The River runs on as MultiChoice announces R80m relief fund

The River cast members will be paid during the lockdown and next month. Picture: Gallo Images / Oupa Bopape
The River cast members will be paid during the lockdown and next month. Picture: Gallo Images / Oupa Bopape

MultiChoice has availed funds for crew, cast and creatives salaries, as production houses balance a lockdown and voracious viewer appetites

Award-winning scriptwriter Phathutshedzo Makwarela is a relieved man.

He is among the creatives who benefited from the R80 million relief fund that was allocated by MultiChoice to pay all the production houses contracted to it.

Makwarela co-owns Tshedza Pictures with Gwydion Beynon, and together they are the masterminds behind the popular telenovela The River, which airs on weekdays on 1Magic (DStv channel 103).

On Friday, MultiChoice announced that it had set aside funds to ensure that current production houses were able to pay full salaries of cast, crew and creatives for March and April.

This was after production houses were forced to halt production as per President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call for people to stay at home as the country fights the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Makwarela said the news was a great relief to producers as they were panicking about how they were going to pay salaries for the two months.

“Knowing that my staff will be taken care of for the next two months gives me peace of mind.

“As Tshedza Pictures, we value our cast and crew, and we were going to do anything, even if it meant asking for a loan from a bank, to minimise their stress levels, especially during these trying times,” he said.

Makwarela explained that, as a production house that shoots a daily drama, they had to be considerate of the tight budget that had been given by the channel.

“We are given a budget, which we need to spend over a fixed period of time, and contractually.

“We are expected to deliver and submit all the shows, but when Covid-19 hit our country we were scared because it meant additional costs for us as a company,” he explained, adding that in three weeks they shot 15 to 20 episodes.

He allayed fears that the popular drama series could out run of episodes during the lockdown. Makwarela assured that they had shot enough content to last until May.

Yolisa Phahle, chief executive officer (CEO) of general entertainment for MultiChoice Group Africa, told City Press that the company had responded to the president’s call and all MultiChoice production houses would benefit from the fund.

When asked what the criteria and mechanism they were going to apply in making the funds available to the beneficiaries was, she said: “All production houses contracted with us, whether big or small, are going to be paid as per their contracts in the next two months. Therefore, they will pay their cast and crew members as per usual.”

Are there any measures in place should the lockdown extend beyond two months?

“We don’t know what is going to happen after two months, so it’s hard to say right now. We understand our responsibilities as a company and we are working hard to implement several measures aimed at safeguarding the incomes of cast, crew and creatives, as well as the sustainability of production houses,” Phahle said.

MultiChoice Group CEO Calvo Mawela echoed Phahle’s remarks about continuity and sustainability, saying: “We want to ensure that they [cast, crew and creatives] and their families are not negatively impacted as work has come to a standstill.”

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