Heartlines is an NGO that embraces the power of storytelling to inspire change. Garth Japhet, one of the two doctors who founded Soul City, is leading a team of people wanting to make a difference, and their work here at Heartlines is highly compelling and innovative. Stories are what make up our lives. The bible is filled with stories, and we all embrace heroic characters who go against all odds, and show us a better way. Ultimately, all stories are about discovering the truth.
Beyond The River is a story (based on true events) about a young man who overcomes incredible hardship to follow a dream and inspires the people in his life to never give up. I recently saw a working cut of the film and it blew me away… WOW! The edit is still underway and the next few months will bring everything together. This inspired movie will come out in cinemas in early 2017. You are going to be totally captivated.
Everyone is a movie expert
There are certain subjects of which everyone is an expert in. Food is one. Movies is another. Everyone knows a good movie from a bad movie.. Yes, there are differing tastes and styles, but a commercial hit is a hit. Meat lovers all love a good burger, and if a new burger joint opens in town and the word on the street is that it is good, then we know it is good. Movies are the same. But this does not mean that we understand how to make a good movie, or, how to sell it.
I have been championing and investing in independent film makers for almost 15 years. I love the creative process and I am inspired by a good tale. Making a story come to life on a screen is a magical process. During the editing stage you start to show your work-in-progress to test groups to get a view. You look for problems that can be addressed and you want to see if it is delivering, etc. Everyone gives you a lot of input. We are all experts in storytelling. Well, that is how it would appear. But, to tell a story that everyone wants to hear is no easy task. To make a magical film is very very difficult. The real experts will agree.
A film is a product
To tell a compelling tale, to write a story, to create a film, these are all amazing things to do. But there are no shortage of films in the world. Fantastic ones, yes, we need more of those, but in terms of the number of titles, there is not enough time to watch them all. We can’t listen to all the music the world has to offer or read all of the books that are out there. There sure is no shortage of product.
To the business people marketing and selling these titles they are just products. Some products may have been inspired labours of live, and perhaps some of them do huge numbers, but to the bean counters they are indeed just products.
When someone creates something it is special to them, and maybe to their loved ones, but to everyone else it is just another book on the shelf. This is the hard reality that artists often have to come to terms with – no one cares until it is a hit.
Production and distribution
Making something and selling something are very different things. Anyone can tell a story. But telling a compelling story is not easy. You can buy a video camera and make a movie at home. But will it be a movie that people want to watch?
Making movies, good ones, in my experience, is not easy. But getting the films out there is even tougher. The distribution of movies is a difficult space, overloaded with product, and in a world where people are now used to getting so much free content online it is harder and harder to get the business of independent movies to work in your favour. The numbers most often just don’t add up well.
There is a big difference between making a film and selling a film. One needs to keep this firmly in mind when a risk is taken to create more product.
I hear this question often when we do a test screening, like we are busy with at present, for Beyond The River. The questions is, “When will the film come out in America?” The most straight forward answer here is “Most probably never”.
A film is a product, and like all other products, reaching critical mass at home remains the key. Look at any other industry that has expanded into foreign markets. They first built up track record at home, and then they took a chance and invested abroad. And that is the thing, to distribute a film requires an investment. The marketing is where the real action is, and there is no limit to how much you can spend on marketing. So, to try tap into a foreign audience will require serious marketing and no one will want to take a chance on a product that has not been tried and tested.
No business is made for export unless you are a hotel resort or something like that. A home grown product has to be put through its paces on its own soil first. And then, if there is evidence to suggest that it works, like getting good numbers, then perhaps it stands chance to find a foreign distributor willing to take a chance. But, anyone who is a film expert will tell you, making a hit movie is damn hard. To get critical mass on a local film here in SA is no easy thing to achieve. Our mission with Beyond The River is a bold one, and we do believe we have the goods.
The independent movie making world has film festivals to help expose talent and compelling product. But getting into a major festival is not easy. If one does get their movie into a leading film festival it does represent an opportunity to raise the profile of that piece of work, and that always helps.
Making a product and selling a product are very different challenges. Passion for what you are doing helps binds both of these endeavours, but don’t confuse the two different journeys. Making something can be liberating and soulful, but trying to get it out there can have the opposite effect. Ask any artist or creator about what it mean to be rejected. The same goes for the world of start-ups, where so often capital is required to take a product to market and test its metal.
If you do have success on your home turf then there is always the potential to take a further risk and look to other territories for expansion. But they won’t come knocking on your door. There is no shortage of any kind of product in the word, well, not in my view. So, to expand abroad requires good, solid track record at home. If we get this with Beyond The River then perhaps someone will take us seriously outside of SA.
It is a privilege and a pleasure to work again with Craig, Robbie and Trevor, who were all part of the team on Material, the movie inspired by Riaad Moosa. That was a magical film, and it did so much good out there. Beyond The River is a testimony to growth and talent — this new film from Heartlines is nothing short of EXTRAORDINARY. I am thrilled to be playing a part on this journey and I am confident that this is going to deliver. For Heartlines, it is about stimulating a national conversation and I believe they will realize their destiny. I worked with Garth and Harriet on their previous Heartlines’ film, and I am truly amazed at the growth here.