The Real Deal – Authentic stories hit home run on TV
In October 2009 “eKasi: Our Stories” premièred on free-to-air channel e.tv on Monday nights with five one-off dramas set in Soweto in Gauteng. Less than four years later, the new season now consists of 52 individual stories and is one of the greatest successes in the local television industry. MARTIE BESTER examines why “eKasi” has proven to be such a firm favourite.
“eKasi: Our Stories” started with one production company and as the series gained popularity with weekly audience ratings of between two and three million viewers per episode each week, seven production companies are now involved in filming the series based on township life in many provinces across South Africa.
The growing viewership is testament to the fact that social issues which mirror the lives of ordinary South Africans are in demand on the small screen.
Before “eKasi: Our Stories”, little was known about the real perceptions of people living in townships such as Alexandra, Diepsloot, Khayelitsha or Ga-Rankuwa, apart from images portraying unrest or discord.
But nothing was said about residents’ loves, personal loss, their individual joys and tragedies, their successes and celebrations.
Through “eKasi”, South African township inhabitants have finally found a way to “voice” their experiences through the powerful tool of television.
Each year e.tv has an open call for scripts which allow people who haven’t had any formal experience in television production to tell their stories.
An internal selection process follows after all the scripts have been received.
The best scripts are then allocated to individual production companies that are commissioned to produce the stories.
Scriptwriters go through a workshop process lead by a head writer during which the story is drafted to be reflective of what happens around the authors.
“Viewers want to see themselves or somebody like them in a drama and want a story that resonates with them. The growth of ‘eKasi’ is due to authentic storytelling from the audience’s perspective,” says Thokozani Nkosi, one of the executive producers and scriptwriter of the story “Imbeza” starring music star Dr Malinga.
“In ‘Imbeza’, which (aired) on 23 September, a man who is down on his luck responds to a pamphlet that is handed to him and decides to see a herbalist who sells a good luck potion. What lies in store for him? All kinds of trouble…”
Nkosi comments that the purpose of “eKasi” is to pay it forward.
“We want to develop new opportunities for actors and crew who have never been involved in television. Therefore we use well-known actors but also undiscovered township talent.” Lilly Msimang, first-time producer on “eKasi” says: “The enduring popularity of the series can be attributed to the fact that the audience sees a reflection of their lives and what they go through on a day-to-day basis, based on a story that is not far-fetched or unrealistic.
“I think ‘eKasi’ is proof of the fact that people want to see more of these stories. This is a different kind of storytelling and kudos to e.tv for taking the chance to break the mould and allowing us to make our own, which has worked out for the best.”
“The beauty of this is that it has grown our industry a lot because of the number of shows being produced and although it is very much in its growing phase, many industry jobs are being created,” comments Msimang.
Continues Nkosi: “It has become very expensive to make television and eKasi has made it affordable again by producing low-cost, high-volume content.
“Producing a series of 52, 48-minute stories enables us to have economies of scale.”
Sasani Studios handles the post-production on “eKasi” at no extra cost and all the cameras used in the series are supplied for free.
“This deal really is progressive and with the partners we have that makes a big difference. Similar to Nollywood, it is about working together for developmental purposes.”
Each story goes through a week of pre-production, a week of shooting and between two and three weeks of post-production.
“There is always something different, interesting and unique about every story we tell,” comments Msimang.
First-time director on “eKasi”, Uvelapi Bangani, started in the industry in 2000 and has gone through the developmental channels as a sound engineer and floor manager to director and script editor.
“If we are going to tell stories, we had better tell stories that people can relate to,” he says. “For me as a director it has been an advantage to tell a story from my perspective as I understand the lifestyle.
“The fact that we shoot on real locations leads to community involvement. People watch the show because they are part of the experience.” – Screen Africa