Since he began writing for the GFC newsletter Andrew Worsdale has been wondering just who Terry Tselane is. He sat down with the CEO of the Gauteng Film Commission to discover where he comes from, what makes him tick and how his plans to drive Gauteng as a major South African film hub are coming together.

jun-ceo
Terry Tselane CEO of Gauteng Film Commission
I write for this newsletter as an independent contractor. I have no magic insight into the workings of the Gauteng Film Commission, no special pass, no privileged way in or cherished secret knowledge of how it�s managed or how the CEO and others at the commission are trying to drive film and TV production in the region. My curiosity as to who runs the GFC, what their background is and wishes are is probably equal to many others working in the production sector.

So, with this in mind I decided to meet up with Terry Tselane on neutral ground at a Rosebank coffee shop the day before he went off to punt Gauteng at Cannes. Now, as an independent supplier of copy, subject to zero kickbacks or bribes I can report that Tselane is the right man for the job � dedicated to the task at hand, trying to effectively streamline all the production sectors in the province into one entity that will lead to the province being the movie and TV powerhouse it aspires to be.

The idea of film commissions began in the US and has grown outward. Today, there are more than 300 such organisations in over 40 countries around the world. Many of them are organised, like here, by local government bodies serving as an administrative window to attract and support productions from home and abroad. Film commissions make significant contributions not only to their jurisdiction�s film and TV community but also to the revitalisation of local economies and the promotion of tourism. Film commissioners can basically be not much more than civil servants allocated film as part of their portfolio, or they can be proactive workers for the industry using their diplomatic, marketing and networking skills to promote inward investment and build up a robust film commission that can oil the wheels of any shoot and turn their �domain� into a vibrant and profitable part of the national and international film production sector.

Tselane has no background in film and as a result no egocentric fame-hungry movie-driven sense of self. When he was given the position as CEO his two kids, Kamogelo aged 10 and Nkululeko aged 14, were over the moon with excitement. �My goodness,� an affable Tselane tells me, �They designed a special movie questionnaire for me asking things like who does the voice-over for the donkey in �Shrek��honestly I had no idea.�

Forty-four year old Tselane was born in Lesung near Rustenburg, and he maintains being the second-born had a profound effect on his development. �The first born always gets the attention, and the last born, but being in the middle meant I didn�t get much � so I made up for it at school.�

As a scholar he became the romantic lead in the high school plays, recited and dramatised poetry and was the chairperson of the debating society; in some ways these thespian activities massaged the self-esteem that was maybe ignored at home. There was no cinema or drive-in near Brits, but Tselane fondly remembers the movies that were screened on the odd occasion in the school hall. Apart from Tarzan, the film that most vividly sticks in his mind is �Udeliwe�, a 1975 Sotho movie directed by and starring Simon Sabela about a young girl who ventures to the city and gets ensnared in the seedy world of modelling. Ironically the film was an apartheid creation produced by Heyns Films with funding from the nationalist government�s infamous Department of Information.

But Tselane was not about to be seduced by apartheid�s operations; his entry into student politics wasn�t far behind his debating days at school. Whilst studying for a degree in Education at the University of Bophuthatswana in 1983, he joined the SRC, got involved in a black consciousness organisation and was recruited into the UDF. Although not politically driven per se, he was close to people who were. As a result he was expelled from the university and had to pursue his studies from scratch thanks to sympathetic lecturers at Wits University where he majored in industrial sociology.

�I�d never been to anywhere so big in my life,� he recalls, �so when I arrived at Wits I realised there was no way I�ll ever be noticed here�. But his leadership skills were quickly recognised and he served as president of the Black Students Society. Later he would act as Vice-President of the Executive Committee of the Convocation and was a member of the council of the University.

After graduation he spent the first years of his professional career in education before working with the Consultative Business Movement created by business to assist South African industry with its own transformation. He was subsequently recruited by the mining sector as a communications consultant where he developed programmes for workers, advised them on career development and negotiated with trade unions.

With the establishment of the Electoral Commission (IEC) in 1997, Tselane was appointed Provincial Electoral Officer for Gauteng where he was instrumental in the registration of 4.8 million voters. �I started out alone, there was no office, no staff, not even a desk or a chair � but I recruited very good staff and we managed to get a momentous job done.�

After that success he was offered the position of CEO of the Gauteng Gambling Board but eventually accepted the position of chief executive of the Gauteng Tourism Authority where he managed to inject a new life into the concept of sightseeing in the region. The provincial authorities realised they had someone who could turn things around, they were having problems with the running of what was then the Gauteng Film Office (GFO) and asked Tselane to come on board in order to revitalise and streamline the operation.

