South Africa boasts over seven daily dramas or soap operas � and all of them are shot and set in Gauteng. In a series exploring the world of soapie production, we investigate this phenomenon and look at the nuts and bolts behind the dramas.  And this month, following a look at our soapies, we focus on Egoli and Rhythm City.

Rhythm City on set
The soap opera genre was created for American radio during the 1930s, and owes its name to the sponsorship of the programs by large soap powder companies. They were initially targeted at women, particularly housewives, and designed to entertain, without distracting women from their daily chores while their husbands were out earning a dime. The common trait of soap operas is they have no ending points, only particular storylines that have endings � in other words they can go on forever...

Since 1994, South African television audiences have seen an explosion in local daily dramas. It started in Gauteng with pay channel M-Net�s Egoli - Place of Gold. As the name of the series implies, it is set in Johannesburg (Egoli is the isiZulu name for �place of gold�). The series was created (and is still headed by) Franz Marx, who says Egoli is aimed at women of all nationalities between the

Egoli on set
ages of twenty-five and forty-five, with middle or upper incomes. As of August last year, the show had aired 4000 episodes, and despite the closing of open-time on the channel it is still posting huge viewing figures.

Neil McCarthy, a seasoned scriptwriter who has worked on Isidingo, Gaz�lam and is now head writer for Rhythm City says there�s no mystery as to why all local soaps are set in Gauteng. �Firstly Jo�burg is our great metropolis and since soapies are all about aspiration, and since the sad fact is that the youth seem to share an aspiration to all be part of the metropolitan life, they need to be set in the metropolis. The second reason is economic. On the rare occasions that cameras leave the studio the shooting has to be of the rock and roll, cheap as dirt variety where you can be pretty sure that anything you shoot within a small radius from your studio can be incorporated into your drama; so to ensure this you need to set the soap close to home. Backstage initially was set in Cape Town and shot in Cape Town, but the production company remained based in Jo�burg and the actors largely came from Jo�burg. The situation became untenable, and both the story and the production returned to Jo�burg.�

He thinks the third reason is a failure of nerve and admits that he�d love to see a soapie outside Johannesburg. �Isidingo initially was, but it also couldn�t take the strain and retreated into the smog.�

Professor Nadia van der Merwe, lecturer in the Department of Communication at the University of Johannesburg, says because the city is the broadcasting hub of South Africa most soaps are shot here. But she believes there are thematic reasons as well: �Having Gauteng as a setting opens up storyline possibilities and more scope for location shots. Johannesburg is internationally known for transcending the setting across boundaries, which comes into play when soaps are exported to other countries. It also opens up �big city� living to viewers who do not live in the city. It might even lead to them aspiring to come to the city to experience the hustle and bustle as experienced by their beloved characters. The values constructed in soaps operas � power and control, individualism, wealth, beauty and glamour � are also the values associated with a city like Johannesburg.�

Greig Coetzee, an award-winning actor and playwright who is head writer on Isidingo says that perhaps local chauvinism comes into play. �I have a theory that the biggest city in a country also tends to be the most parochial when it comes to a sense of what is important.  So the Cape and Kwa Zulu-Natal will acknowledge that what happens in Gauteng is important, but not vice versa.  Because it is Gautengers who make these decisions of where to set shows at the time these ideas are pitched, we have ended up with all of them being set up here.  That said, I must confess to my hometown being Durban, so I may have a chip on my shoulder about this!�

Isidingo is actually set in Horizon Deep, a small (imaginary) mining town on the West Rand as well as at a television station in Johannesburg proper. �We focus more on creating a sense of a local community than reflecting the whole city,� Coetzee says. �And we try to reflect a broad South African (but mainly urban) reality rather than one that is specific to Gauteng.�

Besides Rhythm City and Isidingo, e-TV�s Scandal takes place in a newspaper whilst long running hit Generations is set in a black-owned advertising agency. Born more than ten years ago, the show was ahead of the game in advancing the idea that black African people could be captains of industry and power-players in their own right.

Just as Generations reflected a new South Africa so all of the soap operas have dealt with uniquely social issues such as inter-racial relationships, crime, rape, corruption, and HIV Aids. But they always focus on the characters featured in the �pseudo-reality� of life in Johannesburg.

�We always put story ahead of 'message'.  We're a soap, so entertainment is our priority,� Coetzee says. �However, with issues like Aids we bear in mind that these are difficult subjects for many South Africans, so we ensure that our stories are carefully researched and that we aren't irresponsible in the way we tell the stories. Wherever possible we also try to represent a number of different points of view so that we can look at various sides of any debate there may be around these social issues.�

Very few local shows follow the American model that avoids local references or topical issues and where most of the characters tend to be glamorous and removed from the lives of the viewers like in The Bold and The Beautiful.  Many of the characters and the stories local soapies tell are reflective of a reality that most South Africans and indeed all Gautengers can identify with.

