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Material numbers

The last time South Africa produced a film that had a mainstream embrace was back in 1980.

The Material movie has now been out in cinemas for 4 weekends. To date, around 200,000 people have bought tickets to see this magical film, and the response continues to overwhelm us all. Material is a commercial movie, and there is nothing controversial or edgy about it. When we say “commercial” we mean for the mainstream. The last time South Africa produced a film that had a mainstream embrace was back in 1980 with The Gods Must be Crazy. There have been some solid artist milestones since then, like Tsosti, and Jerusalema (which I was involved in), but nothing that went beyond the art-house domain.

Material was inspired by the real life of doctor Riaad Moosa. I have known Riaad for 11 years, and when I met him, I knew he had an extraordinary destiny. When I sit back and watch the film now I know that he is on track to capture the world’s imagination. The Material movie showcases Riaad’s talent, and many others, in the most stunning way. And it celebrates the suburb of Fordsburg, and sensitively and accurately captures the essence of a working-class Muslim family in today’s modern world. The movie will make you laugh and it will make you cry. It will talk to your heart, and it will excite you about the possibilities here amongst South African artists.

This film has had seriously broad and effective marketing campaign, with support from many of our country’s leading brands and institutions. And with 200,000 people to talk the movie up (the word of mouth has been very encouraging) the key questions are constantly being asked, with the most paramount: “When will the movie be released abroad?”

The movie business (which is very different to making movies) follows the same laws of all businesses. Supply and demand is what rules the day. And when it comes to expanding abroad (in the case of a film, getting into off-shore mainstream territories like the UK) you need critical mass at home before anything will potentially happen. Art-house films stick to the art-house circuit, and have niche audiences and are oriented around arts festivals, etc. But commercial movies, like any commercial product or service, needs to find an embrace here in South Africa before any foreign distributor will consider releasing the film abroad. In short, we need numbers here at home. This is the same rule that applies to all businesses. Internet Solutions, for example, have a presence in many countries, but it has taken almost 2 decades of building critical mass, credibility and track record, to allow for this expansion. And that is the bottom line – without track record we will not be considered for any foreign distribution.

The Material movie is not a star driven piece. If Tom Cruise were in the film then the world’s distributors would be calling us day and night. The actors and the film makers do not have track record when it comes to world cinema, so the only thing we do have are the numbers. If we get into the top 10, say, for the year, then we will show up on the radar screens of the leading film distributors, who will entertain us at that point, but whether we land a distribution deal or not, well, that is going to require a lot of work. They will be looking for any marketing angles to exploit, and any other resources that may be attached. They may even ask for the distribution costs to be underwritten (it takes money to distribute a film, and someone has to take the risk).

The cost of film distribution is quite involved. There are the physical costs of the 35 mm reels, and then there are the posters and trailers, and of course, any actual marketing that is executed (like newspaper and TV ads). Each cinema that screens the film needs a 35 mm print of the movie, and for a 90 minute film, the cost is around R10,000. When you quickly do the maths, you can see that releasing a film on say 40 screens, like Material, comes at a significant cost. This is different to the cost of making the film, which only starts to recoup once the distribution costs have been recovered. That is why many films land up owing money after their release, because so many films fail, and someone then needs to pay the distributor for the investment (assuming that someone has underwritten the release costs).

On the Material front we have many balls in play. We are applying to all the art film festivals, but we don’t have a high chance of acceptance as the film is not an art movie, but rather, as we touched on above, a commercial film, like The Full Monty or Bend it like Beckham (which also did not feature in many film festivals). Then, we are constantly busy with trying to get a high-level endorsement. For example, if someone like Steven Spielberg had to see the film and then went on to write us a letter saying how much he loved it, well, that would help. But, unless if one of you reading this happens to be Mr. Spielberg’s cousin, and also happens to want to help us, then this ain’t going to happen. So, most of our focus is going in to promoting the film here in SA, and in making sure we get the maximum amount of people to go and see the film – every ticket counts!

If you have not seen the film then please watch the trailer here :

And please go and see it – we promise it will it inspire you!

* This article was prepared by Ronnie Apteker


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