5 tips for aspiring filmmakers from seasoned producer Mike Dube

At the Black Filmmakers Film Festival (BFFF) at Open Design Cape Town, seasoned film producer Mike Dube gave a short but pertinent talk about making films in South Africa. Titled Are you/we shut out or missing in action?, he raised important points about the business side of filmmaking and gave insights around combining passion with pragmatism. While the process is easier said than done, he highlighted that young filmmakers risk getting caught up in the creative end of things and forget to nurture their business skills.

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Filmmaking is a business

Filmmakers are mostly in the business because they love using the medium of film to tell stories. They have the passion, but this doesn’t pay bills. When you start making your film Mike says, “You have to look at the bigger picture. You want to tell a story but you also want to make a profit”. 

Be strategic

Mike spends time making TV commercials. Even though they’re not his primary calling, it pays the bills and sometimes funds the next film. He advises: “Build relationships with people who might make future collaborators. One thing SA has is a lot of creatives, with a lot of expertise. People are often willing to give of their time to help out”. 

Consider the audience

“You have to tell your story because it will resonate. It’s a simple as that”, he adds, but how we tell our stories also matters. There has to be a mutual investment from the artists and the audience. Who is your audience? 

Don’t believe in funding 

Mike spoke strongly against funding. While there are many grants available for emerging and established filmmakers, he urged against it saying, “Funding is like giving your son and daughter pocket money. You don’t challenge them to make money and so they don’t think about profit”. 

Keep expenditure down

“Keep your expenditure down to a minimum and focus on distribution,” said Mike. Young filmmakers often neglect the marketing and distribution that’s needed to submit films to festivals and reach wider audiences. 

BFFF is run by a team of black filmmakers who have extensive local and international experience in the industry and aim to empower other black filmmakers. Every month they host screenings in Cape Town followed by Q&A sessions to contextualise the production’s history and the thematic concerns of the films screened. 

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Cover photograph by Farrell Saunders.

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