Safta, Safta wins the race for SA's top two soapie-smiths
It's all about family when they craft their spellbinding storylines.
A new bride is shot dead in a shootout while celebrating her nuptials. A man goes on a rampage to avenge the death of his wife and daughter. A cop is killed because he knows too much about a drug-dealing family.
If these scenarios sound familiar, they should. They are all plots in some of South Africa’s biggest prime time TV dramas.
And they were all thought up by Phathutshedzo Makwarela and Gwydion Beynon, who have been coming up with storylines for the past 13 years.
With a slate of multiple TV series on almost every night of any week, the duo are arguably the South African version of Shonda Rhimes, the US producer and screen writer who is responsible for shows like Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, The Fixer and How to Get Away with Murder.Makwarela and Beynon were the writers of Rockville, iGazi, The Queen, The Imposter and the latest series, Unmarried, on 1Magic [formerly VuzuAmp] on DStv.
They are also the creators of Isithembiso and have recently gone on to create, write and become the executive producers of another new 1Magic series, The River.
On Friday, their shows were nominated for eight South African Film and Television Awards (Saftas), including the Most Popular TV soap/Telenovela nomination for Isithembiso and The Queen.
Despite the nods, Makwarela said his measure of success was whether people were engaging with the shows.“Once you create a story where people can have an opinion, when people want to talk about it, that’s the barometer of success. Failure is when no one is responding. Even criticism is good. For me the basis is audience engagement.”
The two said their secret to great stories was simple: families.
“Family is at the heart of every story – with lots of decoration. The engine is family. The violence, romance and intrigue are just the decoration,” said Beynon.
Makwarela said he was most comfortable writing high-octane action series and dramas. But their process doesn’t involve group retreats in the south of France or hot-stone yoga; rather, there are robust conversations and workshops with their team of writers.Recent social media debates around sexual harassment and abuse have sparked an idea for a scene in one of their shows. But Beynon wouldn’t say any more for fear of revealing spoilers.
“When you bake a cake you know the exact ingredients to use and you follow the recipe. It’s not like that with stories. The more you write the better you get and every project is a learning project,” said Makwarela.
Beynon said their trick was to use “dramatic irony” and not mystery. So instead of making viewers guess what was behind the door, their approach to storytelling was to tell viewers exactly what was behind the door in detail.
“So much of what we see on TV isn’t original, so it’s not a question of talent; it’s just about a willingness to endlessly show resilience to the process. The first idea is always terrible, the second is slightly better, but then when you hit the 10th idea, it’s much better.”