DVD sales crucial to South African film


Local films do as well as top international films in SA, but financing remains a struggle. In spite of a generous government rebate, DVD sales have become crucial, delegates at the Gauteng Film Indaba said. In fact, at least one filmmaker — Sello Twala of Music and Film Everywhere — concentrates solely on the DVD market, where he has been successful.

“Most black people don’t go to cinemas,” he says. “They buy DVDs and watch at home,” he says while explaining his strategy. Millions of households have DVDs, he says. His 2003 film, Moruti wa Tsotsi, made on a budget of R300,000, has made R10.8m in turnover, and sold 300,000 copies.

“I’d rather sell 300,000 copies at R40 a copy, than 50,000 copies at R100 a copy,” he says. “The only way to eliminate piracy is to compete.”

From next month, Twalawill ensure the DVDs are available “in every corner of the township”. This includes spaza shops and filling stations. His DVDs are also sold at Edgars, Jet, and Reliable Music Warehouse. “We can sell more than 50,000 copies if the distribution network is right. “The DVD market is growing and it will get bigger,” says Twala.

“Everything is a gamble. We didn’t know it would be a success, but the distribution was perfect.”

His advice to filmmakers is to know the target audience. His films use African languages, and target people who have been “denied entertainment”, including shack dwellers and those living in rural areas. “They don’t understand English comedy so much,” he says.

The trade and industry department announced a film rebate programme in February this year.

It replaced previous incentives granted to the industry. Up to 35% of costs can now be written off — a move hailed by the industry. However, the rebate can only be claimed once the money has been spent.

Basil Ford of the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) says the IDC is working on a scheme to finance the rebate.

Many local films cannot qualify for the rebate, because they were made for less than R2,5m, the minimum threshold for investment, says David Wicht of Film Afrika. Wicht says there is a lack of active broadcaster participation in funding feature films.

Helen Kuun of Ster Kinekor Distribution says recent releases such as Bakgat, Confessions of a Gambler, Jerusalema and Hansie have all done very well. Hansie and Jerusalema were the top earners.

Jerusalema, which was released on film rather than digital print, has grossed R4m so far, with Hansie (which was released on a combination of film and digital), making just under R4m. By comparison, Bend It Like Beckham, had made R4.2m locally. Bakgat grossed R3.3m. A comparable foreign film, Dude Where’s My Car?, made R2,2m on the local market.

The only other film in Bakgat’s category is Crazy Monkey: Straight Outta Benoni. Confessions of a Gambler, which was shown at 16 sites, made R500.000, while top-end art house films made between R300,000 and R500,000. “All those films are success stories. For any film, that’s impressive,” Kuun says.

But a true measure of a film’s success has to take into account the cost of making it. She says Bakgat, which was made for R3m before the government film rebate was announced in February, is likely to have reached break-even point, with 350,000 DVDs sold. “Only a handful of titles sell more than 100,000 units. The successful local titles are evergreen, and keep selling for years and years,” Kuun says.

Hansie, however, cost R42m to make, and is not yet out on DVD. In order to break even, it will need to travel to other territories.

Kuun says digital technology means that films can make a profit from showing in only one place. Jerusalema, shot in 2006, was made on a budget of R13m, says the film’s producer Tendeka Matatu. Unlike Confessions of a Gambler, a digital print, Jerusalema was released on film, which pushed up costs. Matatu says the decision to release on film was an aesthetic choice.

The film had 14 prints, but cinema sites were carefully chosen. Prints could be moved around within complexes and to different sites to maximise returns. Each print averaged about R280,000 in earnings. Jerusalema will also be sold on the international markets.

He says it appears that turnover of between R2m and R4m is the sweet spot for local filmmakers, but there are different strategies for film and digital. Kuun proposes shortening, or eliminating, the time between cinema and DVD releases, although cinemas were resistant to this strategy.

Releasing the DVD at the same time, or a day after the cinema release, will be “quicker, better, and cut past piracy”. “What you lose on the cinema sales will be less than what you gain with DVDs,” she says.