Blending entertainment with education in shows such as 48 Hours, Choice, Gaz'lam, In Debt, Takalani Sesame, Zero Tolerance and The Molo Show, Ochre Moving Pictures is carving out a special place for itself in the local TV industry.

OchreTV

Based in the Johannesburg suburb of Rosebank, the independent production company aims to consistently raise the bar of quality content with programmes that educate, inspire and change perceptions. And its management believes quality staff is key.

"Ochre people are our most valuable asset," says Stan Joseph, Ochre's CEO.

"From our dynamic, dedicated senior management team through to the youngest and newest production interns, our people are carefully selected to complement, contribute and collaborate – with each team member bringing unique and highly valued skills, talents and attributes to our productions."

Anton Burggraaf is an executive producer at Ochre, and in charge of entertainment formats. It's his job to oversee a production from conception to delivery, to liaise with clients – broadcaster and advertisers – and ensure the entire process runs smoothly.

"I get a tremendous thrill out of seeing something that was nothing," says Burggraaf. "It's one thing to have an idea, but it's quite another to stick to it, follow all the processes needed to bring it to life, and be finally confronted with it. It's like your baby ... It's such a joy to see people's reaction to something I've made."

While Ochre does produce fun, escapist fluff such as the soapie Scandal, a large part of their focus is on programming that educates, builds communities and improves life skills. Mentoring emerging talent is another priority.

"We do live in a country where there is a need for us to give back; it's one of the things Ochre believes in," Burggraaf says.

In 2012 Burggraaf mentored rising filmmaker Mpumi Tshabalala from Vosloorus, who went on to win this year's South Africa's Next Top Filmmaker competition. Tshabalala conceived and directed her winning short film Look at Me Now, starring socialite and cross-dressing sensation IkoMash, under Burggraaf's guidance. The film uses the reality-TV format to hilarious effect, with IkoMash prowling local shopping malls to "arrest" male fashion offenders in malls and give them an impromptu makeover.

The South Africa's Next Top Filmmaker competition is an industry corporate social investment initiative, the brainchild of General Post's Kirsty Galliard and partnered this year by Quizzical Pictures, Endemol South Africa and Ochre.

"We are thrilled that Mpumi won," Burggraaf says. "She's a great talent with a singular vision and you could see that oozing from the screen. The film has all the right ingredients: it's pacey, provocative, alternative, confident, sassy and laugh-out-loud funny. But it's also very simple. You get it immediately, and that just makes it a brilliant format."

He adds: "Being a mentor is about helping people understand the building blocks of creating and managing a successful project." The blocks are first the general idea, then the specific concept, and then broadening that to take the shape of a programme.

Tshabalala's initial spark for her film was for a makeover show for men, with a cross-dressing host, who publicly accosts offenders with appalling fashion sense and puts them right. It was a great idea, and it was Burggraaf's job to nurture it by guiding Tshabalala as she built all the necessary blocks to create the final, winning product.

Innovation and partnerships

Burggraaf says Ochre is constantly looking to expand by coming up with fresh new ideas approaching potential partners to "create TV shows that we feel will find a home somewhere".

"We have a lot of projects on the boil."

Kwanda, for example, is a prime-time docu-reality television series commissioned by the Soul City Institute for Health and Development, and broadcast on SABC1. In the show, five teams from five very different communities are given the challenge to improve their neighbourhoods by using the resources they can find. They have to address issues relating to HIV, vulnerable children, alcohol abuse and were tasked with creating sustainable livelihoods. The series follows their remarkable journey of change.

In Debt is a reality show that helps ordinary people get out of debt. Each week, one person is featured on the show, whose life has been ruined by overspending or bad personal financial management. This show helps people fix the problem before losing everything. The Debt Doctor gives them practical advice and designs clever interventions to teach them to live within their means. In this popular series, 10 ordinary people go on a rigorous debt relief programme and then put on the road to recovery.

"Trying to educate people, the content becomes the key driver," Burggraaf says. "Edutainment is about teaching people in a fun way so that the point gets across. It's about introducing techniques from reality and packaging it in a way that people know."

One of Ochre's most notable programmes is Takalani Sesame, a local co-production of the global children's TV brand, Sesame Street. It is a flagship SABC Education series and one of the best-recognised education series in South Africa. Using trademark Muppets and unique African characters, Takalani Sesame has captured the imagination of South African children for more than a decade with entertaining, engaging and age-appropriate stories.

The series takes a holistic approach to early learning and development by integrating education and entertainment and implementing clear educational objectives in the fields of literacy, numeracy and life skills. These objectives are informed by the National South African ECD Curriculum.

Takalani Sesame is produced in partnership with the Department of Education, United States Agency for International Development, Sanlam and SABC Education, and is under the creative direction of Sesame Workshop in New York.

The programme also had a special focus on HIV/Aids awareness and seeks to promote tolerance and reduce stigma: a world first was the introduction of an HIV-positive Muppet, Kami.

The series also incorporates all of South Africa's 11 national languages. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan, and Nane Annan have made guest appearances on the show.

Takalani means 'be happy' in Tshivenda. The series has been running since Sesame Workshop in New York commissioned it in 1998. The series has won a number of international awards, including a Peabody, and the Japan prize.