IF SOUTH AFRICA’s Just Producers — Waterfront Studios Group’s recently launched content-creation division — walks the walk as well as it talks the talk, then the international formats industry has just gained an interesting new player.
Liezel Vermeulen, line producer, sums up the mission of the new production collective, whose nine producer-members are dedicated to shepherding broadcast, corporate and 360-degree media projects from conception to completion. “We want to create projects that have international relevance and appeal, as well as showcasing our country’s artistic talent and natural beauty,” Vermeulen says. “We are hungry to produce content that is internationally competitive, responsive to global television trends and tells the South African story in innovative ways.”
She adds: “Waterfront Studios has a long history as one of the top post-production facility houses in South Africa. The addition of the Just Producers division is part of the renaissance of our Cape Town studios.”
In terms of formats, Just Productions has made a promising start. Vermeulen reports that it has already embarked on several projects, including a game show called Lie, Cheat And Steal and a reality series for SABC1 called So What, which centres on the controversial South African multi-millionaire Kenny Kunene. And being groomed for its international debut at MIPCOM next month is a reality show about geocaching — a real-world outdoor treasure hunt based on GPS technology — called Cashe Flow.
As Just Producers’ format activities gain traction, so the need has intensified for it to protect its intellectual property (IP). Vermeulen is candid that South Africa’s IP-protection mechanism, presided over by CIPRO, is not only slow but essentially “dysfunctional”. “FRAPA offers us the peace of mind that we can protect our IP with the support and guidance of an experienced team,” she says, explaining the impetus behind Just Producers’ FRAPA membership.
Meanwhile, the content collective believes its “lean, efficient, high-speed” production model is perfectly suited to the rigours of format production. “We have a good balance between heavyweight producers with a depth of experience and energetic younger talent, all with a ‘can do’ philosophy,” Vermeulen says.
She adds that, while national broadcaster SABC has done very little commissioning in recent years, the likes of M-Net and etv are increasingly open to format proposals. The success of the South African versions of the mega-formats Survivor and Big Brother has demonstrated that “there is a huge appetite among South African viewers for this type of programming”, Vermeulen observes.
So far, few home-grown South African formats have made the leap from local to international. Notable examples are Stimulii’s smartphone treasure-hunt game show Thumb Wars, which was picked up by, among others, Ben Silverman’s multimedia entertainment studio Electus; and Stemmburg Television’s music-based game show Noot Vir Noot (Note By Note). The latter — now in its 36th season and a staple of South African family viewing — was licensed in 1997 by London Weekend Television and broadcast in the UK as Michael Barrymore’s My Kind of Music.
Taking its lead from these pioneers, Just Productions believes it has the “expertise, passion and technological nous” to turn formats into a major growth area. Vermeulen concludes: “We feel there is much opportunity to share our format ideas with an international audience and hope that FRAPA will help us navigate this territory more effectively.”