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Rest in Peace Nic Bonthuys

In November 2016, the South African television industry bade farewell to one of its most respected veterans. Barely a year into his retirement after decades of service to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), Nicolaas (Nic) Bonthuys passed away.

Bonthuys first entered the industry as a broadcast engineer in the very early days of SABC television. He was then at the forefront of developments in broadcast technology in South Africa for the next 40 years, taking a leadership role in the outside broadcast division at the national broadcaster. The industry is filled with highly skilled operatives who owe their training and expertise to Nic. He stands among an entire generation of South African television professionals – several others of whom have also left us recently – who established the standards and set the best practices that have been the mainstay of broadcast operations in this country.

What one remembers most about Nic, aside from the depth of his knowledge on his chosen career, is his friendly, personable and laid-back nature. I remember my first meeting with him, when, barely two months into my job as editor of Screen Africa and not terribly knowledgeable about the broadcast technology side of the industry, I went to talk to him to gather information for an article on outside broadcast. Sitting in his office at SABC OB, over cups of tea and coffee, he patiently talked me through the evolution of the technology from the early days of six-camera rigs, broadcast via telephone lines, and machines that needed to warm up for an hour before showtime, to the new 24-camera giants, with all the modern fittings and benefits, the commissioning of which he had proudly and carefully overseen in preparation for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Every one of my interactions with him thereafter felt more like talking to an uncle than a professional contact. Although always completely authoritative on his subject, he imparted his knowledge with humility, ease and a sense of humour.

In Nic, we have lost someone important. His spirit and knowledge will be missed. But I have no doubt that, just as his personal legacy will live on in his children and grandchildren, so his professional legacy will live on in those who met, worked with and were trained by him.

Screen Africa pays tribute to Nic and our thoughts and wishes are with his family and friends.

Pretoria-based company devises international distribution model for African filmmakers

South African Great Movies Production, a film and television production company based in the South African capital Pretoria, has devised what it describes as a solution to the major problem faced by South African filmmakers (as well as those from elsewhere on the continent). “What’s the point of spending the time and money to make a film,” says CEO John Wani, “if there are no distribution channels in place that enable you to make your money back?”

Wani makes a point that many local filmmakers can surely relate to. While television offers some opportunities for a return on investment – mostly in the micro-budget stratum – cinema releases are, with some exceptions, such as Afrikaans films, entirely unprofitable for the filmmaker.

Wani attempted to look outside the box for a solution. Congolese by birth, he has been resident in South Africa for several years and is now a firmly established player in the local industry, working with micro-budgets and producing work for platforms such as Mzansi Magic. He has long noted the shortcomings of the South African industry, not from the point of view of the quality of work being produced but from the general lack of viable business models for filmmakers to make a decent living from their work. He looks to Nigeria’s Nollywood as the best of example in this regard. He lists four points on which he believes South Africa could best learn from its west African neighbour.

Firstly, film is a business – reliance on soft funding needs to end as it is unsustainable and does not bring real growth. The private sector needs to have a deeper involvement in the industry and in order for that to happen, the industry needs to be provably able to make a return on investment.

Secondly, Nollywood is successfully able to find ways to stimulate local audiences, something the local film industry struggles to do.

Thirdly, effective measures must be taken to work with the rest of the world. That means employing co-production measures in ways that will benefit the local market, not only the foreign partner.

Finally, as a starting point at least, while the industry goes through its initial growth, it is best to operate in the microbudget realm, working with manageable costs and therefore more realistic profit and cost recoupment goals, rather than inflating budgets with soft funding without any effort to strategise a return on investment.

With these in mind, Wani has been negotiating with a partner in the United States, Donald Rabinovitch of CINEMAflix Distribution. The deal is intended to enable South African filmmakers to find profitable sales and distribution strategies for their work overseas. The US partner would essentially offer a marketing and distribution package to the filmmaker that would start with a strategically placed US premiere that would act as a test screening for the territory. The film would then get a three-week cinematic run, followed by sales negotiations for home video, television and digital platforms. The package costs US$9000 – about R128 000 at the current exchange rate, which Wani says, is a more than reasonable cost for marketing purposes.

When it comes to what kind of content these agents are looking for, Wani offers a few general tips: “Firstly remember that English is preferred if you want to break this market. Dubbing and subtitling will not only incur additional costs, but will also lessen your chances with the American market. Secondly, be flexible about making your work more appealing to the US market. Cast actors from the target country in your film. There’s no reason why a film can’t include Nigerians, South Africans and Americans. And then you are able to reach all three of those territories. Thirdly, as far as content is concerned, love stories and comedies seem to travel best, and you should keep your market as broad as possible by producing a film that can cater to all ages.”

The future is here

In June 2016, Unreal Industries and Bladeworks Post Production pulled off a world first when they created a virtual reality live stream for the 22nd South African Music Awards (SAMAs). Never before had a live award show been broadcast for 360-degree VR viewing.

For the 22nd edition of the SAMAs, to be held in Durban, the award committee wanted something different. They called upon Unreal Industries, a production company that specialises in virtual reality, to create and execute a concept that would elevate the 2016 show to a new level. The theme that the committee had chosen

“I had an idea, when we were first talking about it, that I wanted wto do a live VR broadcast,” says Unreal creative director Malcolm Ché. “The committee loved the idea but we were aware that this would be a world first. We have an ongoing relationship with Blade and it’s always been great working with them because they understand what we want creatively and we are capable of pushing what they can do from a creative perspective.”

The project would include a camera rig that would offer full 360-degree coverage, allowing the audience to look around the entire venue during the course of the award show for a truly immersive experience.

Blade was easily co-opted into the pioneering enterprise, being eager to try something they had never done before. With not much time allocated to the job, general manager Warren Bleksley assembled a team to build a solution mostly from scratch. Chief engineer Peter Hangelbroek and DIT Riaan van der Merwe worked on a portable rig that included six GoPros mounted in a 360-degree rig, connected to a computer complete with Vahana image stitching software.

Flame operator Jaco Kraamwinkel then set about creating a stitching template to allow for the seamless fusing of the images from each of the six cameras, a process that comes with a number of complications involving issues of parallax. To put it simply, if one camera has an image in close-up and the next one a mid- to long shot, stitching is not going to work.

Ché then briefed Blade animators Ryan Lloyd and Warren Jacobs to create a title sequence that would work both with the conventional television broadcast and the VR live stream. Using After Effects and Metal, Jacobs created a space travel-themed sequence that completely embodied the ‘Future is Here’ theme and tied in visually with the VR approach.

