Interview: Seriti TV’s Kutwano and Thabang
Words by Sanele Mawisa
South African television is without a doubt, on the rise. With more captivating shows focusing on relatable narratives and enthralling story-telling, the industry has been injected with fresh concepts and ideas. A critical element of this growth is down to a variety of creative forces, two such forces are casting director, film and TV producer extraordinaire Kutlwano Ditsele and award-winning filmmaker Thabang Moleya, who directed the critically acclaimed romantic drama Happiness Is A Four Letter word. Both have been key players in the television industry over a number of years having co-produced and directed some of the biggest drama series in this country to date. Kutlwano is currently the Executive Creative Director, and Thabang a Director at Seriti TV, a burgeoning production company which is home to a few of the finest directors in the industry. I picked their brains on a range of topics from what their inspirations are to how Seriti TV began.
What did you want to grow up to be when you were a kid?
Strangely enough I wanted to be a lawyer until I realised that it was only because I had been consuming so many legal films and dramas. Ally McBeal, A Few Good Men, Devils Advocate, A Time to Kill etc. I loved the power in all those characters so much so I wanted to be there. I loved great monologues and when I was younger I used to know all of them. Strangely enough though I never had a thought to be an actor. I think I realised I wanted to be a filmmaker right after I finished high school and I never looked back.
What fascinates you about television and visuals in general?
Story telling. I’m OBSSESED with great stories. The power of a great story can never be taken for granted. For example, it is without a shadow of a doubt that Hollywood has shaped how the world views America right? Think of all the big epics where whatever the problem in the world is, AMERICA THE GREAT has to be the hero. Be it war movies or Alien films, the not so subtle messaging of WE ARE THE GREATEST is ever present. So I guess what I am trying to say is that it is the power of a story. Of course it is also a great platform for important messages and for me that is what really appeals.
How difficult is it to navigate through the industry?
It’s very difficult but I don’t think it is a difficulty that is unique to this industry alone. The world is a difficult place and in all honesty whether you are an artist or a banker, the same principals apply. Hard work, dedication etc. I don’t think this industry is any harder to make it in than the next one. We just like to think that we are special because well artists like to have their egos stroked. Is it hard? Absolutely so. I have been blessed in my journey in that I have found the right people on my journey but even then it was difficult.
Are visual schools the best preparation to succeed in television?
Hard to say really. I think school is important yes but it is not everything. Ultimately it will boil down to the individual. Your talent, opportunities, tenacity etc. I was fortunate enough to go to film school but I would say it is probably 25% of why I have had the career that I have. It gave me the foundation, I built from there on by putting in the hours working from production to production. I know great filmmakers that come from film school and I know great filmmakers that never went.
What is the greatest lesson you have learnt in your career and how did you learn it?
That I will never get to a point where I know everything there is to know about making television. EVERY new show I make I feel like a beginner again, I feel like I have never done this even though I’ve been doing it for 11 years.
What is your best skill?
Not sure if it is a skill but I think its TASTE, I have pretty good taste. Taste across all areas in my field. I know what a good story is, I know what a good director is, I know what a good actor is, I know what a good chair is for a scene. Taste is incredibly important in my field. Without it you are in big trouble.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
From everything and everyone. I believe that all of art is a remix. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a totally original idea. No idea is original, it is just a remix of everything the artist has seen, read, heard, experienced. This is why I am such a fan of listening to all sorts of music, I don’t box to one genre, and that goes for what I read and watch too. That’s the only way to grow your brains pallet for creativity.
What is your evaluation of the state of television in South Africa?
I think we are in a good place. We are telling great stories about and for our people, I think that is a great place for us to be in. Of course we would all love to be making television on the types of budgets that Netflix etc are making but we are on the rise, our time is coming.
How did Seriti Films come about?
[It’s] Like-minded individuals who share the same passion in taking the South African story to the world. After countless conversations of how we would like our stories told we realised we had to be the pioneers of that vision. Beyond that collectively we have a great synergy.
How do you get the best out of your working relationship with Kutlwano?
Collaboration is our greatest strength and our honesty with one another, we always want the best for one another and no matter what our feelings, the idea/the story is what we always fight for.
Explain the move to also create commercials?
I’m a story teller and I never confine myself to any particular genre or format of storytelling, any opportunity to tell a good story is an opportunity to learn and grow.
How do you balance your clients’ needs with your own creativity?
They live in the same world for me, I capture the client’s needs through my creativity and voice. Both need to work together, if they work separately you’ll constantly find yourself in conflict.
What excites you more, feature films, TV series or commercials?
All of them. What draws me to any of them is the story.
What is the biggest misconception about the film industry in SA?
Is that it’s easy and a quick fix. It takes years to build a good reel because you get better with time and the more projects you work on.
Where do you see the industry in 5 years?
Every year we producing more films which is a great thing, more drama shows, more SA content on a whole, our audience keeps growing, we need to acknowledge our growth, we’re still a young industry and it’s beautiful seeing our growth. We have to keep interrogating our stories and pushing boundaries, in our ideas and execution.