IT ALL started with a telenovela for Barbie dolls, conceived and directed by two six-year-old sisters from South Africa. Today, Shaamila and Tasneen Fataar are still playing television — albeit it to bigger audiences and greater applause.
The Fataar sisters founded their “urban, gritty, street savvy” independent, Elemental Productions, in 2003, since when they have produced a steady flow of lifestyle, documentary, sports and reality content for South African broadcasters including M-Net and Vuzu.TV. Now, in 2012, the company is expanding into format development, focusing — in the words of Shaamila — on “content that has a distinct African voice but global appeal”.
She adds: “We want to produce content that stands up to the scrutiny of exacting viewers in an era where the viewer is in control of programming decisions. We may be a small company from a small marketplace, but we have big dreams and we believe Africa is a hot commodity with massive global potential.”
In fact, Elemental already has form in formats, having spearheaded a development initiative for M-Net’s Electronic Media Network in 2009 that led to the commissioning of Rivals in Romance. The reality dating show, which aired on M-Net Series in January, starts off in conventional style, with 16 beauties battling through a series of challenges to impress two male rivals. The twist comes in the tail, when the two stereotypically opposite men must first unite and then fight to win the woman of their dreams.
Building on this momentum — Shaamila reports that M-Net is currently hawking Rivals in Romance on the international market — Elemental is now refining a catalogue of paper formats and pilot reels, which it intends to launch at MIPFormats next April. Among the 20 or so relationship-based shows in its portfolio are 30 Minutes to Wed, which sees wedding parties compete to win essential elements of their Big Day in the 30 minutes before exchanging vows; and The Ultimatum, an interventionalist series in which women challenge their commitment-phobe men to prove their love by making grand romantic gestures.
Both concepts have “piqued the interest of a couple of US production houses”, Tasneen says. Hopes are also high for Elemental’s Africa Collection, which includes an observational series co-produced with actress and presenter Rosie Motene, star of the hit lifestyle show Studio 53. “Rosie will be embarking on a quest to change 100 lives in 100 days,” Tasneen adds. “While we produce shows that are largely mainstream and commercial, we have a penchant for ideas that are quirky, irreverent and slightly offbeat.”
Against this backdrop of domestic success and global ambition, Elemental’s decision to join the FRAPA community — described by Tasneen as “a network of like-minded individuals all seeking peace of mind in protecting their creative and commercial assets” — is a logical next step. But the sisters remain pragmatic. “While FRAPA provides a starting point towards protecting formats, there is still not enough legal backing to support the protection of IP across the globe,” Tasneen says. “There is still a long way to go before we see an industry where ideas receive as much protection as products.”