During the live TV broadcast, audiences were given the link for the VR stream on YouTube. Viewers were thus provided with a number of options. They could either watch the conventional TV broadcast on SABC or, if equipped with VR headgear, they could watch the live stream, which offered them a complete view of the arena, from the stage to the front and back rows. The effect was to move the broadcast of a live event to a point where the audience had the power to ‘direct’ their own coverage. The team then had the challenge of ensuring that there was something worth looking at wherever the audience looked.

As for the future of the VR medium, it really seems to Ché and Bleksley that the possibilities are endless. Technical capacities are advancing almost daily, which is just as well, since the requirements of the medium are substantial. Bleksley explains that the live stream required an uncontested 100MB pipe – not too tall a requirement for a once-off but if the technology takes off, bandwidth provisions would have to increase exponentially. Cameras and software also require some tweaking, considering the parallax issues that Kraamwinkel worked hard to iron out, as well as the limitations of GoPros and their characteristic ‘bending’ of images. But Hangelbroek and van der Merwe explain that any camera can work in the rig – imagine a night shoot in the bush using six Sony a7S’s.

For Ché, the great value of the SAMAs project is that it brought long-cherished theoretical notions to practical reality. “We now have proof of concept,” he says. “Theoretically we knew there was no reason why we couldn’t put up a live broadcast through YouTube offering a 360-degree view of an award show. Now we have actually done it. That gives us the confidence to move forward with other ideas we’ve been playing with.

“Aside from live broadcast, this will offer enormous potential for creatives in all kinds of other formats. The 30-second commercial, for example, is dead. Now, with virtual reality, you are no longer shouting at someone from a billboard, trying to wrench yourself into people’s lives. Now you are inviting them into your world, you’re offering them a certain amount of control and enabling them to empathise and that wins them over.”

For Bleksley, it’s all about expanding the toolbox that Blade can make available to creatives. “We’ve been talking a lot lately about how post-production is under pressure and how we can find new avenues to create work. This technology offers that. It’s still new and a lot of exciting things are still going to happen in this space. For creatives, it opens up a whole new medium. The playground is getting bigger – it will be interesting to see what people come up with.”

Admit One sport promos receive international recognition

After winning in a number of categories at PromaxBDA Africa, Johannesburg-based agency Admit One found themselves nominated for three prizes in the PromaxBDA Global Excellence Awards, held in New York on 16 June.

Admit One’s two recent rugby campaigns for SuperSport were nominated in three categories. The Rugby World Cup promo was nominated in the Best Sports Programme Spot or Campaign and Best Clip-based Sports Programme Spot categories, while the ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ rugby theme piece was nominated for Best Art Direction and Design in a Sports Programme Spot.

Executive creative director Henre Pretorius sums up the two campaigns: “The World Cup campaign was based around the Springboks and how they represent us as a nation, and the long heritage of national pride they embody, dating from the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The theme piece is based around the idea that the rugby field is like a jungle and the players embody various animal qualities in their struggles for victory.”

While Pretorius and executive producer Ruette Steyn say they did not have a chance to see many of the campaigns their work was up against, their trip to New York offered some great, out-of-the-box ideas when it comes to conceptualising sports promo campaigns. Pretorius singles out Fox Networks’ long-running (about a year) promotion drive for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, held in Canada in 2015.

“Fox literally threw the entire network at all their territories to push the tournament,” Pretorius says. “Instead of only working with sport clips and directly related content, they mobilised all the content from across all their channels. It was a massive, sustained cross-promotion campaign that ranged from appearances by team members on Idols to giant billboards. Clearly it worked, because 35 million viewers ended up watching the tournament.”

The Fox campaign opted for a heavily patriotic tone, promoting both the national team and the event itself. Admit One took a similar approach with its Rugby World Cup campaign but on a far smaller scale. “This is where we as South African creatives and broadcasters could do well by thinking a little bigger,” Pretorius says. “We seldom make good use of opportunities for cross-promotion and to really mobilise the nation to get behind the team and support it. Sport in the US is huge, of course, and it was great to see what can be done with a sports campaign if you are more ambitious.”

Steyn adds: “From a marketing perspective, it’s very difficult to make a promo that stands out from the clutter. FX offers an inspiring example in this regard. Their approach is very simple: whatever idea seems the riskiest, that’s the one they go with.”

Admit One’s most recent project was the campaign to promote SuperSport’s Olympic Games coverage.

Durban International Film Festival 2016

Another Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) and Durban FilmMart (DFM) has come and gone. Screen Africa reports on the trends and dominant themes at the 37th edition of Africa’s biggest film festival.

Opening night

The tone of opening night at DIFF was rather subdued compared to previous years, perhaps as a result of the furor that had erupted a few months previously over the choice of the opening film. Although controversial, the move from the Suncoast CineCentre to the Playhouse Theatre actually benefitted opening night, offering a somewhat more elegant venue with stronger cultural connections. More controversial than that move was the final choice of opening film. This is always a big talking point at DIFF and this year was no different, with the documentary Journeymen getting reactions that were mixed, to say the least.

The opening night event and film screening was, as always, well attended with barely a seat in the house to spare. Acting festival director Peter Machen welcomed attendees and thanked, by name, the organisation team behind the festival as well as contributing industry organisations and media partners. Machen also took the opportunity to welcome and introduce David Maahlamela, the new director of the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

As for the film itself, audience reactions were extremely varied. Some praised the picture for its sharp humour and unconventional editing, as well as for the unbiased way in which it showcases South Africa’s vast, differing landscapes and people. While other audience members, still acknowledging the former, found the film incohesive in its structure and dialogue, and unnecessarily longwinded.

For our part, it seems that if the opening film is to set the tone for the festival then this documentary was an unfortunate choice. Although entertaining in places, Journeymen does not achieve what it sets out to do and comes across as poorly structured, has a first-draft feel to it, is decidedly subjective in its view of 22-year-old democratic South Africa, and spends far too much time on trivialities that seem to have little to do with the film’s stated purpose. Many of the vignettes in the movie are amusing but they don’t seem to tie up into a cohesive whole. Thankfully, the festival programme was filled with some fine documentaries that offered better examples of how to exploit the format – such as Finding Freedom and Nobody’s Died Laughing.

The industry programme got underway the following day at DFM, with a series of panel discussions that, while tackling many ongoing issues that arise every year, still managed to bring something new to the dialogue. Among the main themes were international co-production, pitching techniques, authentic storytelling and micro-budget filmmaking.

Storytelling and story-selling

On the first day of DFM, Marie Lora-Mungai of Restless Talent Management presented a session titled ‘How to pitch like a pro and not fall flat on your face.’

