I’m sitting at my desk packing away the file with all my Ikani scripts and notes. The post-production debrief begins now. Normally, it would just be about packing away the character and her world but this is 2018, and we’re in the middle of yet another financial crisis and there are things that need to be said.
I’ve tried not to focus too much on that these past weeks as I needed to pay attention to making good drama where it matters most, in front of the camera.
Under crazy and tough circumstances, we managed to complete a drama we can be proud of. Why does it feel like we’ve just been to war?
The production process of an underfunded drama is an extreme adventure. I don’t know how the producers manage.
On the one side you have to try your best to produce a compelling piece of drama; while on the other you defy professional protocol daily just to get your show in the can.
And then in the middle of all that, you hear that your broadcaster is broke again.
The anxiety of being in a business that depends on Auckland Park can take a terrible toll on one’s health. I was not even on the producer’s side of this gig but I could not miss the budget constraints that our team had to work within.
Am I writing this to shame the producers of the beautiful show I was in? The answer is a big “No”. If anything, I am taking this opportunity to plead with the SABC on their behalf and that of every other producer who has to make magic with a dime. We cannot carry on like this. It just won’t work.
Give producers adequate budgets for what they must create. When you don’t, you are not crippling just one production.
What you feed into the system, is a terrible cycle of disproportionate payment for all the work provided. Ours is a sector that acts blind to inflation. The more expensive life gets, the lower the rates we get paid.
Do we need to be teaching the people at the helm of SABC drama about non-negotiables and minimum standards in television production? Is this where we are now? Do the bosses care?
The most brilliant script can turn into the worst production if you don’t equip those bringing it to life with some essentials.
So as you approve a script and commission a production you might want to ensure that you are not setting yourself up for failure by compromising on these.
A solid and credible writer. Scripts don’t write themselves.
Good writers don’t come cheap. Directors need room to play, to give you the kind of brilliance that will leave advertisers begging for more.
They can’t give you such with budgets that cut their shooting time in half and leave them with skeleton versions of the visuals and locations described in your beautiful scripts.
And a director can’t possibly do without good actors. You don’t save money by opting to pay less for actors, in place of the premium talent in your shortlist. All you will end up with is longer shoot days and many dropped scenes or overtime pay. Something you can’t afford when the budget is unfriendly.
Once you have the right cast, please treat them well. It’s really silly that this is a plea we need to keep on making. Acting is serious business.
The actor brings their all to a set. Their work is physically, mentally and emotionally taxing. Their space is a sacred one, do make it as professional and stress free as possible. After all these are the people whose craft and dedication generates your advertising revenue.
Treat them like you know that. You cannot keep approving budgets that don’t cater for actors facilities on location.
If the budgets have these items, why have they been practically done away with on almost all drama productions?
While you are at it, check that the most basic health and safety standards are adhered to in each and every one of your productions. This particular point is a ticking time bomb. Actually, the Department of Labour is sleeping on the job on this one.
A few random checks in studios and on locations will ensure that no production ever regards health and safety as a luxury item again. The workplace safety of cast and crew is not negotiable.
* Masebe is an award-winning actor, a creator and producer of television and film content.
The Sunday Independent