The South African film industry: Why not more Ballades?

Christi Cloete -- Tue, 05/05/2015 - 12:03

The South African film industry: Why not more Ballades?

According to Dr Karin Botha and Dr Pierre-André Viviers from the TREES research institute at the North-West University's (NWU) Potchefstroom Campus, the South African film industry struggles to interest film goers in Afrikaans films, because movie makers do not understand the needs of their target audience.

Even though Ballade vir ’n Enkeling by Leon van Nierop (movie script writer) and Quentin Krog (director) made a box office hit - the film made R1 358 075 and was watched by 27 500 people during its opening weekend - it is however everything but the norm. 

Dr Botha and Dr Viviers did a study between 2008 and 2013 which sheds light on the topic by investigating precisely why cinema goers spend money on Afrikaans movies.

The most popular movies released during this time, with reference to the box office income generated, were Liefling (2010, R13.3 million), Semi-Soet (2012, R9.6 million), Platteland (2011, R8.2 million), Die Wonderwerker (2012, R5.3 million) and Klein Karoo (2013, R5 million). The five movies that performed the poorest, were ‘n Saak van Geloof (2011, R285 000), Jimmy in Pink (2013, R268 000), Ballade van Robbie de Wee (2013, R130 000), Agter die Ligte (2012, R136 000) and Skoonheid (2011, R74 000).

According to film critic, Leon van Nierop (from Ballade), a movie earning more than R3 million at the box office, can be seen as successful. Out of the 36 Afrikaans movies released during 2008-2013, only 12 earned more than R3 million.

The goal of the study was to pin point key factor leading to ticket sales for Afrikaans movies and to make suggestions on how to boost the sales. The study distinguished between the younger and older viewers.

A total of 1 540 questionnaires were collected. The average age of respondents was 27,47 of which 62% were female. The respondents watch an average of 3,45 Afrikaans movies per year in cinema theatres and buy 3,41 DVDs and/or soundtracks of Afrikaans movies.  

The younger market (high school and tertiary students) say their favourite movie genres include; comedies (54%), romance (22%), action (7%), drama (6%) and musicals (6%). Only 5% of this younger market indicated that they want to see Afrikaans thrillers. The older market had an average age of 41,42 and also indicated comedy (40%) as their favourite, then romance (20%), drama (16%), musicals (15%) and lastly, thrillers (4%) and action (4%). From the research it is clear that romantic comedies (rom-coms) are in demand. This explains why Semi-Soet followed by Pad na jou Hart were the most popular movies in both age groups.

It is interesting to note that a total of 49% in the older market feel that Afrikaans movies are of international standard, where only 25% of the younger market agreed with this.

According to the research South African movie makers and marketers must understand that movie ticket sales for Afrikaans movies are mostly influenced by key factors such as: a proud Afrikaans feeling, quality movie facilities, marketing, and the well-known names in the cast, the free time experience and the quality of the movie. The factor indicated strongly by older movie goers, was the fact that it is Afrikaans, and that they have the opportunity to watch movies in the mother tongue. Well-known names within the Afrikaans film industry are also a factor which easily persuades the older generation to watch a movie. It is clear that younger movie goers want more value for their money, because their ticket buying behaviour is influenced strongly by the quality of the movie and the movie facilities.

However, Dr Botha emphasises that: ”The role played by a good marketing campaign can never be underestimated. By investing in a good marketing campaign with quality trailers, posters, as well as advertising in magazines and newspapers, can have an enormous influence on ticket sales.”

Dr Viviers also said: “Younger movie goers watch an average of two to three movies per month, of which the majority are international movies. To ensure that this very important market is not excluded, the quality of Afrikaans movies must drastically be improved. Even though a film in Afrikaans is already an attraction, my feeling is that the quality of future movies will play a bigger role in ticket sales than ever before.”

Because the research also showed that more than 60% of movie goers support older Afrikaans movies showed at art festivals, as well as premieres at these festivals, this is definitely recommended. Some festivals already implemented such initiatives, which extending the shelve life of a movie. Another recommendation to boost ticket sales is to show these movies in smaller towns, where there is no movie theatre, and thus expanding the market of Afrikaans movies.

Dr Botha also said it will be interesting to compare the ticket buying behaviour of movie goers in 2014/2015 with this research, because there were many new things happening in the Afrikaans movie industry during the past two years. Dr Viviers and Dr Botha are currently busy with more in-depth research on individual Afrikaans movies to pin point where quality, according to movie goers, is lacking. The findings of this research may lead to bigger success in the Afrikaans movie industry.