In 2006 the GFO was part of the Gauteng Economic Development Agency (GEDA) and was an organisation of four people. �In reality the organisation didn�t really exist, it didn�t function properly as an enterprise,� he tells me after downing an orange juice. Tselane freely admits that he knew nothing about the dynamics of the film industry and hadn�t interacted with any of the players. So he jumped in at the deep end, created forums and did as much research as he could in order to prioritise the sector in the eyes of the province.

In a soft-spoken modest way Tselane admits that he�s a talented tactician. �One of my strengths is that I have a strategic mind. I�m good at identifying difficulties and coming up with remedies. That is what I have always done. I don�t like a situation where there�s a stalemate, for me when I�m involved in a project or a situation there always has to be progress. When I�m in a mediating situation I know that both parties need a �buy-in�, so both parties feel that they�re part of the process.�

He commissioned the Gaullywood report, an extensive audit of film and TV production activities in the region. �The film industry operates in a fragmented way. There�s no real industry, just large pockets of activity. I want the GFC to identify the trigger points that exist and use those to help create a cohesive industry here in Gauteng.�

Historically the film industry has never been tracked by national agencies, with data fragmented and vital indicators such as employment and production facts and figures outdated or unavailable. Tselane says the six months of research involved in �Project Gaullywood� was in order to address data gaps prevalent within the industry. It was a comprehensive investigation into the size, scope and competitiveness of film production in the province. �With an economic contribution in excess of R2 billion per year the research showed that Gauteng is indeed at the creative heart of the South African film industry.�

He says the GFC is focusing on two areas � marketing Gauteng as a location of choice � his recent visits to Los Angeles as part of the Media Xchange and to Cannes helped in this regard; the other area is to unite local filmmakers and producers into a cohesive film zone that speaks with one voice. The creation of the Gauteng Film Partnership, a body of stakeholders whom the GFC will consult is a step in that direction. �We don�t want to lose the momentum that we�ve created in the past two years,� he says.

The Gauteng Film Partnership aims to bring together the resources, energy and creativity of key organisations, groups, communities and individuals to ensure Gauteng�s role as a premier film destination, with the key message that �film is everybody�s business�. �For us to significantly grow our competitive position as a prime film location we must work as one,� he says. �We need to ensure that film becomes everyone�s business in Gauteng and that can only happen if we significantly increase the profile of the sector within our community.�

When Tselane arrived filmmakers had to deal with numerous municipal bodies in order to get permits, �When I came in people had to deal with Joburg Metro and the Johannesburg Road Agency to get permits and there was no one with a specific remit to deal with film or television production. We are now creating a one-stop film permit shop.�

There are several studios in Gauteng, but they are over-subscribed by television productions and there�s no studio big enough to house a major feature film like a Pinewood or an Elstree, but Tselane is busy addressing that need. �First of all we are identifying what we�ll need in 2010 and are working together with the Expo Centre in Nasrec, which will be the International Broadcasting centre during the World Cup, with the idea that it could serve as a major studio from then on.�

Cape Town is about to begin construction on its own purpose-built film studio that hopes to attract major productions like the Bond movies or similar, but Tselane insists there�s no rivalry. �We aren�t in competition with Cape Town, or Durban for that matter. Filmmakers don�t recognise provincial borders and we have to work in co-operation to promote South Africa.�

Many people think the GFC is actually a funding body, this is not strictly true although it has helped in the financing of some movies and other projects. �We are obviously guided by our own interests and have our own criteria, but if a project will increase the exposure of the province and our capacity then we will engage with it in whatever way we can.�

Recently he has been seeing films in a new light and is becoming a big fan, but he�s not prescriptive about what local filmmakers should be doing. �We are very rich in our diversity. I don�t want political correctness in our movies. When we met with Disney on Media Xchange recently they said to me �You guys have fantastic stories that have never been told before�. And that�s what I think we should be doing. Stories are location specific and in Gauteng we need to embrace that, as well as the diversity of our stories and of our nation.�

Tselane reckons that the entertainment business is an industry people work in when they want to leave the mundane, repetitive existence of a nine to five day job. �Every day you can enjoy your work, you can interact with different people and that�s a fantastic feeling. Once we have all the systems in place and there�s a cohesive strategy rolling out then it will be real fun, right now there�s still a lot of hard work to do.�

But Tselane isn�t afraid of that hard labour, half-joking with a wry smile he tells me: �I say to my friends that next time you see me at the movies with my girlfriend you must know that I�m actually working very, very hard.�

It seems that this second-born from Rustenburg has finally found his share of the limelight, and rather than hogging it � he�s using that attention to help the province reach its goal. There may be problems with local broadcasters and distributors in their promotion of local content, but with Tselane at the helm, filmmakers in Gauteng can be optimistic that there�ll be a film in their future.