Tshedza Pictures on Surviving the Pandemic

By: Kopano Lekhoathi

Tshedza Pictures, a South African production company, has taken one of its most formidable telenovela “The River ” off air as a result of the impacts of the nationwide lockdown.

The River has been off the nation’s screens since Monday, 11 May, following a decision by the company on grounds that they had not been able to submit enough episodes to M-Net. According to Bonga Percy Vilakazi, producer and writer of Tshedza Pictures, they were unable to shoot anything for the month of April hence the decision to go off-air. In attempt to avoid the decision, Vilakazi mentioned that the company wanted to double up with the intent to work in “two units”. “This would’ve meant hiring an additional production team to cover much ground as possible. We would’ve been able to shoot at different locations at the same time. For example, if we had one team shooting at the Dikana House, and another team at the Mokoena House, then that could’ve helped us a lot, but the extension of the lockdown forced us to cancel this entire plan, and consequently the show had to go off the air”,he explained.

He also added that the only employees who were still at work were script writers in pre-production and video editors in post-production. A decision like this can have many negative consequences such as salary or job cuts, however, this was not a reality for Tshedza Pictures. Vilakazi confirmed that there had been no job or salary cuts for both the actors and the team working behind the scenes. “All employees were paid for March, April and so will happen for May as well”, he said. He added that in order to avoid any current or future financial complications, M-Net announced that they would have funds available to production companies that fall under them.

Behind The Scenes: The River

On incorporating the current state of South Africa into the show, Vilakazi mentioned that they have had discussions about this because “this conversation can’t be ignored”. However the team will not be including this issue as part of the story line, instead, they will bring it up in conversation. “Some episodes have already been shot and a lot of our scripts have already been written dating to August” he explains.

Vilakazi also said that in as much as we are in a state of crisis, we often need an escape from everything and that is what The River is going to be. “People want to escape, they need a distraction, they need entertainment and that is what we choose to be”, he added.

With The River going off air, one would imagine that this kind of setback would have a negative impact on team morale. Vilakazi mentioned that after another big win at this year’s South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTA), they want to continue that winning streak. “We are more than inspired to keep on working. We continue to realise the expectations our fans and viewers have, and we are motivated to continue delivering”.
He added, “The biggest lesson about The River is that everyone involved in the show is indeed a fan of the show. We love the writing, the shooting and watching the episodes after post-production. So, in the end it’s all worth it”.

Tshedza Pictures is also the magic behind the political drama series, The Republic which also won big at the SAFTAs. The Republic is set in an alternative universe in present day South Africa and follows the country’s first female president, President Lufuno Mulaudzi played by Florence Masebe. The first season aired last year and was also an instant hit.

Recently, there have been rumours around a second season of The Republic and a new legal series in the works. Vilakazi confirmed that these rumours are not true. “As far as I’m concerned, there hasn’t been any talk about a second season of The Republic”, he said. When asked about the rumoured legal series, he said laughingly, “I know why everyone would think that we’re working on a legal series and that’s because of Sandra Stein and Akhona Mayisela, but sadly this is not true”.
Sandra Stein is a character featured on The River, The Queen and the new Mzansi Magic telenovela, Gomora and Akhona Mayisela was featured on The River as the prosecutor during the trail of Lindiwe Dlamini-Dikana played by actress Sindi Dlathu who recently won a SAFTA for best actress in a telenovela. Sandra and Akhona are two hardcore attorneys played by the amazing Shannon Esra and Masasa Mbangeni and both these incredible women are also featured on The Republic, Mbangeni as Brigette Ranaka and Esra as a news reporter.

If you’re an aspiring filmmaker and are wondering how you can get the opportunity to intern or potentially work at Tshedza Pictures, Vilakazi said, “There is no simple response to this question. What I can say is that recently, most of our staff and interns are taken from the Multichoice Talent Factory. Sometimes we get Heads of Departments from film schools who apply for their students, but this isn’t always the case”.

Vilakazi reassures fans of The River that production has resumed, and The River will be back on air from the 25th of May 2020.A range of safety precautions have been implemented by Tshedza Pictures. Full time paramedics have been hired, should any health hazards surface. In addition, extra hair and make-up rooms have been made available to avoid crowded areas. Additional catering services have also been hired to make sure that employees are served their meals in a safe and risk-free manner. Face masks and hand sanitizers were the main priority and have been provided for everyone in operation at the company.

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