Can You Make Money From Filmmaking In Namibia? – Filmmakers Answer

With a population of just over 2.54 million and a relatively small film industry, the question regarding financial success seems pretty obvious. But let’s first look at some stuff.

The domestic film industry is slowly growing from strength to strength as there is an improvement in produced content, narratives as well as improved production quality and standards. New creative and innovative players penetrating the film market are also on the rise. However, the greatest challenge facing the Namibian film industry is the lack of consistent film funding and corporate/local investor buy-in. In fact, Namibian films, if not self-funded, are majorly funded by the Namibian Film Commission. Some (if not all) of these films have to source additional funding on top of the Commission’s funding to be completed.

In terms of distribution, unfortunately, Namibians don’t really seem to have a theatrical culture, except for when it comes to major Hollywood films. Major or big budget Namibian films do have theatrical runs for a very short time and are mostly attended by industry players, family, and a friend of a friend which in turn leads to straight-to-DVD releases. Local films can’t just play at the cinema every day for weeks on end because of the minimal financial resources and then there is the aspect of not having many cinemas spread across the rest of the country, meaning producers have to host screenings in different towns to actually afford Namibians to see their own films- which in turn comes at great financial costs and while the pace is slowly picking up, it has proven hard to convince corporate Namibia to fund local films. Most films, even those supported by the Film Commission barely make a profit because even when on DVD, not many people actually these buy local movies.

So, can one make a living off making films in Namibia? Namib Insider! spoke to some of Namibia’s award-winning filmmakers on the possibilities. Here are their insights:

Tim Huebschle- Writer/Producer/Director (‘#LANDoftheBRAVEfilm’, ‘Looking For Iilonga’, ‘Another Sunny Day’,…)

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Tim Heubscle’s 2012 film, Dead River

Huebschle on Filmmaking in Namibia…

Filmmaking is all about storytelling. It’s narrative medium and you make use of images, music, sounds and the plot to tell a story. It’s this that drew me into the field when I was 21 years old. Since then the journey has been all about learning to tell better stories within the constraints of the medium. Constraints were and are largely made up of access to funds, access to equipment, the size of the local market and my own capabilities as a storyteller. But – the underlying current that drives each and every project is the passion I have for the medium and the act of storytelling itself. I love being a filmmaker and wouldn’t want to be anything else.

Huebschle on Making Money from Film In Namibia…

You can make a living of making movies in Namibia. There are a couple of realities. First and foremost you have to ask yourself what you want from life. Is it a fancy car and a nice house with loads of financial security. If your answer is yes, then the film industry is probably not for you. Especially in Namibia where the market is not that big, you have to realize that you probably will not ever make that mortgage payment on time, so don’t even apply for that bank loan… But if you’re able to bring in your lifestyle costs at a relatively low level and you keep your monthly overheads to a minimum, then you will be able to sustain yourself. You have to learn to stretch your income to cover the periods where you are not making loads of commissioned projects. Speaking of commissioned projects, you have to start applying your creativity to corporate videos, image films and public service announcements. These kinds of projects will provide your regular income. Whereas they may not necessarily be your passion project like your feature film is, these commissioned films will keep you going and help you fulfil your dreams while you are busy honing your skills as a cinematic storyteller. So embrace them, make the best possible commissioned film you can and keep on making them.

Heubscle on Getting Started and Keeping Work as A Filmmaker…

Nowadays social media has provided us with platforms where you’re able to showcase your content to the world. Plus the rise of smartphones has made video cameras super accessible to most people. If you want to break into the film industry and get noticed, then use these two, the social media and the smartphone, to start telling your stories. Put them out there to the world, build and listen to your audience and improve your style with every video you make. To stay working within the film industry, firstly diversify your skills set. Don’t just insist on being a director or camera person. Learn more about other fields within filmmaking such as editing, sound recording, casting, make-up, etc. You will find that there are more projects you’re able to work on if you don’t limit yourself to just one stream. More projects mean more income. And above all, keep your costs of living low. That doesn’t mean you have to be poor, it just means you have to manage your expenditure well and don’t get used to too many monthly overheads.

Marinda Stein- Writer/Producer/Director (‘Coming Home’, ‘Women of Our World’,…)

Coming Home Screengrab

Screengrab from Marinda Stein’s 2014 film, ‘Coming Home’

Stein on Filmmaking in Namibia…

I think any career in the arts does present some challenges. This can be attributed to the idea that it isn’t necessarily viewed as being sustainable like the mainstream careers that we’re bombarded with at school when having to make a decision about our futures. As a filmmaker, it is no different. And certainly not as a filmmaker in Namibia. For me being a filmmaker (more specifically writer and director) is about capturing the essence of the human spirit. Through stories, we can create understanding, tolerance, acceptance, create a society that is emphatic – something we so desperately need in our country too. I have said on so many occasions that we may not be engineers or managing banks, etc., but as filmmakers, we carry a huge responsibility for the social fabric of our society and our industry makes a huge contribution to our country’s economy, so we count. We matter.

