South Africa: SABC invests in Mr. Bones, its first feature film ever

Investment

For the first time ever, South African public broadcaster SABC has taken an equity stake in a local feature film during its production phase. The SABC has also acquired the exclusive free-to-air TV rights to the film, the eagerly anticipated local comedy, Mr Bones 2, starring the country’s acknowledged king of slapstick comedy, Leon Schuster.

Produced by Anant Singh and Helena Spring of Videovision Entertainment, the film is a prequel to South Africa’s highest ever grossing local film, Mr Bones, which took R33m at the local box office.

The SABC / Videovision Entertainment deal was signed at the Hilton Hotel in Durban on 28 July. It also gives the SABC a one-upmanship position as traditionally feature film releases have their broadcast premiere on pay-TV channel M-Net, before they move to free-to-air broadcasters. Mr Bones 2 will be shown across all SABC channels as from April 2010, 18 months after it is theatrically released on 27 November this year. The DVD release is scheduled for March 2009.

Mvuso Mbebe of SABC Content Enterprises indicated that the broadcaster would exploit its investment in the film and share in its revenue. He declined, however, to elaborate on what percentage of the film’s ownership the SABC’s equity stake represents.

“The original Mr Bones did so well that when a prequel was announced we knew we had to get involved,” he said. “We saw the initial script for Bones 2 and knew it was great. It is this kind of quality script that we as a broadcaster are looking for. Our aim is to perpetuate local product and to radiate and weave African stories in the global rhythm. It’s time we start being an exporter of local product. Mr Bones 2 is a totally South African and African story.”

Mbebe noted that the SABC began looking into investing in local feature films about three years ago and has been working in earnest on a Film Fund and a Film Policy. Anant Singh commented that the original Mr Bones was the only film to have played across all three SABC channels. “It’s testament to Leon Schuster that his brand of comedy has proved so successful. Our agreement with the SABC means that this theatrical mainstream product will be premiered on free-to-air television. Videovision Entertainment is very excited because it’s all about the viewer and Mr Bones is an iconic brand.

“From a theatrical point of view, Mr Bones 2 will have the biggest opening of any film released in South Africa – a hundred screens. We are taking extreme measures to counteract piracy. The film will be registered for copyright with the South African Federation Against Copyright Theft (SAFACT), who are involved in every aspect of our anti-piracy strategy. Both Leon Schuster and co-star Leeanda Reddy have participated in anti-piracy notices which will be played in cinemas.”

The budget of the film to date (as it is still in post-production) is just under R40m. Original plans were to shoot the film as a co-production in India, but it was decided to move the location from Bombay to “Little Bombay” (ie. Durban). Schuster described shooting in Durban as the best experience of his life.