By: Welcome Moyo – Instagram: @welcome_moyo
Banele P. Mtebele is a talented Alexandrian who has tapped into his love for film making and storytelling to create a company called Kala/Mine Productions. Although being an entrepreneur in the arts poses greater risks and challenges, Mtebele proves that it can be done. Here’s more on who he is and how he does it.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Alexandra Township. I was sent to the bundus when I was 5, because I was a naughty and troublesome kid. I came back to Alexandra in 1999.
Describe your childhood?
I’m the last born at home and my mom had me when she was 44 years; that’s quite strange, hey? I have a mentally and physically disabled brother whom I was looking after when my mom was at work.
We grew up at a time where there was a war between Inkatha and the Xhosas. For us it was the coolest thing to see an AK-47 up close. We were sort of like the messengers, we reported dead people to their families like it was a game. We’d always compete on how many corpses we saw and how fast you ran to report that to the family. This was the main reason why my mom decided to send me to the bundus.
I’ve always been a child with responsibilities: I became a herd boy at home. I now see that hunting was good for me as I’m forced to always lead and be responsible. Being a breadwinner at home, being a teacher at a Saturday School, being a director, etc. I am loving it though.
What title do you give yourself? Are you a filmmaker, a director, a producer or…?
I am a filmmaker: I write, direct, shoot and edit. And I love all those things.
When did you know you wanted to tell stories through film and photography?
Back in high school I had no clue that film making was one of those careers where one can have a house and a car. So I wanted to be a lawyer and do this film thing as a hobby. I just wanted to be famous.
Until when I was in Grade 9 and I curiously read a book which was studied by Matrics calls Maru by Bessie Head. I really enjoyed it though it was hard for me to read it as English was not my friend. I then wrote a script by hand, I planned on doing a play on this book. My English teacher, Ms Vermuleun saw this and asked why I wanted to make a play on this book and I said: “If I would see a play or a film, I don’t forget the story unless the story was initially in my language. But since this is in English, they might fail the exams as they won’t remember what they read, but will never forget what they saw”. “It is just hard to think in a different language then speak another” I concluded.
The following week she bought me a ticket to go see a play. I enjoyed it, but I spent the time watching the director being so passionately glued to his show. It was so cool. I felt he was God, who created this story, these characters that were making the audience laugh then cry then laugh again. I said to myself, “I want to be this powerful”.
But as I grew up, I saw that theatre directors are less cool than film directors. Ha ha ha. From then on, I wanted to make my audience cry and laugh through film.
Who did you grow up looking up to as a film maker?
Before going to film school and knowing more about film, I once read something about Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick. I was so moved by their looks: they were unshaven and wore shorts at work. And yet these oaks were making big films. They made me want to go to film school. Then as my knowledge expanded in the field, I saw someone who really is a huge inspiration for me, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, a Mexican who invaded America (and the world) with his stories. His style and bravery in cinema gave me hope that you can do it. He is a story teller to me. I follow all his work and how he made everything, the stories behind the stories he tells will leave you amazed.
How and when did you start your career?
When I was doing my second year at university I was already hustling. I didn’t want to be like any other students who goes around and boasts with their degrees. I made things happen before I even graduated. I became an intern director when Lokshin Bioscope started. I was taken as a clapperboard, but ended up directing. I was once hired as a receptionist at a company but ended up editing (I would sneak, use their edit suites at night and I was caught), then I was used. I worked for many companies and/or with filmmakers for free for a very long time. That’s how my career began.
Are you formally trained or were you self-taught?
I am formally trained. I did Motion Picture & Television Production at Tshwane University of Technology, majored in Scriptwriting and Directing.
When did you start Kala/Mine Productions?
Kala/Mine Productions began when I was doing my second year, my assignments would always have ‘Kala/Mine Presents’ and then in 2013, it was officially registered.
Why did you start Kala/Mine Productions?
First and foremost, it felt so good to go to a cinema and see a film that is so great by Brad Pitt or George Clooney, and then when you read about it, the production company belongs to either of them. And when you look at the film and you see that there’s so much freedom there. I said, ‘I want that’. I don’t want to be restricted by terms and conditions of a certain company that I’d will be working for.
They’d have the money and the power to control my art, but with my company, I can say whatever I want. But the biggest dream I have is to see my kids continuing pushing my dream. As my company will one day look after 90 families. For years and years.
How did you raise the seed money to start your company?
I worked at a call centre for 4/5 years while studying at TUT. I bought my first camera, editing suite and other equipment with my salary from the call centre. I registered my company with the same money. Then I was fired for studying during working hours. I started to shoot and edit weddings. And as they say, the rest is history.
What are the actual products and services you offer to your clients?
