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Carly Barnes

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Mean time between failure

With the recent natural disaster in Japan that led to the melt down of nuclear reactors the question of maintenance of other reactors – old and new – is under the spotlight. The old adage of “don’t fix it until it’s broken’ no longer cuts it and routine maintenance is imperative. Not least with respect to broadcast and semi-professional equipment.

Downtime costs money and can potentially lose clients, so how do suppliers, facilities houses, broadcasters and rental houses ensure that their needs are met in this regard?

There was a time when most of the larger facilities and broadcasters employed trained engineers whose skills included repairs to component level. But with the increased use of board exchange technology and interrogation of equipment via the Internet, most engineers are employed to ensure that the facility continues to run, but do not effect board repairs.

Enter the private engineer. Not employed by any specific supplier, facility or broadcaster, these unusual beings are able to repair, in their own workshops, a wide variety of equipment from many different suppliers. One such person is Ivor Westpfahl of Central Engineering based at Stonewedge Office Park in Johannesburg.
“I was at Video Lab for years and I saw a gap in the market,’ he says. “There was a private engineer at that time but he emigrated to Australia. He had been an authorised Sony dealer, so I figured that I could start out on my own and do the same thing.

“Most of my work is on Sony equipment but I also handle the maintenance and repair of a wide variety of equipment including Telecines. If the facilities have a fault that will require several hours of repair they send it to me. This also applies to broadcasters M-Net, SABC and e.tv. Their resident engineers do whatever is required to keep the show going on a day to day basis, but they won’t repair to component level any longer.’

Fragile equipment

Westpfahl says that the amount of repairs required in the non-broadcast side of equipment is high due to their greater fragility. “Take the Sony PD 170, there are literally hundreds of them out there. These used to be serviced by Sony, but now I do this work and I have taken on ex-Sony staffer Martin Silver to handle these types of repairs.’

Another such provider of repair services, installations, system integration modifications and rig building is Timbre Broadcast Systems, which based in Bryanston. Timbre is an official Panasonic Broadcast Workshop and also repairs Sony, JVC and most types of equipment used in the broadcast industry.
Says Timbre’s Armand Claassens: “Generally the supplier, broadcaster or facility does not have their own repair workshop facilities and they can’t handle the workload – or it takes too long and they are unable to follow up with on site visits to repair system integration faults.

“We undertake most repairs to any broadcast related equipment as well as doing call outs to repair faults on site. The need for independents is always going to be high and there are very few people able to cover the broad spectrum required by the industry. For that matter there are very few people or companies able to offer a complete turnkey solution internally within their company. Combined with sales, which you get because of offering a good aftermarket service, business is good.’

The right stuff

Westpfahl believes there is probably scope for further expansion. “It’s just hard to find the right type of guy to expand the business. Sitting behind a bench fault finding is not everyone’s cup of tea.’

Dexter Forbes of Specialised Broadcast Sales and Services (SBSS), based in the Waterfront Studios complex in Cape Town, agrees about expansion. “We have recently taken on trainee Alain Trebo who was previously at Timbre in Johannesburg as the workload over the past three months has increased dramatically,’ says Forbes.

SBSS is a supplier of broadcast equipment as well as the only official Sony accredited workshop in the Cape Town region. They supply answers and advice to questions clients may have with regards to ever changing technology. Some of the major agencies they represent and support are Sony, Editshare, Steadicam and Digital Rapids to name a few.

“Our core business is to support the local television industry with maintenance and sales,’ says Forbes, “and included in our client list is the SABC, e.tv and all the major studios and facilities. In fact I recently completed a major service to one of e.tv’s Sony MSW-M 2000P multi format VTRs.

“The major suppliers it seems decided to outsource their repairs and maintenance some years ago because repairs down to component level (which I do) are time consuming and require “old’ skills. I have been in the business for 31 years so it’s second nature to me.’

There seems little doubt that the market for the independent maintenance engineer is constant and growing. Little wonder really when one considers the amount of equipment out there and the (almost) monthly introduction of new technology. A growing market indeed.

