MORE THAN TALENT, THE LIFEBLOOD OF MOVIES IS MONEY

WHEN Mandla Dube wrapped up the final scene of his movie about Solomon Mahlangu, he breathed a deep sigh.

It was not a sigh of satisfaction, but one of relief that he had not gone bankrupt in the process.

Dube pulled out all the stops to get the movie financed, including putting his house up for sale and calling in favours from various people and government departments to keep his budget down.

His battle is not unique. Despite the existence of several organisations that assist with funding, many South African filmmakers face huge monetary challenges and have to resort to creative methods to secure financing. These include crowdfunding, sponsorship of airtime, vehicles and accommodation, and even second bonds on homes.

Scenes from Otelo Burning movie

Director Sara Blecher’s film, Otelo Burning, which was released in 2012, had a budget of R6-million.

“I remember the moment the IDC [Industrial Development Corporation] pulled their funding,” said Blecher.

“I was in the middle of directing a difficult rape scene when I got the phone call. All I remember is looking at the cast and crew — who were putting everything they could into making this film — and realising that come Friday I couldn’t pay them. It was a truly awful moment.

“I had to borrow money and bond my house.”

Blecher said funders were reluctant to take chances on unknown directors. “Unbankable talent is the phrase they use.”

Producer Cecil Matlou said he had been “rejected” by several funding institutions for his 2013 film, The Forgotten Kingdom, which cost R8-million.

Matlou raised a “significant budget through crowdfunding in the US”.

“We also asked hotels to house the actors for free, network providers for airtime and vehicle manufacturers to loan us cars while shooting.

“The National Film and Video Foundation has always turned me down for funding, despite my films winning Saftas [South African Film and Television Awards] or getting recognition at film festivals abroad. So for my next project I am travelling to Japan and Europe to do more crowdfunding,” Matlou said.

Actress Florence Masebe in movie Elelwani

Director Ntshavheni Wa Luruli said his Venda-language film, Elelwani, cost R3-million to make. “Getting funding for a film is tough, especially if you’re not willing to adhere to the NFVF’s standard of storytelling, where you have a hero. I wasn’t willing to change the way I wanted to tell my story and opted to [look] elsewhere.”

Wa Luruli raised funds in Europe and put up some of his own money.

Dube’s film, Kalushi, cost more than R20-million to make. It is set for release next month. “I put my property up for sale because the funding was coming in dribs and drabs,” he said. Luckily, funding came through before the house was sold.

“The money we had wasn’t enough and at times we pulled in favours.” This included asking the South African Air Force to assist with helicopter scenes and asking the Department of Correctional Services for permission to film at the original gallows — “which would have been expensive for us to reconstruct”.

Filmmakers can apply for funding from several institutions, including the NFVF, the Department of Trade and Industry, the National Lottery Commission, IDC, and the Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal film commissions.

NFVF communications co-ordinator Neo Moretlwe said the organisation used a “tiered approach to funding”; filmmakers, depending on their experience, were allocated between R100000 and R1.3-million for development and production.

Trade and industry spokesman Sidwell Medupe said the department had an emerging black filmmakers’ incentive, available to local “black-owned qualifying productions with a total production budget of R1-million and above”.

Helen Kuun, head of Indigenous Film Distribution, said securing a cinema costs between R8000 and R10000. This excluded marketing, poster printing and trailers.

Films that performed well were “musicals, romantic comedy, straight-up comedy, drama action and animation”, she said.

Despite being described as a “lovely” film with “fine performances” by the New York Times, Otelo Burning made only R216470 at cinemas.

Hit filmmaker Leon Schuster, whose productions between 2010 and 2016 have raked in an average of R20-million in cinemas, advised up-and-coming filmmakers to focus on satisfying the public. “Our audiences have been exposed to movies coming out of America. We can’t compete with those guys. You have to understand the psyche of people [here], and what they will like.”

Schuster said he had not struggled much with funding when he started making movies in 1981, but that getting funding nowadays was difficult because of the economy. - article was published in Sunday Times

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