“A pitch is a concise verbal, sometimes visual, presentation of an idea for a film or TV series generally made by a screenwriter or a director to a producer, financier or a distributor in the hope of generating interest in the project and getting it off the ground,” explained Lora-Mungai. She went on to emphasise that there are two elements in the aforementioned definition that are particularly important to remember when developing a successful pitch and the first is that a pitch should be concise – it is not a synopsis, it is a well thought out idea that needs to grab attention. The second is that the goal of a pitch should be to generate interest in the project.

Lora-Mungai advised that when delivering a pitch, one should always be aware of what the jury is thinking. She went on to outline the dos and don’ts of pitching and gave delegates the chance to practise their pitches in front of the other attendees.

Storytelling and story selling with the Business Model Canvas was discussed by a panel of four industry professionals from Cape Town, Kenya and Canada. The Business Model Canvas is a strategic management tool for content producers to make the transition to content entrepreneurs. The discussion showed how this canvas can be used to build a team of people to help take an idea completely through to fruition. They discussed how to get your story to the world, how to get your story making money, and how this canvas can ignite the passion that content entrepreneurs need.

International co-production

In addition to signing a memorandum of understanding with the Namibia Film Commission, the National Film and Video Foundation also presented a discussion on the recently concluded co-production treaty with the Netherlands.

Terrence Khumalo from the NFVF, Frank Peijenburg and Pieter van Huijstee from the Netherlands, and South Africa’s Marc Schwinges presented an open dialogue between industry professionals on how to make the most of the treaty. “The greatness of storytelling is that everyone can relate it to themselves,” said van Huijstee about working on a South African story with a target audience in Holland. Answering a question about whether the film needs to be shot entirely in South Africa or can be shot throughout Africa, the panel explained that any spend outside of SA would be precluded from funding. However, if shot within the country the story could come from any nation, as long as it has a South African interest along with a strong artistic and international appeal. It was further advised that should a South African wish to be in a co-production, to contact the NFVF first and they will further advise on co-producing and how and whom to contact.

Authentic storytelling

The final talk on this year’s DFM programme was presented by marketing guru GG Alcock, who offered some answers to the question of how to tell authentic stories and build credible bonds with target audiences.

Although not coming from a film background, Alcock was able to offer considerable insight into a problem facing the majority of South African filmmakers and storytellers of all kinds: how to create content that is relevant to an audience. In an industry constantly caught between the need to create authentic, specifically relevant content and the (conscious or unconscious) notion that such content must follow a Western model in some way, it is little wonder that South African storytellers often become confused, bogged down in restrictive ideas of what locally relevant content should constitute, or inclined to abandon their cultural authenticity in favour of something with “global appeal.”

Alcock set out, with his talk, to eliminate these conflicts and to try and bring to light the unlimited storytelling resources to which South Africans have access, by focusing on the difference between two concepts that are distinct from one another but often conflated: culture and tradition.

Alcock was raised in rural KwaZulu-Natal and is thus a fluent Zulu speaker with a strong knowledge of Zulu culture and history – unusual among white South Africans. This cultural background has put him in a powerful position to identify South Africa’s cultural resources. At the heart of his thesis is the idea that culture is not tradition – while tradition is stationary, culture is dynamic. South African storytellers may wish to steer clear of their own culture based on the idea that it is stagnant, restrictive and dictates that only certain types of story may be told. In Alcock’s view, it is tradition that is being spoken about here, not culture. By avoiding culture, storytellers sacrifice their authenticity and cut themselves off from a wealth of narrative resources.

The main take-out from Alcock’s talk are:

  • Modernisation is not Westernisation
  • Culture is not tradition
  • Story is found, not in stagnant tradition but in the rich textures and contexts of everyday real experiences, humour and people, where longstanding tradition and modern trends meet.
  • Current sociocultural experience in South Africa remains anchored in local heritage and culture regardless of how modernised it may be. On the other hand, it continues to modernise and absorb new elements rapidly.

The shoestring lobby

A panel discussion on micro-budget filmmaking saw a number of passionate guerilla-style filmmakers advocating for the importance of their methods in the building of the South African industry.

“It is essential that we find ways to make the industry accessible to emerging filmmakers and that we close the gap between established, aspiring and emerging filmmakers,” said independent writer-director and chairperson of the eThekwini Filmmakers Association, Andile Buwa, who opened the discussion.

Micro-budget filmmaking is a fiercely independent practice, championed by a handful of the most dogged emerging filmmakers in South Africa. They have recently found important platforms for their work via television channels like Mzansi Magic, and are even making inroads into the various state funding institutions, which are now starting to see the value in guerilla film production. The filmmakers in question, such as Buwa, Mr B and Lehlogonolo Moropane, aka ‘King Shaft,’ have been determinedly plying their trade since long before such opportunities became available, producing films in a short time on R100 000 or less, and are in a perfect position to advise incoming filmmakers on how to make the most of scant resources and just go out and get films made.

Although not entirely in line with the work of Buwa or King Shaft, one of the films on the festival schedule, Last Ones Out, written and directed by Capetonian Howard James Fyvie, perfectly exemplified the ethos of micro-budget filmmaking. The zombie thriller demonstrated what can be done with a small amount of money and a resourceful and dedicated team.

On the whole, a varied festival programme, while not leaving everyone completely satisfied, certainly stimulated debate and offered a kind of ‘state of the industry’ for South Africa and its neighbours. The DFM industry programme, as always, offered useful information for novices and pros alike, from the speakers to the  journalists to the audience. It was, as usual, a hub of creativity, inspiration and culture. Despite the controversy that surrounded the festival in the weeks prior to the 37th edition, delegates from across Africa and the world came together with the common goal of celebrating and elevating the film industry, the filmmakers that contribute to it and the films that make it.

In the court of the Taarab queen

One thing Africa is not short of is musical heroes. Even if they don’t acquire the same kind of media-driven celebrity that Western stars enjoy, they often develop a connection to their fan bases that runs even deeper – whether in their home region or across the continent. British filmmaker Andy Jones was compelled to document the career of one such legend.

Mention the name Bi Kidude to anyone outside of Zanzibar – with the exception of devotees in mainland Tanzania or Kenya, as well as fans of the world music scene – and there is a good chance they might not recognise the name.

Yet, on the island that was her home for over a century, she achieved almost mythical status.

Bi Kidude, born Fatuma binti Baraka, was the undisputed queen of Taarab – the distinctly East African music genre that blends the traditional sounds of the Great Lakes region with influences from the Middle East and the Maghreb. She was also a respected practitioner of unyago ceremonies and their related music and dance styles (in Swahili culture, unyago is the celebration of girls’ passage into adulthood, with older women teaching them how to navigate the approaching vagaries of womanhood, marriage and sex.)

