Sunday, May 1, 2016

Wanna #OpenUpTheIndustry? PART 1: MONEY


I watched Twitter last weekend all abuzz about #OpenUpTheIndustry. As usual most of the comments on the micro-blog site were coming from an uninformed place and soon the conversation about the topic went South. The reality of why the industry has gotten so redundant goes way beyond Boity hosting Ridiculous Africa. 

To understand the problem that is plaguing this industry you have to look at our HISTORY. No big words here, Im gonna lay this down in a language that even a 3rd grader can understand so everyone can grasp the dire situation of this industry. 

During apartheid days artists in this country were made to believe that having a job on television or being given a chance to showcase your talent as a black person was a privilege bestowed to you by white people. Frankly speaking the situation was; you are black, we are doing you a favour so shut up and tow the line or we will find another black face to take your place. 

Thus many black artists were exploited often simply because they just did not know better. 20 years into our democracy not much has changed. 

The uncomfortable truth is that; while in the 80s and 90s production companies and recording labels were owned by white people and therefore they made the rules, now you have black production companies that have not really done away with those rules that disadvantaged the black artists. 

One such rule is; do not openly discuss money. Ask any actor and they will tell you that talking about money at work will very quickly get you fired because you will be seen as an agitator. Some casting agencies will even blatantly tell their talent NOT to discuss money with fellow actors on set. 

The problem with this NO MONEY TALK gag is that it gives The Suits a power over artists that enables them to exploit these artists. If you don't know what you should be earning or what someone who is doing the same or less than you is getting paid, then you are more susceptible to accepting anything. Knowledge is power afterall. 

This problem came to head with the Generations 16 debacle. The arrogance shown by the producers and the subsequent firing of the actors for demanding what is essentially due to them in a fair business practice, put to the fore the reasons why it is essential for the industry to be open about salaries and standard of profit share. 

Another factor in this money issue is the issue of experience determining earning rate. In case you are not aware, actors in South Africa are mainly paid on experience and not star power, especially in soaps. This is another stupid rule adopted from the apartheid years. 

In 2016, star power in Mzansi still means nothing. Where in Hollywood, an actor will get paid based on their star power and profits of the show, in SA actors just get paid a standard fee and thats it. This means a young actor can be a lead on a hot show that is pulling millions for the channel but still get paid R8000 simply because he is new in the industry. 

With such standards, how do we expect actors in South Africa to sustain their livelihood? It's sad that someone who has been on a tv show that is watched by over 7 million people for over 10 years can be broke 2 months after leaving the show, yet the producers live in mansions. 

The gobsmacking thing is that these appalling fees margin are still practiced by production companies that are owned by the very black people who claim to be trying to change the industry. White actors in this country tend to earn more because they negotiate better for their work. The white side of our industry is run completely different from the black side. White actors on white productions get paid based on their negotiated fee while black actors commonly take a set fee. 

With all this, the only way a black actor can survive in this business would be for them to be on numerous shows in a year. Unless he is tied to  soap with a standard salary, a black actor would have to do 5 or more tv shows in a year to cover his living expenses. That is our industry reality. 

Opening up the industry and employing more faces would not solve the problems in the industry because you will have 1000s of black faces on tv who are paupers. In my opinion, we first have to sort out the mess facing the artists we already have before we draw in more people to face the same mess. 


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