Tapeless HD / SD solution goes direct

Johannesburg based Sasani Studios is bridging the gap between studio camera acquisition and post-production by recording directly to hard drive using the Apple ProRes 422 Codec.

Sasani Studios is not new to the tapeless environment as it designed and has run complete tapeless turnkey solutions for various productions for the past three years. The most popular and media intensive production was Big Brother Africa, a 24 / 7 three-month reality show recording directly to shared media drive systems.
According to Sasani’s Neil van Heerden, the studio recently integrated a tapeless HD / SD solution into its flexible studio recording infrastructure.

He explains: “Our various sized film and television broadcast studios, supported by our numerous digital studio camera chains and digital control rooms, can now record directly to separate, tapeless, portable hard drives in the Apple ProRes 422 codec. This allows for a new way of connecting our clients’ production and post-production, saving time in editing and maintaining the best possible quality by recording pristine 10-bit ProRes 422 media, which is immediately available to edit within Final Cut Studio, AVID and other professional editing systems.’

Van Heerden notes that since its introduction two years ago, Apple ProRes 422 has become the codec of choice for professional editors. “Our portable hard drive recorders are the latest product to provide support for ProRes 422 natively in hardware, and for the first time deliver immediate access to the 10-bit, full raster ProRes 422 codec directly from source.

“Recording directly onto these hard drive recorders allows filmmakers, broadcasters and video professionals to skip the process of re-rendering to an editing codec by giving immediate access to full raster edit-ready ProRes 422 files. Sasani can now record hours of media to a removable storage module with built in FireWire 800 or to 34mm ExpressCard Flash. The hard drive recorder allows for real-time monitoring, providing instant playback of recorded files at the push of a button.’

The Sasani system records to single or multiple ISO feeds simultaneously with locked timecode. There is capacity to record eight channels of audio on each record device. This means that recordings on mics or instruments, or various audio feeds, can be done on individual channels, giving the audio engineer complete control over the audio in final mix.

“Clients wanting to utilise our tapeless system are required to supply their own portable hard drive. At the end of the shoot day we will copy the recorded files onto the client’s supplied portable drive and simultaneously copy the files to a Sasani network as a temporary backup (safety) until the client has confirmed that the footage is in their edit system. Sasani either offers the client the option to save the files to a proper digital archive system for long time storage or we get approval from the client to delete the files from our system,’ explains Van Heerden.
Sasani has already successfully recorded several productions on the tapeless system such as Jozi Maboneng and Comedy Sho.

The dynamics of film

Moving from the television production environment to the world of short film taught South African filmmaker Uzanenkosi a whole new way of telling a story.

“When you shoot a television drama you have to complete a prescribed number of minutes each day, so it can be a bit of a compromise. But making my first ever short film Tshingwe na Tshingwe (Anything) allowed me to work in a more freely creative way. It was a great learning curve,’ says Uzanenkosi.

Tshingwe na Tshingwe is the 20-minute end product of the 2010 MultiChoice Film Talent Incubator (FTI) Grooming Exceptional Talent (GET) course, which allowed Uzanenkosi to do a short film course at an overseas institution of his choice. This was the National Film and TV School in Beaconsfield, UK.

“The FTI, which is done in conjunction with the Big Fish School of Digital Filmmaking, is a marvelous community initiative for previously disadvantaged individuals. If you are chosen to do the FTI’S advanced course (GET), then you come away with a short film after finishing the course, which is amazing. GET also allows you to choose a mentor for your short film and I picked Robbie Thorpe of TOM Pictures, he is a wonderful filmmaker and person,’ explains Uzanenkosi.
Tshwinge na Tshwinge was inspired by a story from a homeless man called Tshabalira Lebakeng. Uzanenkosi wrote the screenplay that centres on a 15-year-old boy desperately trying to fit in with his new community. It is a story about the abuse of power.

