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Ross Garland discusses impact of YouTube on local film industry

Ross Garland discusses impact of YouTube on local film industry

Tutu Fellow Ross Garland is the founder and owner of Rogue Star Films, responsible for producing hit movies including the award-winning U-Carmen eKhayelitsha and Confessions of a Gambler. Now with three successful Spud movies under his belt, he’s well placed to reflect on the changing face of filmmaking trends.


Most notably he draws attention to the value of social media, and particularly YouTube, in casting and marketing films. Indeed Troye Sivan who plays Spud, and Caspar Lee who plays Garth Garlic in Spud 3,have over three million YouTube subscribers between them. He elaborates in this exclusive interview.

You speak of the importance of YouTube and social media in leveraging the careers of actors. What kind of content do you think SA actors would be best advised to produce on these portals in order to grow their careers and attract the attention of film and TV producers?
A YouTuber is a person who hosts a YouTube channel where their self-created videos are posted weekly. The connection between the YouTuber and their fans is far deeper and more immediate than with an old-school star. However, actors have a hard enough job without also expecting them to be writers, directors, editors and producers. So, using social portals to enhance exposure won’t be for everyone.

For those who want to give it a try, comedy with some point of cultural relevance always goes down well online. However, some YouTubers just rely on a very honest and authentic point of view. Hipster haircuts don’t hurt either!

In your experience, what role does YouTube play when it comes to casting films? How can this be best leveraged when marketing films?
YouTube has played a fairly limited role in casting to date. New internet content studios like Maker Studios in the US are creating stand-alone web series, and this creates new opportunities for actors in a purely internet space.

The marketing opportunity is in talking to a defined and available group of fans who pay close attention to the person they are following, more than to a traditional advert.

An example of this power was when Troye Sivan managed to literally break the internet last year, when he asked his fans to buy a promo t-shirt online and the ecommerce site froze with the web traffic.

The film industry has come a long way, but we do need to find a way to reach a much bigger local and continental market.

How would you describe the business of filmmaking in SA? Where are we getting it right and breaking boundaries, and where would we be best advised to follow international examples?
The local film industry has come on leaps and bounds in the last decade. It’s matured into a much more commercial headspace in which audience demands and tastes are more front and centre. On the flip-side, the downside of being too audience-led is that films become samey and conservative, so we are currently not pushing the envelope as much as perhaps film-rich countries like France.

How do you think the SA film industry needs to change its way of thinking to grow and stay ahead of the curve?
The industry’s come a long way, but we do need to find a way to reach a much bigger local and continental market. At the moment, no doubt we are too skewed towards Afrikaans films, and the broader population is being largely missed in cinemas. It would also be good to see broadcasters take it to the next level in terms of originality, risk-taking and storytelling, following international television trends with edgy series likeBreaking Bad (AMC) and House of Cards (Netflix).

What changes do you forecast for the SA film industry in the next three to five years, especially when it comes to casting and marketing films?
We’ve seen it already with some Afrikaans actors and actresses, but I would expect a few new stars to come through in the next few years, who like Leon Schuster, can pack audiences into cinemas on their own name.

TV, radio and cinema trailers will remain key to marketing films, but I would anticipate some data and database oriented apps to become quite key to understanding audience trends and somewhat determining what films get made.

In your experience what is the biggest challenge that SA filmmakers face and how is this best overcome?
Current challenges include a decline in cinema admissions, a disappearing DVD market and limited pay-TV competition, combined with slow growth in the economy, not to mention load-shedding (cinemas join the long list of things that don’t run without power!).

Local filmmakers will need to find and build audiences more directly with video-on-demand platforms, and using as many online analytics as possible. Ultimately though, we have to keep trying to make must-see movies. That’s the only way for local films to be in the fight against the Hollywood giants.

Originally published in

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Thursday, 18 August 2022

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