Leon Schuster plays 'Boetie' in Mad Buddies

SOUTH African funnyman Leon Schuster doesn’t see the comedy in DVD piracy.

There have been at least two attempts to illegally record his latest movie Mad Buddies – before it officially opened on Friday, including one during an official screening where Schuster was present – and four last weekend.

Now he wants anyone convicted of movie or music piracy to face the same penalties as armed burglars and violent criminals – the longer the prison sentence, the better.

First-time offenders face imprisonment of up to three years, but Schuster wants this increased to 20 or even 25 years.

“These guys are murderers – they’re killing our film industry!”

A man was due to appear in court on Monday after he was caught recording Mad Buddies on a hand-held camcorder during its screening at Maponya Mall in Soweto on Thursday night.

Corné Guldenpfennig, CEO of the SA Federation Against Copyright Theft (Safact), said the man was believed to be part of a piracy syndicate that released a fake copy of Mad Buddies on the streets of Joburg earlier last week.

She said Safact would be in court to oppose any bail.

“If he’s released, he’ll just go straight back to the syndicate and continue where he left off,” she said.

Thursday’s bust was just one of at least six attempts to pirate Schuster’s film. A suspected camcorder pirate fled the cinema complex at Bedford Centre after being caught in the act by Ster-Kinekor staff on Thursday, as did another camcorder pirate in Menlyn, Pretoria, who got away but left his equipment behind, which was seized. Another suspect evaded capture at Festival Mall in Kempton Park.

Two suspected camcorder pirates were arrested in the Cape, one at Parow Mall and the other at Promenade Mall in Mitchells Plain. Both were to appear in court on Monday.

On Sunday, Schuster veered from indignation to outright fury.

“It took me three years to film Mad Buddies, from getting the idea to writing the script, then pre-production, filming and post-production. If it does well, at the end of it I will be lucky enough to walk away with what a junior rugby player gets in a year – for three years’ efforts.”

It’s not the first time he has fallen victim to DVD piracy. Mama Jack, Schuster’s 2006 blockbuster, was pirated just after Christmas. It was an inside job, with a master copy of the DVD being stolen.

“It killed the movie right there and then. We had done R26 million at the box office, but after that DVD leaked, attendance dwindled almost overnight.

“We lost millions and basically only made back what we had put in to make the movie in the first place.”

Schuster said the scourge of pirated films was endemic.

“I’ve been receiving calls all weekend telling me the DVD is being sold in Cape Town and Joburg.

“In some cases, people are buying a DVD cover with the artwork, and when they get home, they find it’s a DVD of some oke singing African songs.

“It’s a rip-off.”

He wants to see the ringleaders punished.

“There’s hundreds of the people selling it on the street, but it’s the kingpins who control it... They’re the ones who are driving the whole thing.

 “All I can do is to appeal to people not to buy these pirate DVDs. It’s unethical, it’s wrong to buy these DVDs, but people do it because they don’t see it the way the filmmaker does,” Schuster said.

 It’s still early days yet, but it appears that Mad Buddies, co-starring Kenneth Nkosi and Tanit Phoenix alongside Schuster’s long-time sidekick, Alfred Ntombela, might be as successful as his last 13 films.

 “I’ve been on marketing junkets all over the country… The audiences have been roaring with laughter throughout.

“I think it’s a great film, well shot with enough gags and jokes to hold the 92 minutes, but let’s see what happens next weekend.” - Saturday Star