The South African Guild of Actors (SAGA) is weighing in on the latest actor-producer-broadcaster row in the country TV industry, highlighted by the actress Vatiswa Ndara speaking out about allegedly deplorable production and pay issues, with SAGA saying that the exploitation of actors will continue unless actors are given a voice.
It comes after actress Vatiswa Ndara's scathing 6-page open letter to South Africa's minister of sports, arts and culture in which she alleges exploitation by the Ferguson Films production company, of being underpaid and undervalued, and not getting residuals for rebroadcasts.
She quit the iGazi drama series on MultiChoice's Mzansi Magic (DStv 161) channel, after two seasons over the paltry pay impossible conditions.
Connie and Shona Ferguson, the actor-producer couple who owns and runs Ferguson Films and have produced several series like iGazi and The Throne for M-Net's general entertainment channels, on Wednesday in a statement said that the company "is pretty much in the same boat as the artist".
Ferguson Films said that the production company that is commissioned to make a show for a channel like Mzansi Magic, doesn't own the rights to the show and "does not reap the financial benefits through repeat broadcasts, licensing deals and repackaging of the show".
It's not the first time that actors have come forward to publicly complain about on-set production issues, payment disparity and the lack of residual payments.
The latest public flare-up about an ongoing - and unresolved - South African TV industry issue about adequate actor representation and remuneration has seen previous, similar scandals engulf shows and broadcasters ranging from the SABC to M-Net and e.tv when actors have vented their frustrations about being unable to secure better deals after they've appeared in successful shows.
"Unfortunately Vatiswa Ndara speaks to a portion of something that is systemic - it is everywhere. It is in audio-visual, it is in threatre, is affects performers no matter where they are, in whatever productions they are in," said Carlynn De Waal-Smith from the South African Guild of Actors (SAGA).
In an interview on eNCA she said that "there is exploitation that happens, there are working conditions that are not satisfactory, there is this power-struggle between the producers, the broadcasters, the financiers and the actors are at the very end of the food chains."
"Everything trickles down to the actor. And the weird thing is the actors are on screen - they're the ones who make your programme. They're the ones who get the ratings. So ultimately it doesn't make sense to me that there isn't that kind of mutual respect that says 'You are valid to this production. And we understand that we are valid in producing it or broadcasting it."
"People are not sitting at the same table and to a large extent the exploitation will continue until people realise that we are all part of a very important value-chain but that ultimately actors need to have a voice. The South African Guild of Actors is the only organisation for actors that can speak on behalf of actors."
"Producers are at the whim of either financiers or the broadcasters. So they are also sitting within a box. The problem is you have to put content on screen and broadcasters and producers will do it at whatever cost."
"It was a number of years ago that I realised that the TV productions that were happening were X-amount per minute, and 10 years later, they were half of that. They're trying to produce the same quality programming, but for half the price. The problem is that actors are being paid less now than what they were paid then."
"Also, there is no kind of standard. There is no regulation in the industry," she said.
Carlynn De Waal-Smith said that "if you go to the SABC they don't have any archive of anybody's contracts. If you go and try to claim for repeat fees you have to basically give them the contract. Surely they should have it because they're responsible for paying repeat fees. They don't have any of that documentation."
"There is nobody in the value-chain that is taking responsibility."
A systemic issue
Unathi Malunga, an entertainment lawyer, said on eNCA that "it is a power-play because if you don't have leverage to negotiate a better deal then you are at the mercy of the other party"..
"I do think it's a systemic issue. I also think that the whole value-chain of this industry needs to be looked at because there are kinks at every point along the value-chain."
She said that "from the producer's point of view it is a budgetary issue because now they have to make the same content for less money. Any time that we ask that something be done, for example having safety officers on set, it becomes a budget issue, so nothing then gets addressed".
"If the other party has no power, the production company knows that you are not going to challenge. They know that you're not going to go to a lawyer, you're not going to take it to court, so it is the wild, wild west."
"Overseas what guilds like SAG do is they set minimum floors. They say this is what you can earn on a commercial, earn on a soap. Then producers cannot use non-union members - and that's the crux.
"When you as an actor, something happens to you on set, who do you go to report to? That also needs to be sort out in terms of sexual harassment."
'You think it's going to get better and keep allowing it to happen'
Vatiswa Ndara said when she starred in the Home Affairs drama series, produced by Penguin Films for SABC1, "I walked away with R9 000 for the entire series".
"You think it's going to get better and you keep on allowing it to happen. I'm so upset with myself because I knew back then that there's something wrong with this but I just carried on because I did not want to rock the boat".
"Broadcasters all claim that we look out for the interest of everybody on set. What is it that they do, actually, to prove that?"