Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Paramount Africa's Queendom on BET shut down with cast and crew unpaid by Clive Morris Productions as MultiChoice's Showmax also gives Empini to another producer.

by Thinus Ferreira

With the casts and crews who went unpaid for months, filming has abruptly ended on Paramount Africa's Queendom produced by Clive Morris Productions which is out of money for it, with MultiChoice that has now also taken away Empini done for its Showmax streamer from the same production company over the same issues.

In recent years Clive Morris Productions struggled to pay the cast and crew of the now-cancelled The Estate on SABC3 which led to production shutdowns, as well as the cast and crew of the now-cancelled Isono telenovela for Paramount Africa's BET (DStv 129) channel.

Earlier this year the cast and crew of the new Empini telenovela for MultiChoice's Showmax streamer, as well as the cast and crew of Paramount Africa's Queendom telenovela, also for the BET channel, first went unpaid, and then got paid late by executive producers Khayelihle Dominique and Clive Morris.

In April, Natalie Mdladla, Paramount senior director of communications, said that the Queendom cast and crew were eventually paid but confirmed that the payments were late.

April was however the last time Clive Morris Productions paid the cast and crew, with TVwithThinus that established that the non-payment eventually led to an entire production shutdown of Queendom a month ago.

With no money available to continue the film the show, or to pay the cast and crew what they're owed, the future of Queendom is now in complete limbo.

While BET Africa is broadcasting new episodes on weekdays of Queendom, the last time the show's cast and crew got paid was 26 April. 

According to insiders "sitting cold" at home, production and filming of Queendom stopped over a month ago. Neither Paramount Africa nor Clive Morris Productions decided to make any announcement in order to try and keep the production shutdown and the reason for it under wraps to limit reputational damage.

Natalie Mdladla on Tuesday, in response to a media query, admitted that "BET is aware of payment delays by Clive Morris Productions to cast and crew of Queendom".

"Queendom is a co-production, with BET responsible for half of the investment, which has been fulfilled by BET Africa."

"However, Clive Morris Productions (CMP) has encountered difficulties in securing their share of the co-funding, resulting in the delayed payments to our valued cast and crew. We are engaging with CMP, including cast and crew, to urgently resolve the matter," she said.

The last time Clive Morris Productions paid the Queendom cast was 26 April. 

According to insiders who worked on the show, they then continued to work during May, expecting payment at the end of May. When that didn't happen, early in June, the cast and crew collectively decided not to report for work from Monday 3 June, which led to the complete production shutdown of Queendom.

The cast and crew are all however all still under contract, have not been released and while they're not getting paid and waiting for months of unpaid salaries to be deposited into their bank accounts to settle their own debts they had to make to buy food and pay bills, they can't accept other work.

BET and Clive Morris Productions owe the Queendom cast and crew at least a May salary and a June salary, with this month's July salary which is also contractually due since Paramount Africa and CMP have signed agreements with the workers.

Clive Morris Productions sent the cast and crew three letters promising payments which never materialised.

"It's been a long time [since we were paid]," a producer said. 

"1 June was a Saturday. Collectively the decision was made that nobody will be reporting for work from 3 June. The status quo at the moment is that we are expecting that the May salary and June salary and how every many days in July that we work until termination of the contract, are still due to be paid," he said.

"It's a precarious situation that we find ourselves in. The heartbreaking part of this is that there are real people at the end of this crisis. One of our crew members has lost a parent and is now unable to participate meaningfully in the burial of the parent because funeral policies have lapsed through no fault of their own."

'Little breathing room' not accepted as rent
Earlier this month Clive Morris sent a message to the Queendom cast and crew, saying "I understand everyone is angry, and deservedly so".

"We have let you down and whatever the reason, doesn't help to put things right or make you feel better. I am happy to take it on the chin and accept the rocks thrown at me."

"What I can tell you is that we're not sitting on the money and deciding not to pay people, we are actively working non-stop to get the funding to pay everyone."

"We may have paid late in the past for various reasons out of our control, but we have never not paid anyone. Everyone will be paid and we are asking for a little breathing room so we can focus on finding the funds as soon as possible."

A Queendom cast member said "unfortunately a little breathing room isn't accepted as rent or as car payments".

Another insider said: "In all my years it's something I've never encountered".

"Typically shows like telenovelas and soaps are commissioned by TV channels and financed 100% by the channel. Queendom wasn't."

"Clive Morris Productions entered into a deal where an onus was on them to raise a significant portion of the production costs, which are far too onerous for most producers."

"The fact that we haven't been paid is a testament to exactly how overly onerous those conditions were. Very few production companies, if any, would be able to raise that capital for a show of this size like Queendom."

"I had never heard of such an arrangement in the context of a telenovela. They exist for films or a very short miniseries. Prior to any minute of any footage being filmed all the money should have been in the bank. That wasn't the case, hence we find ourselves in the position we're in."

Empini that Clive Morris Productions produced for MultiChoice's Showmax has now also been ripped away and reallocated to another production company. 

Showmax confirmed to me on Tuesday that all Empini staff have been paid and that Clive Morris Productions is no longer producing Empini for the streaming service.

"Empini is one of Showmax's most-watched series at the moment," the video streaming service told TVwithThinus on Tuesday in response to a media query.

"We place a high value on the welfare of cast and crew in all our productions. MultiChoice has been in ongoing communication with Clive Morris Productions following production challenges being raised with us."

"To ensure the continuation of Empini, especially given its huge popularity with our subscribers, a new production house is in the process of being appointed. We can confirm that all cast and crew have been paid."

Besides the Queendom cast waiting for payment from BET and Clive Morris Productions, the cast and crew of e.tv's cancelled Nikiwe are also still waiting for payment from the producers of Parental Advisory Productions who have gone to ground. 

Production for the cast and crew of SABC2's Muvhango also abruptly ended on 15 June after the SABC failed to renew the Word of Mouth Productions contract for a 26th season.