The Queen rendered financially unviable

Shona Ferguson and Connie Ferguson Picture: Lungelo Mbulwana
Shona Ferguson and Connie Ferguson Picture: Lungelo Mbulwana

Lockdown has put a stop to producing episodes of the most-watched TV show on Mzansi Magic

Mzansi power couple Connie and Shona Ferguson, who own Ferguson Films, have raised their concerns and frustrations on how the lockdown extension has affected the shooting schedule of one the most-watched TV shows, The Queen, Season 4.

According to the production company’s contract with MultiChoice, it has to deliver it by the end of May.

However, the Fergusons described the resources required to meet the deadline as “unrealistic and no longer financially viable with the remaining budget” because of the national lockdown.

Last month, MultiChoice announced that it had set aside an R80 million relief fund to ensure that production houses were able to pay the full salaries of their production staff.

However, an email, sent to The Queen cast and crew members from Ferguson Films on Monday, which City Press has seen, states: “With the lockdown being extended until the end of April, the possibility of completing Season 4 of The Queen by the end of May does not look good.

“The resources required to achieve this have become unrealistic, no longer financially viable with the budget remaining, and thus there is no alternative but to extend the shoot by an additional four weeks [one month] taking us into June with the goal of completion June 30.”

MultiChoice has endeavoured to pay us in full in April, which then means we are able to pay our cast and crew their salaries in full for April

The email also discussed the payment and salaries of the production staff, pointing out that contractually, there were only two months left of the contract for The Queen, Season 4 – April and May.

“As such there are only two months of allocated budget available (April and May).

“While many businesses and industries have not paid their employees for the lockdown period, we did not feel it fair to make April unpaid despite the fact that no work was done in the month.”

Speaking to City Press, TV personality Connie Ferguson said it was strange that whoever had sent out Monday’s email to the cast and crew had failed to share the second correspondence, that was sent on Tuesday.

Ferguson shared the email with City Press.

In it, Ferguson Films informed the cast and crew that they (the production company) had engaged with MultiChoice and would be paying them their full salaries at month end.

“MultiChoice has endeavoured to pay us in full in April, which then means we are able to pay our cast and crew their salaries in full for April.

With that said, there’s still a lot of uncertainty around May and going forward, as no one can predict the actual end of lockdown and when we will be able to resume work,” Ferguson said.

She said that The Queen closed shop on March 23, just days before the national lockdown, because one of their principal actors got sick and they could not continue shooting the scene without the actor.

She said that initially The Queen was contracted until the end of May and by then they should be have had delivered The Queen, Season 4 to MultiChoice.

Read: MultiChoice sets a side R80 million for cast, crew and creatives for March & April

“But as we stand, we are running extremely behind with six weeks.

“If the lockdown continues beyond April it will have a lot of implications.

“As a production house, we need to complete our contract, but this is beyond our control. We are committed to honour our contract deliveries,” Ferguson said, adding that they were supposed to deliver episodes of the show by May 8.

She said they [the production house] were aware of the rescue fund that was announced by MultiChoice, but they were not in a position to assume how the funds would be allocated.

“We managed to pay the production staff a full salary last month,” Ferguson said.

Yolisa Phahle, MultiChoice Group’s chief executive for general entertainment, said that given the group’s history and position in the industry, “we have deep-rooted partnerships and long-standing commitments that have helped to grow the industry for the benefit of many, both in front and behind the camera”.

Phahle said that last month MultiChoice had set aside R80 million to ensure that ongoing productions were able to pay the full salaries of cast, crew and creatives for the months of March and April.

“We believe this to be critical for the industry and, in our view, simply the right thing to do.”

When asked whether it had measures in place should the lockdown be extended beyond April, Phahle said: “We are unfortunately not able to discuss any contract details in the media, as they are by nature confidential,” she said.

The Queen airs on weekdays on Mzansi Magic (DStv channel 161)

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