A singer, drummer and raconteur, Kidude was loved and respected for her musical talent and her maternal position in her community. She also drew both criticism and admiration for her rebellion against some of Zanzibar’s traditional views on the roles of women. She abandoned two unhappy marriages at a relatively young age and remained single for the rest of her life, she never had any children, was often to be found holding court backstage with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other; as a young girl, she played truant from Koran school to hang out with travelling musicians on the docks of Stone Town – all quite scandalous by the standards of conservative Zanzibar.

In 2000, English filmmaker and activist Andy Jones attended a panel discussion at the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF), regarding feminism in Africa and Bi Kidude’s role in it. The woman herself was in attendance, sitting quietly and looking rather bored with the proceedings. Just a few hours later, Jones saw her again in very different circumstances.

“She got on the stage, strapped a chest-high msondo drum to her waist and starting pounding out a rhythm with such fervor I feared her arms might fall off,” Jones recalls. “It was just the most remarkable transformation; I was captivated.”

Jones decided to make Bi Kidude the subject of his debut documentary feature. As Old as My Tongue was shot over the course of four years, on a virtually non-existent budget, with Jones and his crew returning to Zanzibar three times and following Kidude on tours to England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The finished film examined the life and work of a unique artist and the myth and mystique that had been built up around her. As Old as My Tongue was well received at festivals around the world, from Atlanta to Abuja, and acclaimed as a masterful combination of biography and mythmaking.

Jones’ association with the Zanzibari legend might have ended there were it not for an intriguing development that occurred in 2012. Through his connections in Zanzibar’s music scene, Jones heard that Bi Kidude had disappeared. Rumours began to circulate that the singer, then already over 100 years old, had been kidnapped. Not long after, a man appeared on Tanzanian television claiming to be a relative of hers. He said that he was keeping her in his home for her own protection and wellbeing and he lashed out the music industry for having exploited her over the years.

Jones set off to Zanzibar once again, camera in hand, to start capturing what would end up being the fascinating final chapter in a truly extraordinary life. His second film, I Shot Bi Kidude, began to take shape. He and his crew, which included South African cinematographer Natalie Haarhoff, eventually caught up with Kidude and her ‘captor’ – her nephew Baraka. The story that unfolded, and is related in the film, is a unique take on a familiar theme of stardom and its trappings. The lady herself, it seems, was relatively unaffected by her local and international fame. Those around her, however, were not.

The title of the film is cheekily misleading; there is no violence in this story. Rather, the name Jones chose reflects his long personal investment in the life of his subject. He did indeed ‘shoot’ Bi Kidude, frequently, on and off for more than a decade. In so doing, their lives became more entangled than Jones could have expected. Not to reveal too much, the film begins with Jones relating how he heard of Kidude’s death and how it coincided with the passing of two other women who had made a marked impact on his life – in different ways, for better and for worse. I Shot Bi Kidude is therefore not only a documenting of the dramatic final years of a music legend, but also a recursive examination of Jones’ own, increasingly personal, involvement with the project and the complex web of reciprocal interactions that developed between himself, his subject and the films they created together.

Having started his career in the NGO sector, Jones began making short films to complement various activism campaigns. He is the founder and creative director of independent film collective ScreenStation, based in his home city of Newcastle in the United Kingdom. Both As Old as My Tongue and I Shot Bi Kidude were shot piecemeal on shoestring budgets, offering a heartening example to any prospective documentary filmmaker: all you need is a subject you’re passionate about, a camera and time.

I Shot Bi Kidude was presented as a work in progress at the 2014 Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) and the completed film premiered on the closing night of the 2015 edition of ZIFF. For this version of the film, Jones re-recorded his narration in Swahili, though he confesses to having limited knowledge of the language and learned much of the script phonetically. The effort was applauded by the home crowd at the Old Fort Amphitheatre.

Following a UK festival and semi-theatrical run and a screening at iREP in Lagos, the film had its official Zanzibari cinematic release on the third anniversary of Bi Kidude’s death in April. I Shot Bi Kidude will premiere in South Africa at Encounters and DIFF in June.

As Old as My Tongue is now available on VOD at http://www.screenstation.net/bi-kidude/.

BBC Worldwide Showcase 2016

It all started in 1976 in the English seaside town of Brighton, as around 25 international TV content buyers crowded into a pub to watch a handful of (then) premium BBC shows, which the British public broadcaster hoped to sell for distribution outside of its home territory. 40 years later, the BBC Showcase is the largest single-vendor content market in the world, attended by 700 buyers and offering thousands of hours of content of all varieties. This year, Screen Africa was in attendance at the Echo Arena in Liverpool.

The BBC is a vast organisation with many divisions and subdivisions. Showcase is the domain of the broadcasting giant’s international distribution arm, BBC Worldwide. According to Grant Welland, executive vice president for Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, BBC Worldwide is the largest global distributor of television content aside from the big United States studios. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of the British public service broadcaster, tasked with generating income through the sale of BBC content to international markets. This allows for reinvestment in new content and also alleviates the financial burden on the British TV licence holder. In the previous year, the BBC netted some £350 million at Showcase. The final takings at this year’s market have yet to be announced but it was projected to grow.

In terms of the international market for television content, the BBC is a premium brand strongly in demand even outside of its natural cultural and linguistic context. It produces material that caters to all tastes and that travels remarkably well. While foreign buyers may be putting up a lot of money to acquire the content for their own territories, there appear to be none who feel that this content is not worth the expense. There were 700 of them at this year’s event and that number is expected to increase in future. To give an indication of the diversity of the buyers, during the course of the Showcase, a number of major deals were announced, including a digital deal with China’s Mango TV and a format licensing agreement for Slovenian broadcaster ProPlus, among many others.

The central part of Showcase is the screening facility, at which the buyers have the chance to sample the content first hand, many of them sitting for eight hours a day, watching show after show on about 600 specially provided viewing systems. Alongside the viewings, a range of seminars, masterclasses and presentations are given, highlighting BBC content, interrogating on various themes that the international TV industry currently deals with, and launching new shows. After business hours, the hosts entertain their clients with a series of special themed soirees enabling networking and the opportunity for the BBC to show off some of its major stars and properties.

Where does Africa fit in?

Africa remains an important growth territory for, BBC Worldwide, which opened its regional office in Johannesburg, South Africa at the end of 2014 to deal directly with clients across the region. There are essentially four ways the BBC can do business with its international clients: it can run its branded channels across regions through partnerships with the local pay-TV platforms; it can license content to other broadcasters to be aired on local channels; it can license formats to various territories, allowing unique local versions of those formats to be produced for domestic markets; or it can engage in the co-production or commissioning of new content.

