Pulane Shomang, CEO of South African Woman in Television Arts (SAWITA) highlights how drive and passion unlocks opportunities in the TV and film industry.
Tell us how your journey in film and TV began.
It all started when the announcement was made by the then Minister of Communications that SA will be migrating from analogue to digital transmission. At the time I had just joined the National Association of Manufacturers in Electronic Components (NAMEC) in the content division. I knew that once set-top boxes were installed everyone would need content, and that’s when I started producing content for different platforms because content is king!
What are the key milestones at SAWITA?
SAWITA started operating as a content aggregator for a UK-based company called Vubiquity (VU), where we aggregate content for VU from SABC, DSTV and eTV. As a content aggregator, you work with both the content owner and the different platform owners, to make sure you give the platform owners the best content that their viewers will enjoy. You get to attend film festivals around the world, where you meet with different content producers, and license their content for the different platforms. As a content aggregator, once you put your name out there and build solid relationships with content buyers as well as content producers, they start to trust you, and word of mouth spreads faster than anything. Before you know it, everyone in the industry wants to work with you.
Another highlight is we started working with MTN on their video-on-demand platform FrontRow, then continued to work with the Vodacom platform, Videoplay.
Last but not least, we also worked with Cell C Black. After being a content aggregators for four years, we then signed a co-production deal with VU to produce drama series for local and international markets, and that’s how our first drama series, Family Secrets, came about.
Family Secrets season one debuted on SABC1 in 2020 during the pandemic. It had 3.2 million viewers on its premiere night, and it was one of the most watched shows on SABC1 every Sunday at 8pm. In its sixth week on air Family Secrets was amongst the Top 20 most watched shows on SABC1. SABC went on and licensed Family Secrets season two which performed just as well as season one.
I have recently produced my third drama series, The Executives, which SABC licensed. It is currently airing on the SABC streaming platform, SABC Plus.
How does your involvement in Sisters Working in Film & Television (SWIFT), and being the President of the SA branch of Inyani tie in with your work at SAWITA?
SWIFT is a non-profit organisation that’s committed to championing empowerment and access to equal opportunities for women in this industry. As a woman-led company, SAWITA saw it befitting to be part of this organisation, because we are both focused on working towards a common goal to empower and promote women in this male dominated industry.
Inyani Corporation is a fairly new global film production company that was established in 2021. Its head office is in Los Angeles, and it has subsidiaries in South Africa, Germany, London, Miami and Seoul. As one of the directors I was appointed to head the South African office.
As a director of the Inyani Corporation, I’ve always pushed the women agenda, especially in my company, I’ve always given first preference to women when I put together a production crew and cast. I make sure the top positions are occupied by experienced women who will do it for all women and execute their jobs as well as any men in those positions. There are several projects in the pipeline; just watch this space!
What appetite is there for South Africa’s TV & film industry on the global stage?
Drama series like Kings of Joburg, and Blood and Water on Netflix held the number one spot for weeks because of the authentic South African stories. Netflix is showing the world that South African productions are capable of producing world-class entertainment shows, and people are loving it.
How does the TV & film industry help drive growth and enable change?
TV and film has enabled growth and change in so many ways in this industry. For example, brands are using television to spread awareness as they can reach specific segments of the market about their different offerings, and it can drive action with different audiences.
Should business be more involved within the industry?
Business should start getting involved and investing in this industry, especially if your business is about selling or marketing a new product. Product placement on the show is the in thing. As the producer of the show, I am now working with different brands, both old and new, to incorporate their product in the storyline. Brands are guaranteed that viewers will definitely see their brand and they will get their return on investment.
What in your opinion are the greatest challenges facing SA’s TV & film industry?
The greatest challenge facing the South African TV and film industry is the lack of funding. Most producers have brilliant stories to tell, but to produce those shows costs millions and we don’t have institutions that are willing to fund such productions. That is why most producers don’t own their content but are commissioned by platform owners.
What are some untapped opportunities for the local industry?
As content producers and content creators, we need to start telling our African stories. Viewers want to identify with the characters they are watching. If we don’t tell our stories, international producers will tell our stories. We are slowly but surely getting there, it’s only a matter of time.
Tell us a bit about SAWITA’s production training and mentorship programmes.
SAWITA’s mentorship and production training programmes help individuals who have qualified at different film and television institutions. They work on different productions that SAWITA is involved in so that they can gain experience in different departments, for example, writing, production, and post production.
These mentorship programmes are mostly for the youth; kids that have just graduated from different institutions and colleges between the ages of 22-35 years. It is a six-month mentorship programme during which each individual is rotated in different departments so that they have a
360 degree experience of what production entails.
What are some of the future plans you have for SAWITA?
SAWITA has partnered with international production companies to produce feature films in both South Africa and in the US.
What would you credit as the main points for your leadership success?
Good communication is the main ingredient of my leadership success. As the CEO of the company, I have an open door policy with my staff. They can come to me with any issues they are facing, whether it’s a personal issue or a work issue. This creates better relationships with my employees.
What were some of the key learnings you have made throughout your career?
That failure is not the end of everything, but a chance for a new beginning. When you fail the first time, you know that it’s not the end of the world, because when you try again you’ll be doing it from experience.
I would advise aspiring leaders to:
- Always have realistic goals.
- Know your strengths and weaknesses.
- Surround yourself with knowledgeable people.
- Note that you can’t know everything – hire experts that understands your vision, and help you build your company.
What does the future hold for you?
Good question! No-one knows what the future holds, but what I know for sure is that as long as I’m alive, I’m going to make sure that I create a future that’s better than the present, by uplifting the South African television industry through the development of internationally recognised content that’s relatable to both international and local content consumers.