African Gangsters!


It’s Africa week right now at INSEAD so we’re having a little African culture dropped on us.  Last night there was a screening of Tsotsi (trailer here)-the first African movie to win an Oscar.  Also, it was produced by an INSEAD ’78 alumni.

The movie is incredible.  I’m not going to say anything about the plot-just rent it.  However, here’s a little cocktail fodder I picked up from the producer’s Q&A session:

1) The movie is filmed in a language that is a patois only spoken in the townships (South African for “ghetto”).  It’s a mixture of Zulu, English and Afrikaans that is designed to confuse the cops (like Cockney English back in the day).  The choice of this language ensured that the cast had to be African and not American (as was being considered to improve the marketability of the movie).

2) There are a ton of scenes that involve dice.  This was chosen because both the producer and the director were overwhelmingly fatalistic about their lives.  They believed that it was pure chance that they were born as white middle class and that if they were dealt the same sh!t hand as the main character they too would have hustled hard to survive.  This may seem a bit sanctimonious, but the producer sounded sincere.

3) There’s a character called Fela who is played by a South African rapper Zola.  He inadvertently had a role in the movie being made.  The producer was in South Africa doing a “reco” to scout locations and meet the cast.  However, it wasn’t coming together; the energy to crystallize the vision just wasn’t there.  Then he went into a music shop and started listening to CD’s and before he knew it he was obsessed with a Zola CD.  It’s a uniquely South African flavour of hip hop and he felt that the raw energy of the music was exactly what was needed to spur on the movie.  Rest is history.

4) Fascinating to see the differences in how black vs. white audiences received the movie.  They screened it to mixed audiences and found that many whites would be crying or terrified whereas black people might be laughing.  Also more than one black person basically stood up in the theatre and said “finally, a movie about my life.”  They also screened it in the townships where it was much loved and pirated (although apparently the pirate version has a different ending...).

5) As I’m at business school, here are some numbers.  Whole movie was made for $5M; actual production was $3.5M and the rest was marketing.  This is the only movie the producer has ever seen that actually made a net profit; usually movies have a huge gross profit but the producers find so many costs to write off that they are able to get a negative net for tax purposes.  Hence if you’re ever offered profit sharing on a movie, take a cut of the gross not the net...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

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