Door still open to Generations actors

Time of article published Aug 23, 2014

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Johannesburg - Generations creator Mfundi Vundla has told the 16 axed cast members that the door remains open for a return to the popular soapie.

However, he said that a return would only be possible if the cast agree to the production company’s terms and conditions.

Vundla said the soapie would go on regardless of whether issues were resolved or not.

“We took a risk firing the 16 individuals, but we will come back better and stronger I can promise you,” he said.

On Monday, the actors were dismissed with immediate effect after they failed to report for work after an ultimatum by Vundla.

The cast had embarked on a week-long stay-away, demanding three-year contracts, royalties and salary adjustments

MMSV Productions, the company that produces the programme, also revealed that permanent actors were being paid R55 000 per month on average.

This contradicted claims made by the actors in an open letter to fans this week “that they were paid rates well below the industry norm”.

Vundla said last week that principal staff were demanding R100 000 a month, which the actors have labelled as “blatant untruths and a petty tactic to turn public opinion against them and the cast, and paint them as opportunistic, greedy and overpaid”.

SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng told reporters that the public broadcaster wanted to negotiate with actors, but would not allow anarchy.

“The actors are supposed to follow proper processes and solve issues while continuing to work, and not hold the broadcaster and MMSV to ransom.”

Motsoeneng also revealed that several talented actors and actresses in the country had approached him to work at the soapie.

“There are many great actors who are waiting in the wings, so we will have no problem replacing the 16 cast members. However, the door is not completely closed on the matter and the ball is now in their court.”

Vundla also spoke of his disappointment of how the axed cast have conducted themselves during the dispute.

“One of the actors had a blood clot on his brain and ended up in a private clinic. He had no medical aid, and I paid for his medical expenses from my own pocket. But today I’m portrayed as an exploiter.”

Vundla added the actors had always been treated with the utmost respect on set, but slammed their recent requests, calling them “ridiculous”.

“Some ask for personal trainers on set as well as bodyguards. The moment actors get the fame, they become larger than life.”

He said that they agreed with the actors that they should be treated with dignity, but they should meet them “half way” and come to work.

“We operate in a business environment. We (as a production company) must meet our contractual obligations to the SABC, and so must the actors. The strike last year already affected the contractual agreement.”

Vundla vowed that he would not bow down to political pressure, after the ANC Youth League called on the SABC to withdraw the expulsion of all the actors.

On Monday, the actors said they would “speak to the issues and provide a proper and true context of their working conditions and issues that led them to this point”.


Killing off 16 characters at once is ‘going to be really difficult’

Just how will the production team at Generations axe 16 of its key cast members? Acclaimed South African scriptwriter Richard Beynon believes that however they do it, it is going to be really difficult.

On Monday, the cast of the popular South African soap opera was sacked after going on strike in a long-running dispute over pay and contracts.

The programme will continue to air until October, and producers have indicated that new actors will be recruited.

Beynon, who was the head writer at popular soapie Isidingo a few years ago, believes the situation at Generations is “dire”.

“Thank God I’ve never found myself in this pickle,” said Beynon. “In South Africa, soaps generally work out their stories months in advance of broadcast. So what the team at Generations has already produced is 100 or more scripts featuring all the characters who have now taken leave of the production.”

“The production team shoots episodes today for broadcast in a month or more. So the scriptwriting team has just a month or so to handle the crisis they’ve been landed with.”

Beynon said that one of the options that the creator and executive producer, Mfundi Vundla, and the producers of Generations might venture into was to kill off every character who had been axed.

“You could revise all your stories and somehow contrive a cataclysmic event to ‘kill’ every character who’s just left,” said Beynon. “This would be exceptionally difficult, because you couldn’t call on any one of those characters to film another centimetre of tape.

“So having them all killed, say, in an aeroplane accident… or shot to death in a church (as happened in a US soap a few years ago) is not possible… Because you can’t get them into an aeroplane… or into that church.”

Beynon said another option was to re-cast each of the characters.

“That’s possible for one or two or even three characters – but to have every major character recast at once will strain the credulity and the loyalty of even the most fervent fan.”

Beynon, who also worked for four years on Rhythm City, said Vundla and his team could also “create a huge diversion” as another option after losing key cast members.

“They could develop a new population of characters in a new setting, and report, in due course, the spread of a deadly plague – Ebola springs to mind at once – that knocked off all of your original characters.”

“In due course, this new cast would move into the sets vacated by the now late, lamented cast.”

Beynon said that he had to kill off characters on his shows in the past, but nothing close to the proportions that Generations producers were dealing with.

“I have deliberately killed characters because the actors portraying them refused to do what we, the scriptwriters, thought was dramatically necessary,” said Beynon. “But there we had full control of the cast, and only one or two characters were involved at a time.”

“On another occasion, the actor playing a new character we’d just introduced into the Isidingo ensemble proved to be pregnant – and so we recast her just a few weeks after she first appeared. The audience took that change in its stride.”

However, Beynon said that if there was any producer who could turn a dire situation around, it was Vundla.

“Mfundi Vundla, who dreamt up the series, and who still keeps his hand on the tiller, is an exceptionally canny man. What he knows for certain is that the departure of all his key actors has given, and will continue to give, the series publicity on a scale previously unimagined.

“Since publicity is not a bad thing, is it might be possible to turn the crisis into an opportunity. It could be the fanfare that signals a huge change in the direction of the show takes,” said Beynon.

However, he said there was no doubt that the events unfolding at Generations in the past week would threaten the DNA of the show.

“It will take all the ingenuity of the writing team, together with Mfundi’s inspiration, not to lose at least a fraction of an audience who loves surprises, but hates change.”

Saturday Star

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