Compromise

The film was shot late last year over three and a half days in Everton, which is an hour outside of Johannesburg. DOP Eran Tahor shot the film on a Canon 5D camera.
Uzanenkosi continues: “Each day we lost so much time because of travelling to the location that we ran out of money. As I didn’t want to compromise the film, I approached MultiChoice Corporate Social Investment (CSI) manager Itumeleng Letebele and she kindly granted us extra funds.’

Uzanenkosi notes that local crews are very willing to assist in making the film beyond the limited budget.

Three days of rehearsals helped to build a relationship between the actors and director. He says: “Some scenes were hard to do because it was necessary for the actors to embarrass themselves. As a director I had to figure out how to make them do what I wanted.

“The short film course in the UK taught me to keep a diary of things that I learnt every day while directing Tshingwe na Tshingwe. Making the film was a process of growth for me.’

Uzanenkosi has always been keen to help other previously disadvantaged individuals (PDIs) forge their careers. Three years ago he created the website www.pitchit.co.za, an online market where writers can pitch their scripts.

PRODUCTION CREW:

Executive Producers: MultiChoice, Big Fish School of Digital Filmmaking
Producer: Robbie Thorpe
Production Designer: Martha Sibanyoni
Production Manager: Kamohelo Mokoena
Sound: President Kapa
Off-line Editor: Ziggy Hofmeyr
Equipment: Media Film Service, Digital Films, CJ Photographic Solutions
Key Cast: Mpho Sebeng, Anele Mnguni, Junior Singo, Nkhodeni Ramagwede

Aluta makes its mark

The Aluta Film Festival kicks off from 25 to 28 May in Kimberly, South Africa. Some of the top films on the programme include Only When I Dance from Brazil and The Black Candle from the US, as well as films from all over the continent.

“We have documentaries, features and shorts from over 36 countries from the diaspora and the rest of the world,’ says festival director Motheo Seleke. “There will also be opening night and closing night ceremonies. We are sincerely committed to making the Aluta Film Festival South Africa’s premiere African cinema event for high-quality feature films.’

At this year’s festival a panel discussion with filmmakers will aim to highlight film industry opportunities. Conversations with celebrity guests have been introduced so that local filmmakers can talk to them about their experiences in the industry.
Aluta is the brainchild of Seleke, an independent filmmaker and entrepreneur who originally founded the festival in 2003, which was then known as Galeshewe African Film Festival.

Seleke explains that his reason for creating the festival was to address the lack of viewing platforms for African films. “The festival aims to raise awareness about the film industry within the broader Northern Cape area and to highlight the cross-culture and diverse nature of content that is explored by the broader film industry in Africa and the diaspora.

“It also showcases the high quality of production that the South African film industry creates and offers an opportunity for networking. Aluta creates bridges of understanding among the Northern Cape community to reshape the current social and political discourse.’

The festival is primarily self-funded. Says Seleke: “We generate income from the initiatives that we organise as the Aluta Film Projects. These are breakthrough film development initiatives aimed at forging necessary partnerships to develop a viable film industry in the central region of the Northern Cape, Free State and North West. Over the years we have had several stakeholders interested in the festival that have partnered with the Northern Cape Department of Sports, Arts and Culture and the Northern Cape Tourism Authority. Several other significant stakeholders have also expressed interest and we are finalising discussions in this regard.’

Seleke maintains that the festival has been successful as it has become a recognised event on the film calendar.

“We rank among the top five film festivals in South Africa. I am proud of how far we have come. Not only does the community benefit from the festival but filmmakers can showcase their work. The streets have come back to life with events such as the Aluta Open Air Cinema, Aluta Community Showcase, the Schools Cinema Cafe, filmmakers panels and other special events organised around the festival.’

SA at Hot Docs

For the first time South Africa will have an official presence at Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary festival that runs in Toronto, Canada from 28 April to 8 May. The South African delegation will be led by the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) and includes four representatives from the Documentary Filmmakers Association (DFA) – Lauren Groenewald, David Forbes, Ryley Grunenwald and Bonny Hajj.