In Africa, Welland explains, the BBC’s business has largely taken the first form – that of branded BBC channels on local platforms. “We run the full sweep of BBC branded channels in Africa. So there’s BBC First, which is a premium drama channel; BBC Lifestyle; BBC Brit, which is a male-skewed entertainment channel; BBC Earth, which is natural history and science; and then CBeebies. So across that sweep of channels, they pick up the lion’s share of our new programming. That is our primary route to market in South Africa and wherever else Multichoice operates across the continent. This is our first window in Africa” he explained.

This year, new African content outlets were high on the agenda as video on demand (VOD) platforms rapidly establish themselves across the continent. “What we are finding now is that the emerging SVOD services that want to compete with Multichoice are very interested in taking a second window and what tends to work in that area is drama, children’s content, documentaries… quite a range. Our business to date has been very much focused on South Africa and reaching Africa through the Multichoice platform. But we are increasingly, now that we have a local presence, meeting with people in Uganda, Kenya and other countries. We are looking to really grow and we are interested to see what they want,” Welland said.

Joel Churcher is based in Johannesburg, South Africa, heading up BBC Worldwide’s African office, with all the corporation’s business on the continent falling under his purview. He noted that BBC is eager to capitalise on the new outlets opening up throughout the continent. “First and foremost we are a premium distributor of content, regardless of what kinds of platforms we sell to. Traditionally all our business came from our free-to-air and pay-TV partners. Now we have those plus DTT (digital terrestrial television) plus mobile, plus VOD, and those give us the opportunity to expand our audience base. Our content has tended to be locked in away in a premium, exclusive payTV environment. So for us it is great that these new technologies are opening pathways for people in middle and lower brackets, people who only have $5 or $10 a month to spend on content, rather than $60 or $80.”

What kind of content sells most in Africa? The answer is a complex one, according to David Girow, Head of Sales for Africa. “There has always been a tendency to look at Africa as a single unit – as a country. Well of course it isn’t and you can’t approach it that way. Each country has its own preferences and demands. For example Kenya has a strong liking for documentary content, while, in Uganda, we sold Keeping Up Appearances a few years ago and that, and comedy shows like it, continue to be popular there. In general, our children’s content has resonance across the continent – that is one universal trend we have noticed. Other than that we take it on a country-by-country basis.”

Content franchising

An important aspect of business at Showcase is the sale of BBC formats in other territories. Heading up international format sales is Sue Kendrick, who said that the BBC’s current catalogue of unscripted formats include around 150 titles. At the Showcase, her unit announced a number of new formats up for grabs to international broadcasters looking to make their own versions. These included The Getaway Car, For What It’s Worth and Everybody’s Business. In South Africa, BBC formats still enjoy considerable success, with local versions of Come Dine With Me (actually not an original BBC format but licensed from ITV, although the South African versions were BBC-commissioned) and The Great Bake-Off still drawing audiences. It was recently announced (after Showcase) that the BBC was investing directly in Rapid Blue, the local company that has produced several previous and current South Africa iterations of BBC formats. So this would surely indicate that there is more to come.

One of the BBC’s most globally successfully formats – although it has been licensed for domestic versions in only eight countries so far, with international viewers generally seeming to prefer the British original – is Top Gear. Fans around the world – including thousands of car-crazy South Africans – are anxiously anticipating the show’s new look after long-serving presenters Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond bowed out. The relaunch was one of the major events at Showcase, with all five of the new presenters there to make a case for the series’ continued success. Headed by Chris Evans and former Friends star Matt Le Blanc, the new Top Gear crew seemed at pains to emphasise that this is not the first relaunch in the show’s 22-season history and that fans can expect the same formula they have come to know and love – just a little bit different. Fans in the UK and elsewhere remain skeptical, and the news that the three former presenters will soon launch their own show in direct competition – on the Amazon VOD service – will certainly make things interesting. Evans and Top Gear managing director Adam Waddell seemed unfazed by this development. “There’s room for more than one car show,” Evans said.

‘A truthful image of the natural world’

The BBC has well-earned and longstanding reputation for its natural history productions. Although the illustrious history of the BBC Natural History unit is the result of the combined efforts of many talented people, it is still inextricably linked, in the minds of several generations of television viewers, with one man and his unmistakable voice. This one man is, of course, Sir David Attenborough.

The legendary broadcaster and naturalist, only a few months away from his 90th birthday, was in attendance at the Showcase to promote two new series’: Planet Earth II and Attenborough and the Giant Dinosaur. Of course, there is more to Attenborough’s career than his work in writing and presenting natural history documentaries. In the 1960s and 70s he was in senior management at the BBC controlling both television channels (there were only two in those days) and in the running for the post of director-general. He ultimately left his post in 1973 and, in a few years, had begun work on the series that would set the tone for all future wildlife filmmaking, Life On Earth.

“I don’t particularly wish to be remembered as an individual in the future,” Sir David told a small group of journalists from the EMEA region. “What I would like to think is that I have helped this organisation, the BBC, to the best of my ability, to produce a truthful image of the natural world as it is and to introduce people to animals they had never dreamed of, and more important still, to concepts they had never dreamed of. It had never occurred even to naturalists 50 years ago, that we could possibly destroy the environment – it never crossed our minds.  Our whole attitude towards the natural world has changed and people are conscious now of all kinds of bizarre animals. It’s a paradox that the human world has never been more divided from the natural world than it is now and yet we know more about the natural world than we ever have. And if it is true that we know more about it than ever, television has been responsible for that.”

When the original series of Planet Earth was screened back in 2006, it pioneered the use of HD, revealing gorgeous, never-before-seen details of the natural world and pushing the format into the mainstream. The second series, shot in 4K, is set to do the same for ultra-high definition. Also, much like its predecessor, Planet Earth II offers a definitive, incontrovertible answer to the question that most TV viewers – and probably most natural history documentarians as well – ask themselves all the time: what can there possibly be in the natural world that we haven’t already seen? Sir David presented one scene that had particularly astonished him even after all his years filming wildlife. Involving a high-speed (and high-stakes) chase on the hot sand of the Galapagos Islands, the scene is dramatic as well as fascinating and offers a glimpse at happenings on this famous location that even the experienced naturalist had no idea about.

Wendy Darke, head of the BBC Natural History Unit explained that the production of Planet Earth II took full advantage of the variety of drones and remote cameras, that are currently all the rage, in order to capture these newfound natural ‘secrets’. They also made extensive use of cameras with lowlight capabilities to capture events unfolding in total darkness.

