South African Romcom, Mrs Right Guy passed the R1 million mark on Monday (06 June) following its release on Friday (03 June) and sat at number five at the Box Office on the weekend of its release. So to follow up on our review of the film, in this interview, we speak to award-winning independent producer, Mr Dumi Gumbi (who co-produced Mrs Right Guy) about the business side of SA films and the Romcom genre.
How did the idea for Mrs Right Guy come about?
We were looking at what was happening in the local film industry and the issues of relevance. You’ll remember that the film industry in South Africa dealt with extremely socio-political compelling issues, and post 1994, the AIDS epidemic was new and prevalent, so films like Yesterday were created. There was also a need to depict gang violence, which was another social problem and so Tsotsi was created. In light of all of this, and the shift that South Africa was entering post 2010, I had a conversation with my colleague asking the question; “How about making something lighter?” The rest is history.
Can you describe the work that a film producer does?
A producer is someone who analyses society and has ideas about making films that interrogate, celebrate and/or discuss whatever is going on. It’s the person that comes up with the initial idea of work that needs to be created. Once topics, themes and genres are agreed upon, then the producer’s work is to look at the business side of executing the idea; such as finding a writer, director, casting director, drawing up a budget and raising the money to make the film. In big film that can put chunks of money in building different departments such as marketing/sales, distribution, finance and so on, the producer oversees all of this and is able to be the driver of the creative process. But, independent producers like myself do all the work required in order for the film to happen.
Would you say there are a lot of black producers in the market?
I’d say there are definitely a lot of people working around calling themselves producers; but whether their films and/or ideas do make it to the big screen is another conversation. Remember that there are different producers such as TV producers, Film producers and Theatre producers. I’d argue that TV does have a lot of black producers, but when you talk about films specifically which have made it to the big screen, then no – the reality is that there aren’t a lot of us.
So – in this genre that you are grappling with; Romcoms, do you think it is fully representative of SA’s story, taking into consideration that the reference of it is really Hollywood at the moment?
Well, the ones that are geared towards black woman have only been 3; Tell Me Sweet Something, Happiness is a Four-Letter Word and Mrs Right Guy. We’re still finding our feet; experimenting and exploring. They might fully be representative or they might not be, depending on whoever is watching them. For me, I think we need to be creating more films under this genre to continue finding what our stories is and what we want to say to ourselves and everyone.
This, being a “Chick Flick” kind of genre – what would you as a producer say the narrative of the black woman you guys are creating this film for is?
I think it differs according to where she is. Some black women live in the townships, have 1 or 2 years’ experience of work, are trying to climb the social ladder and are having car problems or still take taxis to work. They date within their racial group and these are the women that are captured by Mrs Right Guy. Whereas, you also have black women who have kind of made it; have the money, the houses and the cars and are now evaluating what it really important in their lives as they enter a new realm of family life. The trick is to create films that can capture most of these narratives, bearing in mind that South Africa also has interracial couples that we see almost every day and that’s why films like I Now Pronounce you Black and White worked as well.
Is it a difficult endeavour to create films that will speak to most in such a fragmented & diverse landscape?
One of the problems that arise is language. We have eleven official languages in SA and this is great, but when making a film set in Johannesburg, what language do you choose? There are obviously cultural aesthetics carried in language but when making a business decision, you have to think about what will happen to the movie when you sell it internationally. There’s been great movies that were only in indigenous languages, be it Tshivenda or Afrikaans, but when they went to the international market died because most people did not want to sit and read subtitles the whole time. Even then, it’s not as easy as making a business decision to go for English because how realistic is it for black people among each other to only communicate in English only? The reality is that an ordinary South African goes in and out of their mother tongue and English. Perhaps we need to make two different versions of the film; one in English completely and the other in SA languages – but then there are costs incurred there because that means doubling the takes per scene.
Looking at the faces we see in these “popular” films, one can tell that the casting is for sales. Yes?
The people that are household names bring a lot of business for films, whether we like it or not. It’s part of packaging the films. But then again, Romcoms are what we call “Popcorn” movies, so those faces make the movies sell. The reality business wise is that if you have an iconic name in your film, you know you’ll most probably make such and such amount of money because those faces draw people. But, if you are speaking of films like Tsotsi, now you are speaking about intense and heavily dramatic cinema – a work of art really, and in that, you have to find great actors. You don’t cast by following and faces.
In the SA market, where are we in terms of marketing these products?
We are nowhere. Raising production money on its own is not so easy and so we don’t have budgets for real proper marketing blasts. Trailers are not on TV repeatedly because we can’t afford it, so we have to rely on a few articles and a few radio interviews. Digital media has made things better, in that one can market by themselves and what we saw for our Facebook page is the engagement from people. That’s a great tool to have because you as the producer get to hear directly from the people you are selling to.
Lastly, how’s the film doing sales wise at the box offices?
It’s doing okay. The cold weather has not been helping us at all. We urge South Africans to continue to go and watch the film.
Dumi’s 5 tips on how to get funding for your film
- NFVF has amazing funding for developmental & production stages of films. If you know your story, match it with theirs and have a clear idea of where you want to go with it, they will fund you.
- Industrial Development Corporation is also a great was to get funding. http://www.refinery.co.za/idc-film-funding/
- The department of trade industry is also there to fund producers with solid ideas and plans of execution. http://www.thedti.gov.za/
- You need to be entrepreneurial – so build partnerships with corporate brands for instance asking a food store to sponsor catering for your company and then set up a scene in their store to advertise them. Same as clothing stores for wardrobe and so on. If the movie will cost you ten million, that does not mean you have to raise ten million, find creative ways to raise that money.
- There are provincial funds for filmmakers as well, such as the Gauteng Film Commission – so check the initiatives that government has out there. It’s the best time to be a filmmaker in South Africa.