In our first blogpost you read about how we’ve been trying to make it in the industry for the last eight years and throughout those eight years we have used one particular hashtag, #WeMakingTV. (A fun fact on that hashtag is that our MD, Katleho Ramaphakela, was the first person to ever use it, according to Twitter receipts). But now we get to add another hashtag to our name because we are about to make films. And it’s been a longtime coming.
To explain our joy and excitement of venturing into this new era of Burnt Onion Productions, I will compare it to having a baby (I obviously don’t have any children because if I did, I imagine that I would be outraged by the comparison). So yes, thanks to the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) and their slate funding, we have the honour of developing 9 (yes, NINE!) feature films. No pressure.
We finally get to have children of our own. I know what you’re thinking; we have many babies already, but as you know, well at least I hope you do, our broadcasters own everything that we have made for them. So we essentially make babies and then we give them up for adoption. It’s as sad as it sounds and also a blogpost for another day. But with films, it’s a completely different story, hopefully one that comes with a happy ending.
You see, with films, your baby doesn’t really have a support system like a broadcaster, it’s just us and the film, and after the grueling process of writing and then sourcing funding so that we can actually make the film, a baby is born. And like all parents, we will think that it’s the most beautiful baby and gush over it but what other people think of it, well, that’s a whole different story. Making films in South Africa is like playing the lottery (there are clearly a lot of analogies for making films), you can have the best crew, a pretty decent script and a talented cast but if no-one bothers to come see your baby then it’s all pointless really.
Don’t get me wrong, our industry is starting to grow especially when runaway successes like Happiness is a Four Letter Word give us producers hope that we actually can make our money back and payback all the investors, especially the uncle who had no idea what he was actually investing in. But, Happiness is one of a handful at this point, and unless you’re Leon Schuster, you don’t really know if South Africans are going to watch your films or not. You can research the Top South African films (usually, Leon Schuster and maybe a couple of Afrikaans-language RomComs), then try to make sense of cinemagoer trends and even hashtag FILLUPTHECINEMA once the film comes out but at the end of the day, you just never know if your film will be the next Happiness.
But this shouldn’t stop you from telling stories, right? Well it’s a little more complicated than that. On the one hand, yes, let’s all tell stories and make films but on the other hand, I have a bond to pay off and I would one day like to have the opportunity to consider myself as a potential Blesser. Marrying the two wants is the difficult part. But we’re hell-bent on making it work.
Our slate of films promises to bring you all the goodness that you usually enjoy from a Burnt Onion Productions winning recipe, but this time for the big screen.
So as we embark on this new journey where we become parents to babies (nine of them) that will stay with us for the rest of our lives, we will ensure that they are entertaining, memorable and make us some of our money back (otherwise family gatherings with our uncle will be very awkward). There is no formula to follow because even if you have read all the parenting how-to books, well, you just never know how your kid will turn out.
And whilst we gear up for this new chapter, we learn from those that have come before us as we can finally say: #WeMakingFilms.
They say most businesses will be lucky to make it beyond the first five years... I don’t really know who “they” are; but I’d imagine “they” are the same people who studied for really higher grade professions and whose job it is to tell you that one in 10 people will die from some or other obscure disease that nine in ten people have never heard of...
This business statistic could easily be one of those that have been passed around from generation to generation that you wonder whether it’s an urban myth. The truth is... it’s not. Hey, I’m not here to sugar-coat things; there are plenty agony-aunt columns for that (those still exist, right?). And when you decide to start up your own business, this is probably the last the stat you’d want to hear from the get go... And to put the icing on the cake, we didn’t decide to go into any ordinary business; this is a production company we’re talking about (I don’t even want to share what I know on this type of business’ survival rate).
But here we are – Burnt Onion Productions – eight years in (including the two years where we were just a name at the Registrar of companies, waiting patiently for someone to bite on our first idea)... We’re still cooking; and holding on to not just being another statistic... because apparently ten years is the next landmark and the odds on making it passed that, are similar to that of a South African being the host of a satirical American late-night news show... (wait... wrong analogy). Okay, seriously, here’s the thing about sustaining a production company: it’s really easy. All you need is dedication, focus, strong-will, a lifetime supply of Kleenex for those dark days (and there will be plenty) or a really good psychologist. We can’t afford the latter, so if Kleenex is looking to sponsor someone, we’re open to talk.
One thing that those statistic churning mystics fail to tell you, is that if you execute a thought out plan to go past those five-years, in all likely-hood, you will. This is one of those things I wish we had done properly in hindsight. But we’re creatives and creatives want to spend time creating, not agonising over some strategies and business plans all the time. Free word of advice: that business plan is probably more important in this industry than it is in any other. There are too many horror stories of small start-up production companies who were either forced to, or were on the verge of closing down. Some of those we even looked up to. In Burnt Onion’s case, we were lucky not to have gone down that route, and continually go from strength to strength with our productions. We’re now a SAFTA award winning company, which must count for something right? (I’ll do a whole blog about awards another time. That requires more boxes of Kleenex just to write it up). But I guess getting a nod from the industry also means we’re on the right track.
Our saving grace was our first concept. We believed in it so much that it was literally all we had in our bag of tricks to start the company. Four seasons in and My Perfect Family (a sitcom which was actually a satirical take on our own lives) has basically become our theoretical and practical training and ‘how-to-guide’ in the comedy genre and industry as a whole (The 4th season will start to air in October on SABC 1 – “Non-Shameless Plug!”). But we’re still no experts, and that’s the beauty of being creatives. Even after all the other shows we’ve now produced, every production is still a new challenge.
Now we’re in the midst of a new era and gearing up for our next challenge: through the support of the National Film and Video Foundation, Burnt Onion Productions will be developing nine feature films in the next three years (another sad blog I’ll write... about how South African films don’t really make any Box Office money). So why do we even run a production company? Because we love it! We love telling stories; we love entertaining and educating through this film and television medium.
There’ve been ups; there’ve been downs. We don’t have all the answers, and I doubt we ever will; but the one answer I do have for you, is a question: what are you trying to achieve and how are you planning to achieve it? Basically, where will you be in your next five years? Are you going to prove those mystics and their statistical figures right, or are you going to safe-guard yourself with a plan that ensures your survival beyond those years?
When you have the answers, please let us know!
(Stay logged on as we take you through our journey in the film and TV industry in sharing our thoughts and opinions on these blogs... For now, let me go work on that Kleenex sponsorship).