Other innovations being developed by the unit are virtual reality and live, digital short form programmes. In August 2015, they broadcast live from the world’s biggest gathering of blue whales, in the Pacific Ocean off Monterey, California. “We were lucky enough to be live on the air, on this boat, and a blue whale came up. It was a magic moment, because we had about five million watching at the time and of course everyone’s talking about it on social media. So our world is changing drastically in terms of the accessibility of our content,” Darke said.

Crime pays

The BBC is not only about reality TV and natural history. There was plenty of scripted content on offer at Showcase as well. It was announced during the course of the event that more than 900 hours of crime drama content, including titles like Luther, Sherlock, Ripper Street and Happy Valley, had been sold to broadcasters worldwide. Among these was Multichoice, which picked up a number of titles for its Showmax VOD platform.

The BBC had around 70 onscreen and off-screen talents present to promote various series in this genre. Most notable was a master class on screenwriting partnerships (more on this in a future issue of Screen Africa) that featured Sherlock’s Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, SS-GB’s Neal Purvis and Robert Wade; and Jack and Harry Williams, who were presenting the new drama they recently penned – One of Us.

Actor Sanjeev Bhaskar, who was at Showcase to promote his new detective series Unforgotten, said of the appeal of crime drama: “Think about fairy tales – they’re all quite dark, aren’t they? Right from when we’re kids we’re drawn to that darkness. But it’s also a vicarious experience. We don’t’ have to deal with those horrible people and events because those characters on the screen are doing it for us. We can explore that darkness from a safe distance. And on top of that there is the attraction of the puzzle, the mystery. It’s curiosity. No matter how dark the story gets, we still want to turn the page and see what happens next. And at least with these stories we know that there will be some kind of an ending, a resolution.”

The BBC, much like its American counterparts, has become a major exporter of its home nation’s cultural and aesthetic ideas. Content creators elsewhere in the world, including here in Africa, can currently only aspire to this kind of cross-cultural appeal. Some in Africa even tend to be wary of the continued popularity in our territories of British and, by extension, Western content. But, for the most part, people just want good stories, well told, regardless of their origin. “I think that people perceive British content in a much bigger context than just its cultural background,” Churcher says. “We, as a nation, have a really rich history in storytelling and TV production. What we are trying to do is create strong content that resonates globally and I think people respect that.”

Software vendors raise concerns around licensing

A number of suppliers of production software for the film, television and animation industries have voiced their concerns recently about the high levels of licensing non-compliance among users of their various solutions in the South African industry.

One such vendor, who preferred to remain anonymous, contacted Screen Africa at the end of 2015, to draw attention to a problem that, while ongoing for some time, goes largely unnoticed. According to this source, post-production and animation companies that are not compliant are able to underquote on projects because they aren’t paying the necessary licence fees. “Around 25 to 30 per cent of these operators are compliant,” the source says. “They are able to come in at a fraction of the market price and compliant companies simply can’t compete because they have to cover those licensing fees. The number of companies losing out across the board is actually phenomenal.”

Autodesk, the software developer behind Maya, one of the leading 3D animation suites in the industry, is among the intellectual property owners feeling the impact of non-compliance. Autodesk’s licence compliance manager Susan Moremi says that non-compliance takes various forms. “These scenarios range from cracked copies of Autodesk software to over-deployment of one licence across more than the allowed number of PCs,” she explains. In some cases, she says, end users may not even know that they are not complying.

In an industry that is experiencing tightened budgets across the board, the use of cracked software or the overextension of licences can often be seen as a necessary evil, one of many cost-cutting measures employed by operators whose resources are already stretched thin. However, the long-term ill effects on the industry as a whole can far outweigh the short-term benefits to individual companies. Darren Olivier, a lawyer specialising in intellectual property and brand protection at Adams & Adams, has dealt with numerous licensing non-compliance cases (around 400 a year), explains: “Apart from the dangers of malware embedded in pirated code, the unlicensed use of software naturally means that the developers are not paid correctly, disincentivising them from investing in research and development and improving their services. Hence the industry as a whole suffers. It’s like saying ‘don’t pay the engineers’ and then still expecting a world class road system.”

Moremi adds: “How would [non-compliant users] react if someone used their stove, utensils and house to run a catering business, without permission and without any form of compensation being offered? By knowingly using an unauthorised product, one is simply stealing from the software provider as well as the industry – since revenue is reinvested in improving the very same products that make them competitive in their particular industry. In the long run, should that product no longer be competitive, due to lack of resources, they too lose business.”

While infringements can often happen as a result of an honest mistake, this is certainly not always the case and deliberate non-compliance, while rather hard to prove, carries some weighty consequences. “Damages are calculated according to what the user would have paid had the licence been obtained in the first place,” Olivier says. “If prosecuted they may also face a jail sentence or a fine. There is also the risk of having the company deregistered for fraudulent trading (the use of unlicensed software robs the country of taxes ordinarily paid for licensed products).”

Autodesk and other software developers work with the BSA| The Software Alliance, an international trade group representing the industry’s interests, particularly on questions of intellectual property. BSA members use several types of audits and reviews to ensure that end users are aware of their compliance positions. “This is to ensure that our end users minimise the financial and legal risk if there are unauthorized installations,” Moremi explains. “Users who gain access to unauthorised software often get copies from the internet and unauthorised dealers, and often aren’t even aware that they are running illegal copies.” Despite these safeguards, illegal software use continues.

Our anonymous source suggests that one way of ensuring compliance would be to throw the weight of the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) behind software vendors. Since the dti’s production rebate is one of the most important financial incentives in the industry, it may make sense for legal and fully compliant production software to become one of the pre-requisites needed to qualify for the rebate. No such requirement currently exists in the dti’s application process and it might go some way toward remedying the problem. Moremi also stresses the value of education programmes to ensure that transgressors understand the implications of piracy – for the supplier, the user and the industry at large.

Festival and market guide

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Few creators of film or television content in Africa’s various markets would deny that the local market for homegrown content is severely limited in terms of paying audiences, distribution channels and revenue generation. It is essential that international markets are tapped. However, these are numerous and often daunting. Screen Africa offers a guide to some of the world’s essential festivals and markets.

The world of international festivals and markets for the film and television industry is a multifarious one that is by no means as straightforward as it may appear. While it is certainly a big step forward in a filmmaker’s career to have a film accepted into a festival – any festival – it’s possible that the festival in question may not be the best platform for a given work. By the same token, it is no use spending your energy trying to sell an idea for an uncompleted screenplay at a market that is primarily concerned with catalogues of completed work, or for an independent producer to attend a market that is actually meant for sales agents with extensive catalogues.