*** If you want to get into writing for daily-dramas or soapies, Creative Industry is hosting a course that starts this week. This hands-on course will give you a comprehensive understanding of the tools needed to successfully write TV drama, from basics such as layout and finding your story to the more technical skills of pitching and scene construction. It will also look at applying the techniques of television drama to the feature film format.

Screenwriting is tutored by Neil McCarthy, whose extensive TV credits include head writer on Rhythm City, Mzansi, Gaz�lam, Zero Tolerance and Isidingo. Numbers are limited, to ensure individual attention.

Course Dates: 7, 21 & 28 June and 5th July 2008, 9am � 1pm
Venue: Sasani Studios, Highlands North, Johannesburg
Cost: R2, 500

Contact: Fiona Walsh 072 298 7736 /

Profiles on Egoli and Rhythm City.
Profiling Egoli and Rhythm City in the same article is like comparing the well established solid and long running daily drama with the new kid on the block.

Egoli � place of Goldcommenced shooting in January 1992, some 16 years ago and as such is the longest running production of this genre in South Africa. Shot out of stages 2 and 5 at the Sasani Studios in Highlands North Johannesburg, Egoli has a loyal following on M-Net.
Laurence Lurie, the Executive Producer, is responsible for the supervision and co-ordination of all the departments on the production � both artistic and technical. Lurie explains:

�Yes � we have been running for 16 years with 4,200 episodes on air. We started initially in three studios, but have now reduced to two, of about 420 m�. each. We use three cameras, two audio booms and shoot to Digital Beta. We originally recorded on 1� tape in an analogue format.

�Egoli has parallel storylines tracking different families and communities as their stories interact and has changed a lot over the years. The principal actors are Christine Basson, Shaleen Surtie-Richards, Brumilda van Rensburg, Eckard Rabe, and 12 more. We employ about 130 crew members.

�We tend to shoot fairly well in advance of the actual air-date and are anything between 8 weeks and 4 months in advance. We post produce on AVID and Protools and do this in-house with facilities provided by ZSE TV�.

Burgert Muller, Associate Producer adds: �Egoli has three types of sponsorships - Barter Deals (goods to be used on set);Cash Sponsorship via product placement; and Storyline Sponsors, who pay for added value projects like location shoots. Egoli also runs regular social responsibility storylines, with drop-ins of current news events and we feature well known SA singers, as themselves, on a monthly basis.  There is also a fan club - Egoli has an active on-line following on the Egoli website through a discussion forum City, on the other hand, is a relative newcomer to the daily drama scene. After initial testing, Rhythm City commenced shooting on the 20 June 2007 in the studios in Hyde Park Johannesburg.

Anthony Shaw, Series Producer, started working on the project in May 2007, two months before the series went on air: �We have recently moved to a dedicated new studio building at the Sasani Studios complex, built specifically for Rhythm City by We have one studio of approx 1100 m� in size. We work with a three camera set-up.�

Rhythm City has now been on air for just over 10 months � it started broadcasting on the 9 July 2007.

Shaw says that the initial contract with is for three years: �Obviously we hope that the series continues indefinitely.

�Rhythm City has one foot in Johannesburg and the other in Soweto.  Our characters are involved directly or indirectly with the local recording industry, or with the Kilowatt club in Soweto.  The series focuses on the goings-on in the music business.

The key actors are Peter se-Puma (Miles Vilakazi), Jamie Bartlett (David Genaro), Connie Chiume (Mamokete Khuse),  KB (Lucilla Vilakazi), Lungile Radu (S�bu),  Mduduzi Mabaso (Suffocate), Mpho Molepo (Fats) , and we employ 55 studio and production crew, while there are 10 members in the writing team and 16 permanent cast.

�As a result of the recent studio move, during which we were out of studio for seven weeks, we are now shooting only 2-3 weeks ahead of broadcast.  But this is too close for comfort, and we aim to move to a position where we are shooting at least a month ahead of broadcast. We record on DVC-PRO tape and we edit on Avid machines at the Edit Caf� at Sasani.

�We are almost certainly the soap with the shortest margin between completion of episodes and broadcast.   For most of our 10 months of existence we have delivered less than five days in advance of broadcast.   Most soaps would regard this as living very dangerously, but this situation was forced on us by circumstances.

�We had to move into the studios and start broadcasting very soon after Backstage closed down, and then, after only eight months of shooting in the studio at Hyde Park, we had to move to Sasani, which meant seven weeks away from shooting in studio.  So it was very nearly back to square one.  In our early days, if we had technical problems, we sometimes used to feed the episode via satellite in the morning to Cape Town, and then it would be broadcast the same evening from�s Cape Town studios.� Living dangerously, indeed!