Our slogan is basically the English translation of the name of our company: Natural. Sun. Screening which is basically what a ‘calamine’ is. Therefore through that slogan, anything that we do is natural, it is done by this shining, sun and it is seen on anything that has a screen.
We basically make sure that whatever you want to achieve, we shall help you stand out and be clear. Hence “whatever we do with you, we make sure you get the picture”. We write, direct, shoot and edit for TV, film, commercials, public service announcements, audio visuals, music videos and documentaries such weddings.
Who are your clients? Are they corporates? Every day people?
Anyone with a contract. Everyone to be precise.
Where do you get revenue for your business?
It began by self-funding projects for exposure, until clients believed in the work they saw. Since we are still finding our feet, the freelancing game with small gigs is still enjoyable. But we have not yet scored our biggest contract from a big client. And that is what we are currently working on, pitching and pitching.
What is your biggest expense?
Our biggest expense is always production: the making (shooting) of the project (product). The crew, cast, travelling etc.
How many staff members do you have now and what are their roles?
I have 2 members: my producer and my partner (Executive Producer). We outsource everyone whenever we need service for a particular project.
How do you get new clients?
This is a very fascinating field. Clients are not just clients, but your life. You work with someone once and make them happy, they will never work with anyone else again. So all my ‘clients’ are the people I once worked for and loved my work, now they trust me. Apart from that, our clients always find us, you just have to work so hard and share your work regularly and people will want what they saw for themselves.
Do you have a specific marketing and sales strategy?
I guess my strategies are simply staying unique. I do not have one per se apart from just being me and share what I believe I’m good at. I would like to make myself believe that my work will do the talking.
What makes your company stand out from other production houses?
I think it is because we tell untold stories, of the voiceless and forgotten. People are hungry for that as they have been fed what is right and what is not. They’ve never been given an opportunity to express how they feel or see things. We just want to bring that “Kala” to this black and white world we’re living it.
What has been the highlight(s) of your business?
Frankly speaking, what it has done to my peers in my hood. To all the creatives that I rubbed shoulders with. It has proven to society that working for yourself and hiring your friends, is the only way out. All my friends have worked for me and travelled South Africa with me. They’ve started their own companies and now we only use each other’s services.
What has been the most challenging thing(s) with running this business?
Clients. All the clients I have worked with that never signed a contract, made my life hell for months. Clients who never paid on time or not pay at all. And because I am just a creative and not a financial guy, they knew my soft spot. And that hurt me so much emotionally and financially. Hence now I have my producer to deal with all those things. Other than that, it has been a pleasure growing up in this journey. And I am still growing.
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur?
I make things happen. I love that.
How do you see your company evolving?
With the team that I have, all I see is growth after growth. Though things are really slow in other people’s eyes, to us, it is the best pace we can ever enjoy. We are now working on our first short film, which we will use to market ourselves to investors and broadcasters to gain more funding for all the projects that we have lined up to share with the world.
Are there any myths you’d like to break and confirm about being entrepreneur in the creative field?
A very sad one: “It is hard to fund a black company because they are incompetent and untrustworthy, therefore you need a white person to make sure you get that funding”. I will break that. My work will make so much noise, you can’t ignore it. It has been hard to achieve all the projects that we have worked on due to this. But we will not stop any time soon.
What inspires you?
What inspires me is the life people are so scared to live: reality. Not flashy, famous, television life. That’s what everyone focuses on. But the one they are neglecting fascinates me. It inspires me to the core. The happiness one has when they’re flat broke is amazing. And you can learn so much from that. My greatest inspiration is my brother.
What is your ultimate dream?
My ultimate dream is to build a school that will, for the first time in our nation, not be a Christian school, but an African school. Where you will have writers who will take your mind far within African fables. I am teacher, currently. It has been 8 years now teaching for free. And one day, I will have my school.
Tell us about your latest project?
My latest project is called, A Frank Night – an honest night of a talented boy in Alexandra. The first club DJ to be in a theatre for an hour. It’s a production that gives homage to the mixing of songs with no break in between by a DJ. It is a theatre piece blended with a cinematic documentary accompanies by a live band and vocals while DJ plays around with our emotions through his choice of music.
In this project I worked with all of my friends and I must say, it is just the beginning. The project is currently in post-production now. It will be out end of August.
What are the things in your life that have contributed to your growth as an entrepreneur?
My family. It is just hard to watch my mom who struggled so much for me to me see me struggle for her.
What legacy do you want your company to leave behind?
A production house that made films that will be used in schools as part of their syllabus. Schools will show my films for exams. And my family will forever enjoy the rewards of my work and what it will do to the world after am gone. Kala/Mine will lead me there.
Find Banele on email: firstname.lastname@example.org and Facebook Kalamineproductions