French film producer Lucas Rosant, who has considerable experience at various markets and festivals, says that the fundamental point to consider when choosing a market is to “…be sure that it is a market (or territory) that suits the catalogue, film or project – either in terms of the audience (for example, comedy does not travel well due to cultural and language issues), genre (some markets are highly specialised in this regard), tastes and identity (world cinema versus commercial versus art house).”

While there is no fool-proof method to choose the right market, it helps to do extensive research into the nature and preferences of each one before making the decision to go there. “While you should never rely entirely on the internet,” Rosant says, “going through the respective websites of all the festivals and markets is very helpful. Look at their programming and delegate lists over the past few years – which films were screened, which directors were discovered or awarded? How do these past films relate to yours? Are there similarities?

Rosant offers some general pointers: “I would say that, in terms of cinema, some markets are hard to avoid and become annual ‘musts’ – like Cannes or Berlin. Any others you attend would depend on your interests – target territories, genres and so on, and which part of the business you are in. Sales agents tend to travel far more than producers, for example. But I should emphasise that, whichever ones you choose, you should attend two or three regularly every year. This is the only way to build that all-important network, gather information and make your business stronger.”

While the kind of content you are able to sell depends entirely upon the market, the buyers and their respective audiences, there is one important trend to take into account as things currently stand. According to Mayenzeke Baza and Pascal Schmitz of the Association for Transformation in Film and Television (ATFT), the market for feature films is shrinking rapidly and any African content owner looking to make successful sales overseas would be wise to avoid the format and opt for long-form instead.

“Unless you have a really exceptional feature film,” Baza explains, “buyers won’t really be interested. What they want is TV content – scripted or unscripted – that has potential to fill a programming slot for several months. From the seller’s point of view, you’re getting the same deal for one episode of your show as you would for one feature film, so it generates better revenue and is more worth your time.”

Below is a quick guide to the major events on the international film festival and content market calendars. Many thanks to Mayenzeke Baza and Pascal Schmitz of the ATFT for contributing their extensive market experience to help create the event summaries that follow. This is by no means an exhaustive list but the events listed are the most notable ones or those most relevant to African content buyers and sellers. JANUARY/ FEBRUARY

Sundance Film Festival

Where: Utah, USA

Focuses: US independent cinema is the main focus but a selection of international independent films is also featured. Predominantly arthouse – both dramatic and documentary films.

Business/ presentation style: No formal market, generally only films selected for the festival are under discussion. Relatively small attendance with industry insiders accessible on an informal basis. Foreign filmmakers are unlikely to sell films or secure partnerships or distribution here unless they have a film in the festival.

NATPE (National Association of Television Program Executives) Market and Conference Miami

Where: Miami, Florida, USA

Focuses: Television content from and for the North, South and Central American markets, open to global buyers and sellers.

Business/ presentation style/ strategies: A formal, exhibition-style content market. African content sellers should note the large contingent of Latin American TV representatives who are always on the lookout for new dramas and reality formats. The rule of thumb for foreign content is that Mexican buyers are the ‘gatekeepers’ to the rest of the Spanish-American market, and it is best to sell to them first.

Göteborg Film Festival

Where: Gothenburg, Sweden

Focuses: There is an emphasis on films from the Nordic region (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Finland) with a ‘Five Continents’ section dedicated to a selection of films from across the globe.

Business/ presentation style/ strategies: The festival is attended by both the public and industry professionals and is the key showcase and meeting point for the Nordic film industry and its products. An industry event, the Nordic Film Market, runs alongside the festival. The focus here is the sale of Nordic cinematic content and there are few opportunities to sell content from elsewhere unless your film is included in the programme.

International Film Festival Rotterdam/ Rotterdam CineMart

Where: Rotterdam, Netherlands

Focuses: European art cinema, co-production

Business/ presentation style/ strategies: The CineMart is a platform for the development of new cinematic projects, not for the sale and distribution of completed work. Filmmakers submit their projects to the selection panel prior to the event. If selected, they attend the Mart to pitch to potential funders, co-production partners, etc. There is little point attending the Mart unless you have a film in the festival or Mart programmes.

Realscreen Summit

Where: Washington DC, USA

Focus: International documentary and reality content.

Business/ presentation style/ strategies: Realscreen offers both formal and informal platforms for networking, meeting potential production partners, and the sale and purchase of content. Meetings can be arranged through the organisers of the summit itself. It is advisable to have either a full slate of well-presented completed content or a well-planned pitch for a proposed project.

Kidscreen Summit

Where: Miami, Florida, USA

Focus: TV content for children.

Business/ presentation style/ strategies: Much like Realscreen, Kidscreen is a specialised event offering formal market and networking facilities, as well as a conference to keep practitioners up to date on latest industry developments. Meetings with international broadcasters and networks can be scheduled. Well-planned sales and pitching strategies are a must.

Berlinale/ European Film Mart (EFM)

Where: Berlin, Germany

Focus: Festival favours arthouse content, while the Film Market is less prescriptive – here all manner of cinema (and increasingly TV) content can be bought and sold.

Business/ presentation style/ strategies: Berlin marks the start of the European production cycle. Here, deals are set in motion, which will be concluded a few months later at Cannes, before the summer production window opens. EFM is the most extensive market for film in Europe, where a broad range of deals are initiated, from high-end, studio-driven co-production agreements to distribution deals on niche product. Buyers for most content can be found here but prior research is essential in order to sell on target.

MARCH

South by Southwest Film Conference (SXSW)

Where: Austin, Texas, USA

Focus: The event has a focus on American film but is increasingly open to international content.

Business/ presentation style/ strategies: SXSW is very similar in feel to Sundance and Tribeca. There are no formal market structures but industry players are available on a more informal basis. One thing to bear in mind: this event takes place prior to the announcement of the Cannes Film Festival programme. As a result, buyers are holding back on their budgets until they see what will be available at Cannes. Don’t expect any immediate sales or deals.

APRIL

MIPTV

Where: Cannes, France

Focus: TV content for and from the global market;  includes MIPDOC and MIPFormats.

Business/ presentation style/ strategies: Although based in France, MIPTV is a truly global market, with buyers and sellers from anywhere in the world able to meet one another. Although readymade content can be sold here there is also an emphasis on pre-sales, co-production and development.

Tribeca Film Festival

Where: New York City

Focus: International dramatic and documentary cinema.

Business/ presentation style/ strategies: Tribeca is in the same vein as Sundance and Toronto, although more accessible to the public than the former and smaller than the latter. It is very much a festival – rather than a market – opportunities for deal-making are generally of an informal nature.  A benefit for content sellers is that the festival takes place after the announcement of the Cannes programme. Buyers therefore have a good idea of what funds they have left to play with.