Stein on Making Money from Film In Namibia…

I have made my living being an independent filmmaker for the past 10 years. However, it wasn’t by making films only. With my background in TV and diverse skills set, I did and still do a lot of commercial work to ensure my sustainability. Making films require huge budgets and we don’t have those all the time. While the Namibia Film Commission has call-outs for project submissions on an annual basis, it’s not enough to support every single filmmaker who has a story that she/he would like to turn into a film. So being in our industry requires us to be innovative. I had to learn so much along the way and I made many mistakes too. Before I entered the film industry I thought of myself as just a creative/ an artist, but that has since changed vastly. I had to learn to understand what being an entrepreneur meant (because that was essentially what I became), how to make sound business decisions – all with longterm sustainability in mind. The same year that my short film Coming Home premiered and my women series Women of Our World was released, was also the most difficult financially. Today I am still a writer and director, but I’d also like to think that I am a job creator and in addition stepped into the administrative side of film to make my contribution towards creating an enabling environment for current and future filmmakers. When I attended FESPACO in 2015, I also realised that as a Namibian film industry we have been operating in a silo for the longest time. There was (still is) a world of film out there and we were not (are not yet) part of it. This is slowly changing since our Namibian films are travelling to film festivals and we have online platforms where we can share our work with audiences around the globe. But if we cannot monetize the latter specifically then it doesn’t mean much to us as filmmakers. Distribution of our films has been a challenge historically. And that is something that even I am still learning about and continuously exploring. Because in order for our industry to grow, we need to be connected. Not just in our industry, but also to Africa and the world.

Stein on Getting Started and Keeping Work as A Filmmaker…

It may be equally exciting and daunting to choose a career in film. My advice is simple: identify what path it is that you want to take and work towards that. We have such beautiful talent in our country and we have young, gutsy filmmakers who have shown that they are fearless and passionate about telling stories. However, one doesn’t want to rely on your friends and make movies with ‘no money’ for every film like with your first. In my view there is no such thing as making a movie with ‘no money’ – while you are not physically paying someone for a service or equipment, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t cost anything. The ultimate goal is to be sustainable and that means creating a career that will pay the bills, take you on holiday, make you have a good life. Entering the industry also doesn’t mean having to start your own company. We see so many mushrooming, but is it beneficial to building an industry? Buying equipment on the cheap so you can offer services on the cheap as a one-man-show only harms the entire industry. We have to honour the value we have as well as that of our industry. Would it make more sense to combine your skills set with likeminded individuals to make films and offering your services together to clients (because you’re not only going to be making movies in our industry)? You don’t have to go at it on your own and we have a collective responsibility to build an industry that will outlive us all.

Understanding that funding opportunities are existing outside Namibia is crucial too. Connecting with fellow filmmakers is essential – the wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented. Most established filmmakers have gone down the same path so they can be engaged on what successes they had and how they went about it. There are also other opportunities in the industry because Namibia is a popular destination for foreign productions. While as writer/ director one would want to identify as a content producer, working on international productions create an opportunity for income for technical support crew and provides a great learning platform. With hard work and tons of perseverance, I got to where I am. But the film landscape is always changing and I have to be cognizant of that. So I must be willing and able to adapt. 

Florian Schott- Writer/Director/Producer (‘Katutura’, ‘Baxu and the Giants’, ‘Everything Happens For a Reason’,…)

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On Set of Florian Schott’s 2013 film, Everything Happens For a Reason

Schott on Filmmaking in Namibia…

I don’t think anyone can convince me that making films is not the best job in the world. As a filmmaker, you not only get to tell stories, entertain people, get them out of their lives and introduce them to a different one for a brief moment, but you have the chance to shape the world around you, to create a discussion about issues that are important. Being a filmmaker in Namibia comes with a unique set of opportunities and challenges. We have great opportunities here, as we have riches of stories, talent and unfortunately also quite a number of societal issues that need addressing. The challenges are a lack of support and funding. Making films is only possible in collaboration, and film can be expensive, so there is a constant fight in order to get funds to make films.  But we are lucky that we have the Namibia Film Commission that not only helps filmmakers make films but also can help in getting the film out there – something that a lot of other African countries don’t have.  So making films in Namibia it’s a challenge, but the fight is part of the experience, and the reward in having audiences react to your film is even sweeter if the road to making the film was challenging.