According to DFA co-chair Lauren Groenewald, the DFA delegation is a direct result of the Association’s treasurer, Pascal Schmitz, making contact with Hot Docs earlier this year. Schmitz and a DFA team then met with the NFVF to ask for the support.
“The DFA subsequently approached its membership to apply independently to the NFVF for support to attend Hot Docs,’ explains Groenewald, who is co-ordinating the DFA delegation. “We hope to build relationships with similar industry bodies at Hot Docs as we’ll meet up with distributors and other players. We have been offered a page in the Hot Docs Industry Guide to profile the DFA and our films are included in the Digital Doc Shop.’

Two members of the DFA delegation will sit on a panel on the state of documentary filmmaking and co-production in South Africa. The South African delegation will participate in Hot Docs’ International Co-production Day on 2 May.

All four DFA delegates will also attend the event in their personal capacity. Groenewald will represent her company Plexus Films and Afrikaaps, a Plexus Films / Glass House NL co-production, will be profiled at the on-line Doc Shop. Other projects Groenewald is taking to Hot Docs are King Naki, directed by Tim Wege and produced by Miki Redelinghuys; I Afrikaner, a Plexus Films/ Big World Cinema co-production directed by Annalet Steenkamp and Ghoema, a film by Sara Goveia, Angela Ramirez and Calum MacNaughton.

Shadow Films’ David Forbes’ 2010 Durban International Film Festival-winning The Cradock Four will be featured at the Hot Docs Doc Shop. “I’m also arranging a private screening of the film in Toronto. On the distribution side I will represent new documentary films including: Uprising of Hangberg (Dylan Vally and Aryan Kaganof), Mandela: Prisoner to President (Peter Davis), The Battle for Johannesburg (Rehad Desai) and American Foulbrood (Carlos Francisco), among others.’

Forbes will present two of his own projects, Marry-Ann (the story of a young girl’s journey to womanhood during South Africa’s transition to democracy, shot over 18 years) and the one hour documentary, Glenmore.

Bonny Hajj will be representing her company Bonny Isaacs Productions and her film, Instruments of God, which is currently in pre-production with the NFVF.
“The project is the result of two years of research and development and takes a hard look into drug addiction and a little known African herbal cure, which offers opiate addicts a 98% success rate with no withdrawals,’ explains Hajj.

Ryley Grunenwald will be scouting for an international sales agent for The Dawn of a New Day, about a South African surgeon who wants to join a hospital ship providing free surgeries to the poor. The documentary is supported by the NFVF, the Gauteng Film Commission and won Best Pitch at the 2010 Miradasdoc Market in Tenerife.

Another South African attending Hot Docs is Simon Taylor, who will look to source international financing and sales partners for Periphery’s film Progress, as well as a project in development, Bread and Water.

NFVF head of Production and Development Clarence Hamilton will be one of three NFVF delegates attending Hot Docs. “Our main purpose will be to try to assess the suitability of the festival as a potential international market for South African content. We are committed to improving the potential and exposure of South African documentaries.’

A decade of development

The first ever CEO of South Africa’s National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) ended his term of office on 31 March after 10 years of service. Eddie Mbalo talks to Joanna Sterkowicz about developments in the industry during his tenure.

It’s abundantly clear from Eddie Mbalo’s demeanor that he is buoyant, partly because he is excited about the (undisclosed) opportunities that await him in the big wide world. But mostly it’s because he leaves the NFVF on a high note.

The South African Treasury recently announced an increase in budget allocation for the NFVF – an additional R135 218 000 over the period 2011 to 2013. As a result the NFVF will be able to fund many more film projects for the next three years.
Mbalo has lobbied for an increase in funding for the industry since he first took office in 2000. “When I started at the NFVF my mandate was to build an institution that would earn the credibility of the industry and the support of the government. It was never going to be an easy task to convince government to invest in the film sector. The film industry’s abuse of tax subsidies in the 1980s gave the impression that it was corrupt and self-centred.

“It was our job to change the government’s negative perception of the industry. The recent funding increase proves that we’ve been successful. In 2011 we have multiplied the budget that the NFVF had in 2000 by seven times. It will be multiplied eight times in 2012 and 10 times in 2013.’

