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Lockdown Heights: an online soapie hit with the nation

Lockdown Heights can be watched every night on Instagram at 8.30pm

Lockdown Heights can be watched every night on Instagram at 8.30pm

Published Apr 29, 2020

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There is a new online ‘soapie’ that is keeping South Africans entertained on Instagram. 

Lockdown Heights, the brainchild of actor Ayanda Makayi, has become a social media sensation starring local actors and actresses depicting the lives of ‘individuals living in an apartment block in Johannesburg during the national lockdown’. 

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Makayi said the concept came about two days before the lockdown began.

“I asked myself what we as artists are going to do during these times. Also, with our local soapies, what happens when they get to the point where they are up-to-date with content, what are they going to play on air? So I created an online soapie and called my actor friends who were excited about the idea and are all on the show.” 

Ayanda Makayi created the local Instagram soapie- Lockdown Heights 

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As social distancing is being observed, all the actors shoot the scenes from the comfort of their homes. 

“We are literally going as it is happening. I came up with the ‘world’ of the story and the different characters so by the time I was approaching people, I already had something. I have a team of four writers; myself, Bradley Olivier, Kirsten Mohamed (head writer) and Letuka Dlamini, who are all part of the cast. We are on a Whatsapp group and we brainstorm episode by episode and send the episode to the cast the night before and we start brainstorming the next episode. If you were to  ask us what happens three episodes from now, we wouldn’t know.” 

What started as a 21-part episodic drama series then went into a season two when the lockdown got extended. 

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“It is a beautiful format, never been done before. Actors shoot their part of the scene at home and then we put it together to look like they are in the same space. It is something that has to continue on a bigger scale. More than anything, like the president said, things will never be the same from here onwards. This is a new era we are heading into, a whole new canvas for South Africa to paint on. So the show should capture that going forward. If lockdown ends and we continue, the characters will enter this new South Africa and how do they then adapt. There is potential for us to continue and reflect what is currently going on.” 

Shooting scenes may be one thing but when it comes to editing, it is a whole other ball game for Makayi. 

“It’s my biggest nightmare. Initially my plan was that everyone would hand in footage by midday so I can start editing and have it up by 8.30pm. But the problem is because we haven’t had funding I can’t force people to hand in footage at that time, there is no contract, they aren’t getting paid. So we have to adapt around their daily routine and the shooting off of different phones and different sounds. I am not an editor either so it’s a new skill I am teaching myself and you can see as the series progresses the editing gets better.” 

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Bradley Olivier stars in and writes for hit local Instagram soapie- Lockdown Heights 

Bradley Olivier was hooked on the concept when he first heard about it.

“Ayanda and I went on to put everything together, getting the cast, working on the format and the storyline. It was easy to get the cast together as most of them are our friends and were keen to do it. This was a time when we were all unsure of how we were going to stay creative and spend our time. This concept is new and unchartered territory- a chance to be creative and playful and even trendsetters in a certain way.” 

Olivier said the reception had been great as people were loving the format.

“People are positive because they haven’t seen it. Usually when you watch a  scene between two characters, they are in the same room and react to one another. Now they know that these guys are not in the same room so the editing is what makes the magic happen. As the writers we try to make the characters as close to home as possible to make it as real as possible.” 

Makayi said the mission of the series was for the actors to keep their acting skills sharpened but the way the show has caught traction, they are now also using it as a vehicle to raise awareness of the coronavirus.

“That is how much impact it has had. We have gotten response from Namibia, we just included a Zimbabwean actress so there will also be that audience coming in. It has been amazing. In some episodes we also feature some celebrities. We have had Melanie Bala and Nina Hastie among others. It has caused so much traction it is pulling other actors to want to be part of it. We might have pioneered a different style of storytelling.” 

The main cast of the show include Schelaine Bennett, Clint Brink, Kay Sibiya, Camilla Waldman, Steven John Ward, Siphesihle Vazi, Nicole Bessick, Candice Modiselle, Mbo Mahocs,Sandile Mkhize and Valerie Joy Robinson.

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