Friday, May 29, 2009

The Callsheet Article - The Creative Natives are Restless!

The following article appears in the latest issue of The Callsheet, and appears on SASFED with their kind permission today. The article was written by Digby Young for the Callsheet on the 18th of May, but was released today at the same time as The Callsheet should hit your post-box.

The Creative Natives are Restless! 

The first week of May saw no fewer than three meetings of film industry associations in Johannesburg; The South African Guild of Artists (SAGA) held its third meeting on Monday 4 May, while SASWA/SASWU held a meeting as part of the process of  re-constituting itself as  the Writers’ Guild of South Africa (WGSA) on Friday 8 June, followed by a Special General Meeting of the South African Screen Federation (SASFED) on Saturday 9 June. 

While each body had its own immediate reason to consult their constituency, the common thread is an increasing level of dissatisfaction with the present state of the local industry, specifically the Television industry. While a few years ago one was aware of a low level of muttering about “Foreign companies coming here to steal our stories and exploit us,” the script has changed dramatically. Although foreign film and TV work has kept a certain number of crew and actors ticking over, dissatisfaction with what is seen by many as “bullying” by South African producers and broadcasters has increased dramatically amongst people working entirely within the local market.

It was evident, particularly among the Actors gathered at the SAGA meeting, that there is a surprising lack of knowledge about how the industry works. One result of this is that the local producers get blamed for more than they deserve. The convenors of the SASWA/ WGSA and the SASFED meetings were at pains to point out that producers act the way they do because they are constrained by the terms of  the contracts they have to sign with the broadcasters, specifically, but not only, the SABC. 

The central issue, which leads to almost all the issues facing writers, actors and producers in South Africa, from fees and residual payments to commissioning procedures, is the national broadcaster’s handling of Intellectual Property or IP.

The thorny question of IP, which is indeed causing a log jam in local content development, has been around for many years. Various parties have attempted to engage with the SABC on the issue at various times - and that has been part of the problem - there has been no united, credible, representative industry body to work consistently with the broadcaster to resolve the issues. The situation has been exacerbated as the politically charged wrangling at Board level has intensified over the past few years. 

SASFED was formed in 2006 to provide a united front from which to tackle issues of common interest to all sectors of the industry. The voluntary committee has indeed done much useful work, including getting a foot in the door of the SABC and jointly initiating research into the way IP is handled in several comparable countries. Unfortunately, SASFED has been hampered until now by three factors: hesitancy on the part of existing industry bodies to fully commit their support, the lack of representative bodies for large sections of the industry, and what can at best be described as either an aloof attitude from the SABC or a lack of concentration within the national broadcaster as a result of internal strife.

Within the past few weeks, internal strife, exacerbated by financial difficulties, has left blood on the walls of the SABC’s ivory tower. Outside, the people the SABC needs to supply it with product that advertisers will support have had to endure late payments, seriously endangering several smaller companies. Local industry players, to put it bluntly, are “gatvol”.

SASFED’s efficiently handled Special General Meeting, held simultaneously in Johannesburg and Cape Town, provided feedback from a wide range of its task groups and facilitated constructive engagement with supportive Government departments. It became clear that the SABC has discredited itself with its Advertisers, with a broad spectrum of the Industry and with the public. It has even been a source of frustration to Government institutions. There has never been a more critical moment for industry organisations to get their acts together quickly and to support SASFED and its growing number of affiliates. Full membership of SASFED is open to all properly constituted representative bodies, while Associate membership is specifically designed to help new or partly formed organisations achieve recognition.

SASFED’s Annual General Meeting will take place on Saturday 20 June 2009 in both Johannesburg and Cape Town. The writers are on board. The producers are on board. The editors are on board. The actors may soon be on board. Anyone seen the crew?

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