Separate identity

Commenting on his two concurrent terms of office Mbalo stresses that the position of NFVF CEO is not a political appointment, neither is it a life position. “For the past few years it was important for me that the NFVF develop its own identity. It had become a situation where Eddie Mbalo and the NFVF were seen as synonymous with each other. That’s dangerous for the industry.’

As NFVF CEO Mbalo has had the opportunity to travel the world as a representative of the South African industry. He has been to festivals and markets in Cannes, Rotterdam, Berlin, Toronto and Burkina Faso.

“It’s been a privilege to serve at the NFVF,’ says Mbalo. “I’ve been proud to travel the world and see that people know about the South African industry. Furthermore I’m proud of the fact that the industry can boast of an institution that represents its aspirations and that the NFVF has given dignity to the craft of local filmmaking. ‘
Another big area of pride for Mbalo is that the NFVF has developed training programmes. “When I walk into TV stations young people come up to me and say they’re there because of the NFVF.’

Mbalo admits to having mixed emotions on the eve of his departure. “The NFVF has been part of my life for 10 years. As much as I wanted a clear cut from the NFVF and refused a position on the board, I am sad to leave. But I will stay in the industry because it’s my home – it’s all I’ve ever done.’

Necessary milestones

As to the NFVF’s achievements, Mbalo is adamant that many of them were things that had to be done. The drawing up of the Value Charter, for instance, serves a guideline blueprint for the industry and government.

When Mbalo started at the NFVF South Africa had only one co-production treaty in place, with Canada. Today there are treaties with Germany, UK, Italy, France and Australia.

“I would have loved it if we had treaties with African countries but a treaty partner needs something to offer other than locations, such as financial incentives and infrastructure,’ comments Mbalo. “However the UK and Italy treaties do take into account that other African countries are involved. I’m happy South Africa is a partner in international co-productions.

“South Africa has become a destination of choice and we continue to attract more and more foreign filmmakers. I’m delighted about the increased volume of local films being made and I’m grateful we have instruments like the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) rebate, something that was originally spearheaded by politician Ibrahim Rasool, when he was MEC of Economic Development of the Western Cape.’

Script development key

When the NFVF first introduced its Sediba scriptwriting process several years ago the industry questioned whether the foundation should fund script development.
Says Mbalo: “The NFVF isn’t just a funding agency, it’s a developmental institution and we believe that script development is key to developing the indigenous film industry. The Sediba programme is structured in a way that ensures that scripts come out at the end.

“Once scripts began to emerge we noticed a lack of local producers who have the ability to package a script to attract international finance. This led to the creation of the Sediba Advanced International Finance Programme for Producers in 2009 and last year we introduced a version of this programme for emerging filmmakers.’

Transformation

The issue of industry skills leads to a discussion on transformation, something that has not happened enough according to Mbalo. “Transformation has always been at the forefront of the NFVF’s aspirations for the industry and that’s why the NFVF has put lots of emphasis on training and development. There are very few blacks in control at the higher levels of film creation and most of them are returned exiles. Hardly any are drawn from the previously disadvantaged sector.

“If you’re going to have a critical mass of blacks in power you need proper training programmes. So we decided at the beginning to do bursaries for young blacks in film schools. Today things haven’t changed much – the story is black but the storytellers are still white. But then we are only 17 years into our democracy and transformation is a process and not a single event.’

Working together

Mbalo maintains that the industry continues to regard the NFVF with suspicion. “The industry looks at tactical issues such as how much money was spent and where. Instead they should be asking, “What policies do we require to make our craft easier to work with?’ The NFVF can use these policies to make formal representation to government. Industry organisations need to work more closely with the NFVF and see us as a partner and not as an enemy.’

To his successor Karen Son Mbalo says: “You’re only a leader because of the people you lead. Keeping humble will help you in making a better leader. Power is about people seeking for your council and advice.’

Latest New Directions crop

The three films to be made in the 2010 / 2011 cycle of the M-Net New Directions skills development initiative were delivered to the pay-TV broadcaster at the end of March. They will be shown on M-Net’s local content channel Mzansi Magic.

