Chris Roland
Chris Roland

Andy Stead

Film or television production is a complex procedure, not for sissies. From the original concept to writing of the script, selling the concept, handling the financing and then on to the actual production and post production requires guts and determination. When the production is complete the question of distribution has to be faced, and often the trials and tribulations involved – not to mention the capital required – prove too daunting for aspiring filmmakers.

Two of the most complex issues include financing and distribution, and to this end Cape Town-based producer Chris Roland of ZenHQ Films decided for the first time to share his secrets and expertise in two-day workshops held in both Cape Town and Johannesburg recently. Roland has raised, structured and produced over $130-million (R925-million) worth of award-winning film and television productions, and consults to the entertainment industry worldwide.

“The two main headings were financing and distribution,” he says. “Within this we focused on the development process, structures and resources, contracts and agreements, and who’s who in the zoo. Financing structures included several forms of financing and how they interact, and recoupment. Distribution included both simple and traditional local and international models, as well as more exotic and unique structures.”

The topics also included “producing for profit” – a novel idea! Roland looked at who has the financing and how to get it, attracting the distributor that is right for the project, international treaty and non-treaty coproductions, marketing and sales, “spend less and earn more”, and agreements and contracts – what to ask for and what to avoid.

“The workshops went very well,” says Roland, “better than expected in fact, and I received very positive exit polls. The general response was that the workshops provided more useful and practical information and tools than most.

“I was the only speaker over the two days. The reason I prefer this method is because I have found that workshops and seminars tend to get too watered down with too many speakers, and the rhythm is broken. I drilled very deeply into the work-flows used to finance and distribute films and television, and also applied models and practicalities to projects brought in by delegates.”

During the course of the workshops Roland covered several confidential areas, including structures of our own projects, past and present. “I was asked why I would do this, why I would reveal trade secrets, and the answer, for me, is obvious. All successful industries worldwide are successful because they are generally unified. By providing both practical working tools and resources in workshops my aim is stimulate the industry. By stimulating the industry, I serve others and myself – a win-win scenario in my book.

“I make my living from the industry. If we conduct our operations individually in a bubble, we hinder our own growth. In addition, I provide consulting to producers, financiers, facilities and others worldwide, primarily packaging projects including financing, distribution and coproduction structures. I would like to begin offering these services to South Africa. I must say that all the input from delegates provided invaluable insights into the state of the industry for everyone attending.

“Our Indigenous Films initiative [not to be confused with Helen Kuun’s Indigenous Film Distribution] is a unique business model incorporating several stakeholders, including broadcasters, the DTI, Seta, distributor, film school, sponsors, and DVD pirates

“ZenHQ Films created the model and has now partnered with Cape Town’s Okuhle Media. The initiative will see the production of 12 films in 2011 aimed specifically at the township and black market. The business model includes a profit position prior to production. This is as much as I am able to reveal about the structure at this stage,” says Roland.

The workshop attracted 34 delegates in Johannesburg session and 35 in Cape Town. Johannesburg delegates included representatives from Deloitte and Touche, Curious Pictures, Video Vision, Ochre Media, Media World and The Refinery.

Burgert Muller from Franz Marx Films attended the Johannesburg workshop. “I found it extremely interesting and also very necessary as there are not enough opportunities for film and television producers to get together and compare productions and their experiences,” he says. “Roland is a very generous person and did not hold back on sharing information and his vast experience with us. I would definitely attend similar workshops in future.”

Marike van der Walt, head of production for Curious Pictures, was equally enthusiastic. “It was a very interesting workshop, and the subjects were put across clearly and in an understandable manner for me. However, I have been producing for many years. I think that some of the topics may have been a bit advanced for a newcomer. I was particularly interested in the equity investment and pre-sales element which I found very informative and helpful.”

Roland’s ideas may soon be spreading to other parts of Africa. “As a result of the positive feedback, we’ve been contacted by both Namibia and Nigeria to take the workshops there,” he says. “In South Africa we received hundreds of queries, many of whom have asked us to inform them of future workshops. We are planning others on a variety of topics.”

Workshop sponsors included CGM Insurance Brokers, Precision Film Finance and The Refinery.