger audiences by leveraging existing fan bases. Fisher referenced Pad na Jou Hart, a local film which performed the best in the period under review in the NFVF 2014 Box Office Report and received over R11 million in gross revenue. He explained how the two stars, Ivan Botha and Donnalee Roberts, had embarked on a roadtrip to promote the film, stopping at beaches across South Africa to meet and engage with fans. They were also actively involved and committed to cinema promotions of the film and Fisher believes this contributed largely to its success.