Two 25-minute dramas, Southern Cross and Heart and Soul, as well as a 52-minute documentary Terror Mathebula – The Living Legend make up this cycle.

Over the 17 years of its existence, New Directions, which falls under the M-Net Cares Corporate Social Investment (CSI) banner, has produced over 50 films in Africa. These have been broadcast on M-Net’s continental channels and generated interest at international film festivals.

“As per the brief for the 2010 / 2011 cycle we wanted to commission stories with heart that could be about love, emotions or experiences that touch or inspire. We received 78 script proposals in total which was very encouraging,’ notes New Directions supervising producer Bongiwe Selane of Vanilla Productions.

Written by first-timer Anil Polton and produced by Akin Omotoso of T.O.M Pictures, Southern Cross was shot in Johannesburg and is the story of a young woman, Carissa, who works at a chicken processing plant. On the evening when the future of the plant is being decided by the board, Carissa wonders whether she should remain with the plant and take what comes, or spread her wings.

Two directors pitched to direct the film. Says Selane: “We decided on Carmen Sangion as she loved the Southern Cross script and did a good director’s treatment for it. In addition Carmen has an excellent track record, having written and directed a New Directions film called The Lovers in 2006. She also won an M-Net EDiT award for best film for My Name is Jacob in 2001.’

In Heart and Soul, written and directed by Robert J Carlisle, a simple cleaner teaches visionary doctor Chris Barnard that he needs to rediscover his own humanity before saving the lives of others through heart transplants. The film was shot in Cape Town and produced by Greig Buckle of Enigma Pictures.

According to Selane, Phillip Roberts worked as script editor on Southern Cross and Heart and Soul. “Phillip mentored the two scriptwriters all the way through their various drafts until they came up with workable shooting scripts.’

Terror Mathebula – The Living Legend by Sparara Modieginyana is a documentary about the life of the apartheid era boxer who became South Africa’s first black world boxing champion.

Well known documentary filmmaker Xoliswa Sithole (Shouting Silent, Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children) from Nayanaya Pictures was brought in to mentor Modieginyana through the production process.

Because of a budget reduction for this New Directions cycle, the filmmakers had between three and five days to shoot their films, instead of 10 days as in the past.
Selane notes that M-Net plans to re-launch New Directions in April with Mzansi Magic officially set as the new home for the initiative.

New studio in the picture

A new revamped broadcast studio with quite a history attached to it has opened in Fairlands, Johannesburg.

Called A Studio Called Wonder, it has a long history in the film and television industry. The studio was built by Wally Philips more than 20 years ago and operated then as Eagle Vision Productions. It changed hands when Philips passed away and came under the new ownership of Bill van Zyl.

In 2010 Alex Radnitz and Tegwin Deacon entered the picture and they currently run the studio.

Radnitz says that it is ideally suited for production shoots and small television shows. “The space is also great for music and corporate videos. Our long term goal is to be a fully kitted broadcast studio that can shoot live to tape,’ he says.

The studio is 136sq metres with a 3.5 lighting gantry. “We also provide lights such as blondes and redheads; Kinos and fresnels; and basic grips including a skateboard dolly, Jimmy Jib and a glide camera kit. We also have two chromatte green screens which use the latest LED lighting system for precision keying.’

According to Radnitz chromotte green screens with LED technology have a number of advantages. “There is no spill from your subject lighting onto the green screen and no reflection of the green screen onto your subject. It makes the set up quick and subject lighting much broader.’

The biggest challenge in such a competitive industry is to remain relevant. “You need to remain on top of this rapidly changing environment. Technology moves at such a rapid pace that it is critical to offer the best service and equipment to clients,’ says Radnitz.

He explains that they have worked hard to create a new studio brand. “We hope that this studio and brand reflects our approach to the work that we do and the service we provide. The name A Studio Called Wonder is playful and hopefully evokes the sense of magic that we all felt when first starting out in this industry. We want production houses to feel that they are in a space that supports and understands creativity, as well as provides technical resources.’

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