MAY

Cannes Film Festival

Where: Cannes, France

Focus: High-end, cinematic content with an arthouse bias, but increasingly featuring more big-budget, commercial work.

Business/ presentation style/ strategies: The world’s biggest film festival is where the northern hemisphere’s festival cycle wraps up before the summer shooting period. A large market takes place alongside the festival, as broad in scope as EFM and separate from the festival programme. Cannes is an ideal launchpad for new filmmaking talent. It also offers two highly beneficial programmes for producers: the Producers’ Network and the Producers’ Workshop. These offer workshops, talks and networking opportunities. The ATFT takes delegations of around 15 producers to these programmes each year.

JUNE/ JULY

DISCOP Africa Abidjan

Where: Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire

Focus: Television content for the francophone African market

Business/ presentation style/ strategies: An exhibition style market on a smaller scale than the Johannesburg event, which takes place later in the year. Content sellers from around the world set up stands to present catalogues of work that is either made for the francophone market or can be repurposed for it. Co-production and pre-sale agreements are also made.

Durban International Film Festival/ Durban FilmMart

Where: Durban, South Africa

Focus: International cinema with an emphasis on work from South Africa and elsewhere on the continent.

Business/ presentation style/ strategies: The festival takes its cue from Cannes and Berlin in emphasising arthouse films, although it has recently begun to include work with more commercial appeal. The DFM is modelled on Rotterdam’s CineMart, and is not so much a platform for content sales as for co-production partnerships, development and pre-sales.

AUGUST/ SEPTEMBER

Locarno Film Festival

Where: Locarno, Switzerland

Focus: International cinema.

Business/ presentation style/ strategies: Perhaps the most attractive part of Locarno for Africa’s filmmakers is the Open Doors Co-Production Lab. Focusing on a specific region each year, Open Doors selects projects for funding and co-production from among several applicants. Previous focus regions have included southern Africa and the Maghreb region.

Venice Film Festival

Where: Venice, Italy

Focus: International cinema with an emphasis on Italian films.

Business/ presentation style/ strategies: Venice, along with Cannes and Berlin, forms the ‘Big Three’ of international film festivals. Like the other two festivals, it includes a substantial market element and can be approached in much the same way. The Final Cut programme offers partnership and support opportunities to filmmakers from Africa and the Levant.

Toronto International Film Festival (September)

Where: Toronto, Canada

Focus: International cinema with a North American emphasis

Business/ presentation style/ strategies: North America’s biggest film festival is extremely comprehensive in terms of its content selection. Films from all over the world are screened but the approach is unique: there are sub-sections of the festival for films from particular regions. The festival is well attended by the general public and it does not have the kinds of formal industry programmes one would find at Cannes or EFM. Sales agents, distributors, funders and studio executives are in attendance but meetings with them generally have to be scheduled privately as there is no exhibition or official meeting space.

OCTOBER/ NOVEMBER

MIPCOM

Where: Cannes, France

Focus: A broad range of global entertainment content across all major visual media, including cinema and TV.

Business/ presentation style/ strategies: Probably the world’s biggest content market – an exhibition-style setup. Since many markets are represented here, it is vital that content sellers and buyers do their research and determine which exhibitors/ potential buyers are best suited to the content they are offering or looking to buy.

DISCOP Africa Johannesburg

Where: Johannesburg, South Africa

Focus: Television content for the South African market and other (predominantly English-speaking) African markets.

Business/ presentation style/ strategies: An exhibition-style event similar to the Abidjan one but on a much larger scale.

American Film Market

Where: Santa Monica, California

Focus: International film markets.

Business/ presentation style/ strategies: AFM is on a par with the likes of Cannes or EFM but there is no festival element and the event is very business-oriented. Although based in the US, it is very much a global market. It is essential that sellers have a catalogue of ready-made content. This is not so much a market for pre-sales or production partnerships.

Admit One: finding the ‘truth’

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At the recent PromaxBDA Africa Awards, held at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton in November 2015, Johannesburg-based production house Admit One took the gold for Best Sports Campaign. This latest accolade came in recognition of its SuperSport Rugby World Cup promo. Driven by the tagline, ‘Our hearts are in it’, the simple and emotive campaign featured a montage of notables – from international rugby players both past and present, to the likes of Trevor Noah and Princess Charlene of Monaco – simply placing their hands over their hearts in that most recognisable gesture of patriotic commitment.

“There were a lot of eyes on this campaign,” says Admit One executive creative director Henre Pretorius. “For the client, the Rugby World Cup is a major driver for anti-churn and decoder sales. So we put a lot of effort into that. What we wanted was something emotional, something that would stand out from the World Cup clutter. SuperSport had to show, as a broadcaster, how they supported the Boks in a unique way that complemented SA Rugby’s message without just piggybacking off it.”

The crew travelled around South Africa, as well as to the United Kingdom, France and Monaco in order to get all the necessary shots. The logistical and bureaucratic challenges of international travel, as well as scheduling complications, were the most difficult part of the production. With the shots in the can, all that was required to bring the spot to life was a powerful music track, minimal graphics and a skilled editor. The campaign is the epitome of the often-cited, not always fully realised dictum, ‘less is more’.

The conference sessions at PromaxBDA are always primarily concerned with ways of refreshing creativity, finding new ideas, staying relevant. The ‘Our hearts are in it’ campaign proves that there is often no need to overthink it and that the simplest ideas are often the best, provided there is a strong emotional hook for the audience.

“For me the most important consideration is that there should be some kind of truth in what you’re doing,” Pretorius explains. “In any marketing campaign, what you’re trying to do is form a connection with the audience. The only way, to my mind, that an audience connects with something is if there is that central truth, something that speaks to them on the most basic emotional level, copy that makes sense to them. As creatives in the industry, it’s great to look at what the international market is doing and what brilliant new work is out there – but if your audience doesn’t understand your work or doesn’t hook into it, then it’s not going to be a successful campaign, no matter how clever the concept may be. There are a lot of campaigns on at the moment, where you sit there after having seen it and think, ‘what exactly was that trying to say to me?’”

Having sport as a subject makes finding that connection much easier, Pretorius believes, as it inspires responses on the most basic levels of team support and (in this case) national pride. People support their teams with incredible emotional attachment. Once a creative taps into that link between team and supporter, much of the work is already done.

“All aspects of the medium are just tools,” Pretorius concludes. “The copy, the graphics, the performers, the music, the voiceover… We sometimes rely on them too much, they become a crutch. We become more concerned with creating something that is novel just for novelty’s sake, or something that looks good. A good promo doesn’t have to be the slickest, most visually stunning piece as long as it has truth.”

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