SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:
Muhammed Nagdee has been producing television shows for numerous DStv channels including Vuzu, VuzuAMP, Mzansi Magic, ChannelO, SuperSport and M-Net, for the past 10 years. Screen Africa chatted to him about what it means to be one of the leading live television producers in South Africa…
How did you come to find yourself working in television? Was it always the plan?
After Matric I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was quite into sport during school so I enrolled for a BA in Sports Psychology at what was then the Rand Afrikaans University (RAU). I lasted three months and realised that it wasn’t for me. The following year I transferred to WITS and signed up for a BA in Dramatic Art. It was during this year that I first realised that I had a knack for directing. I however didn’t complete the year at WITS. I had to take a gap year as I’d run out of finances to study.
After working odd jobs for a year, I managed to get my investor (my father) to give me one last try at studying. I then enrolled at AFDA to study Directing and Writing where I won the award for Best First Year Film… and was the top of my class in 2nd year. Straight after AFDA, I got a job at a company called Don’t Look Down (DLD) – initially in the digital division, which worked closely with M-Net’s New Media department. The job was as a junior editor for digital content for the M-Net Website. Twelve years later I’m still at the same company. I shifted to the broadcast division and worked my way up to becoming a senior producer and part of DLD’s management team. I have produced an excess of 2 500 episodes of live television over the past decade.
For the last 10 years, you have worked on V-Entertainment on Vuzu. How did the idea for this show come about and what do you attribute its success to?
I wish I could take credit for it but I most definitely can’t. The creation of the show is attributed to the wider team that launched Vuzu – DLD executive producer, Glenn van Loggerenberg and DLD executive creative director, Anton Cloete. I was a bystander at the time who was lucky enough to be involved by means of shooting some inserts. At the same time, I was producing a different show on Vuzu called The Verge – which was a groundbreaking gaming and tech show on South African TV. The Verge ended in 2012, at which point I moved completely over to V-Entertainment and have been producing the show ever since.
What exactly does the job of a live television producer entail?
I get this question a lot and it’s always difficult to answer… The simple answer would be that: I get the privilege of working and operating in a space that is reserved for a handful of people in the entire country. Live television is a production space unlike any other and requires the very best of the best in terms of crew and talent.
Live television depends on the quality of your planning and anticipation because there is no time to think and no chance for a do over. Considering that there are only so many live shows on local TV, it is highly competitive and performance driven space.
As someone who has produced shows across multiple genres and formats, what kind of content do you enjoy creating most and why?
My signature over the years has been thoughtful discussion. I think I’ve developed a reputation for bringing groups of celebrities and personalities together to discuss topics – whether it be serious or fun. I think it’s a skill I developed over time, which relies heavily on the trust I’ve built up with many of our biggest stars. Celebs trust me with their talent and brands, and in return I make sure they are never misrepresented and that we are always there for them when needed.
This relationship built on trust has allowed me to get celebs to talk about difficult issues like rape and abuse, but also gave me the opportunity to put together episodes like the V-Entertainment 1000th Episode Dinner, where we had Bonang Matheba, Minnie Dlamini, Somizi, etc… all sitting at the same table.
As someone who I’m sure has mentored many in the industry, who were/are your mentors? Why them?
First and foremost my executive producer Glenn Van Loggerenberg and DLD’s executive creative director Anton Cloete. Without the patience and guidance of these two gentlemen I wouldn’t be where I am today. Then there are colleagues like DLD’s creative director and fellow producer Tebogo Mogola, and Willie Burger, a master D.O.P and editor, who I’ve sought out advice and guidance from almost daily over the years.
My biggest mentor of all has to be my wife Ziona – if I don’t mention her, I’m going to have to find somewhere else to sleep when this article comes out. J
What has been your career highlight(s) to date?
Meeting and getting to know incredibly diverse and talented people is what drives me.
After that, introducing new talent and helping people’s careers grow is what I am most proud of. Putting people like Denise Zimba on the map; developing fantastic working relationships with people like AKA and Somizi; travelling with Lalla Hirayama to the U.S. to interview the cast of The Fast and the Furious; going with Nomzamo Mbatha to Germany to interview the cast of The Hunger Games.
Producing the I Am series for Women’s Month in 2013 and 2015 for Vuzu is something I am especially proud of, as it dealt with real issues and was nominated for a South African Film & Television Award (SAFTA).
Being the producer assigned to work on The Verge and PlayR; producing the first and only uncensored talk show in South Africa – The V Table; getting the opportunity to travel with Black Coffee to Ibiza in 2017; and spending almost a week with Terrence Howard and Taraji P Henson during they stay in S.A. in 2016 was something I’ll never forget.
What advice do you have for young people wanting to follow in your career footsteps?
Be willing and open to learn as much as you can. Learn to edit, learn to operate cameras, learn to write scripts, learnt to do admin like FCC sheets and Music Cue Sheets. Learn to take and give instructions. Learn to swallow your pride and do what you have to do to get the job done.
What legacy do you hope to leave?
Honestly, to be remembered as a cool guy to have known and worked with, that left the entertainment industry in a better state than he found it.
If you weren’t working in film and television you would be…?
Working in the music industry – or being a house husband. I quite like spending time at home with my kids.
What can we expect from you as a producer in the future? Any plans to cross over into the film industry?
For the time being – more and more ground breaking television broadcasts. With regards to producing and directing films – I really want to use my experience in producing television to contribute towards building the film industry before I actually participate in it.
South Africa is doing incredible work in the film space – I hope to be a part of it someday.