One of the the many injustices propagated against creative practitioners in South Africa was this unwritten law to never discuss money publicly. Great for the big guys who can easily hide the facts of the finances of the production, bad for the artist and fans because we will never know if our money is going to the right people.
This past week we once again applauded another local film with black artists making money at the box office. We all celebrated, retweets and shares blazed on social media, even our Minister of Arts and Culture congratulated Mrs Right Guy for reaching R1 million ticket sales at the box office.
Great, right? NO. As someone who has been working in this industry, in different capacities, I believe it is important to look beyond the veneer and be aware of the facts before we end up thinking we doing great when in fact we haven't really moved anywhere.
Allow me to elaborate. See, perception in South African entertainment industry is never a reality. People you think are making bucket loads of money often aren't. People you think have influence, often don't. People you think have power, often don't.
Now, we want to support the industry. I beam with pride when I have to announce that black creative practitioners are doing well. However, much to the dislike of many, I also know the importance of being factual and giving the correct picture of the industry.
If we pretend we making money, when we don't, people think we don't need it and they end up not wanting to pay us for our services. If we push this false narrative that our stars have the glitz, glamour and fortune when in reality they are struggling, the facade only ends up hurting us.
Furthermore, shouldn't we as the public know how much our film stars are getting paid for these films so that we know if our support for these individuals is actually helping to increase their livelihood? Why is it unfathomable that Phil Mphela would want to know what an actor got paid for a film?
The reason why I personally think it is imperative that we become a transparent industry, if we are going to encourage support from our people, is because we do not want a situation where 10 years down the line we are back to square one because audiences are fed up with reading that our film tickets sold millions but the actors are broke.
A response from the producer of Mrs Right Guy when I asked how much the budget for the film was;
"Like any other indie filmmaker in the world, they had to make the best deals with everyone to have much more value on screen than what was basic cash budget would have allowed. What the real number is and the true value that is on offer when you watch the film isn't the same. Quoting a cash budget would be misleading to a viewer"
Ok I'm very confused. Let's try and decipher this comment together [ and please I welcome your views if you think I am off the mark]; A film is a product that is sold to the consumer (the viewer). To sell said product you have to know its value so that you can accurately know if you made a profit.
Quoting a cash budget would be misleading to the viewer?! Even if the whole crew worked for free in the production, at the end of the day there is a figure that the producers have had to come up with to know if the film was worth making or not. Unless people are just making films for the fun of it and taking money from sponsors out of false pretences — this is a business and there are figures.
Why is it always such a big issue for black production in this country to be open about money? I just do not get it. If a film was cheap to make and grossed million then that's good news for everybody. If it flopped on a big budget then that a lesson for everyone and we fix what went wrong. How is hiding things and riding on perceptions rather than facts helping the local film industry? Enlighten me.
If I got the budget for Mrs Right Guy or simply a figure that the producers feel they would break even on if they reached it, then I would have been able to accurately track the film's progress at the box office and urge you guys to support it if it fell short.
Against my better judgement, I don't believe people should loose money by trying to advance our industry. I know, I have said we shouldn't just support mediocrity simply because its South African. But I genuinely mean this. I think creative practitioner should not have to go bankrupt for trying new things that help elevate the game. I still think we should be honest about our opinions of their work but must support. Don't-criticise-without-buying kind of effort.
I am disappointed that at this juncture in our film industry when people have the platform and power to change the game and make this a respectable and competitive industry, we still cower behind cloaks of secrecy and misinformation. It is unfortunate that we still don't trust our black audiences enough to be honest with them and yet we expect them to pay money for our work. Very unfortunate in-deed.