Schott on Making Money from Film in Namibia…

Let me just say that if you go into film for the money you are probably on the wrong path. There are many easier ways to make money. Personally, I can only make a living directing and writing films because of my work outside of the country. But I am in the privileged position to be able to make a living being a director. There are ways to make a living in film, but this way means not specialising on one thing only. It is hard living off directing or being a cinematographer, or writer, or editor only.  But if you know how to do multiple things, like you can film and also edit, you do fictional films but also commercials and corporate videos, you direct but you can also service produce other production company’s films, or you work in film and also theatre – that way you can actually make a living of film in Namibia.

Schott on Getting Started and Keeping Work as A Filmmaker…

You have to continue working, always pushing ahead, always developing, not stopping.
There were a few instances where I questioned if the fight is worth it, as the work you put in and at least the financial reward of it is definitely not in any healthy proportion.
But the impact your films can have, just in the last weeks seeing hundreds of kids’ reactions after watching Baxu and the Giants is worth every minute you put into your films. Or the hundreds of emails, messages and just personal encounters after Katutura, and how it inspired young people to want to make films; this is what keeps you going. You know there will be people appreciating locally produced films and stories. And I feel it’s important, especially for young people, to read books and watch films in their own languages. But it’s not only the result – the work itself, working with great co-writers, actors and crew is also just a beautiful way to spend your working life. I wouldn’t give it up for anything else in the world.

Oshoveli Shipoh- Director/Producer (‘Hairareb’, ‘Painted Scars’, ‘Looking For Nelao’,…)

Hairareb 2

A screengrab from Oshoveli Shipoh’s 2019 film, ‘Hairareb’

Shipoh on Filmmaking in Namibia…

When you have an intimate population that is so well informed about anything and everything, it becomes an opportunity to rise and have a voice in the industry. A voice that can express stories in any shape or form. For me personally, the most important way to stay relevant as a filmmaker is to bring your business ‘A-game’ to the table. A lot of filmmakers pitch for work from an artistic perspective because they are passionate about the work. It’s an admirable thing but one must remember that the client expects you to be passionate regardless. The reality is that if you can’t convince a client why it is in their best interest to utilise your services, I think then we’ll have a lot of struggling filmmakers.

Shipoh on Making Money from Film in Namibia…

You can absolutely make money from film here. I’ve noticed an increasingly high demand for my services over the past year, which has grown beyond the lights, camera and action. It’s unfortunate that our industry is not yet big enough to only focus on one component of the film industry. As a Namibian filmmaker, we should see ‘film’ as a tool to penetrate every corner of the industry. We have to take advantage of what we’re good at so that anyone in any sector will want to pay you to do what you enjoy doing. In SA the industry is so big that an actor can make a career from just doing soapies and nothing else, we don’t have that here, unfortunately. So as an established film director I don’t just focus on doing feature films and shorts, I’m directing commercials, documentaries, corporate videos and now recently just started my first film workshop.

Shipoh on Getting Started and Keeping Work as A Filmmaker…

I’m thankful for being in a position where I don’t need to look for film projects, they come looking for me. So when I get started I ensure to keep paying as much attention to the details of the vision of the film without getting lost in the artistic mess. To adapt and stay relevant in the industry we need to go beyond limitation.

Desiree Kahikopo- Director/Producer (‘The White Line’,.)

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Screengrab from Desiree Kahikopo’s 2019 film, ‘The White Line.

Kahikopo on Filmmaking in Namibia…

In all honesty, filmmaking is great because we love it and it is hard at the same time. For you to do this and pursue with everything that comes with it and it’s not easy, you have to love it, really really love it. In Namibia, because the industry is still growing and we only have one funding body and not very keen corporate companies and private individuals willing to invest in film, it really is challenging on the financing part and we need funds to make films or tv shows and distribution is especially difficult too.

Kahikopo on Making Money from Film in Namibia…

I have been in the arts and film industry for a while and I have not been able to make a living out of it as off yet, but it is possible, I think the public is really interested in Namibian films and are willing to go see films and that equals box office returns, and with proper marketing to fill up the cinemas and distribution that works both ways, filmmakers can make a living and of course with the involvement of corporate companies and individuals to invest in this art form because they can recoup their investments. We can’t do this alone.

Kahikopo on Getting Started and Keeping Work as A Filmmaker…

Look at what you’re interested in doing with in the industry ( Camera, acting, directing) and look around to see what’s out there; casting, people looking for crew members and get started. Networking and relationship building is important, it gets you started and keeps you working. And just work hard and be consistent and persistent.

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This article was inspired by an IndieWire article on making money from independent films.

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