co-founder of Gam­bit Films

Destiny - - Entrepreneurs -

Start-up cap­i­tal: R50 000 Turnover: “In the mil­lions”

Start­ing a busi­ness fresh out of film school AFDA might seem like the plot of a ragsto-riches movie, but writer and di­rec­tor Dumisa def­i­nitely had no il­lu­sions about the dif­fi­culty of the path ahead of her. “My fa­ther and un­cles were all en­trepreneurs. All my life I’ve seen the strug­gles, the long hours, the suc­cesses and the fail­ures they’ve ex­pe­ri­enced, so I knew that start­ing a busi­ness didn’t mean achiev­ing au­to­matic wealth,” she says.

To­gether with a group of five fel­low grad­u­ates, she launched Gam­bit Films in 2009. The in­de­pen­dent film and me­dia house, which is now known for films such as the glob­ally ac­claimed Ellen: The Ellen Pakkies Story, Noem My Skol­lie and the soapie Suidooster, started out in a bed­room-turned-of­fice. “We had the ar­ro­gance of youth – we just went for it,” re­calls Dumisa. “We were all film­mak­ers and we didn’t fully un­der­stand how to run the busi­ness.” How­ever, she says, they were fu­elled by their dream of con­trol­ling the work they did and cre­at­ing a legacy.

At the time, they were one of a hand­ful of start-up (or up­start) film houses and op­por­tu­ni­ties were scarce. “I re­mem­ber try­ing to raise cap­i­tal, reach­ing out for guid­ance to busi­ness con­sul­tants who didn’t re­ally un­der­stand what we were try­ing to do. We also weren’t el­i­gi­ble for many of the grants that were avail­able be­cause we weren’t sell­ing or man­u­fac­tur­ing any­thing.”

A pri­vate in­vestor, who’d seen their pas­sion for film while they were still stu­dents, gave them the cash in­jec­tion they needed to move out of that spare bed­room and rent of­fice space. “We had our busi­ness plan, cap­i­tal, of­fice and even of­fice fur­ni­ture – all the things we needed for the busi­ness – but we had no busi­ness com­ing in,” she re­calls. By the end of 2009, things weren’t go­ing well, the busi­ness needed to re­fo­cus and some of the part­ners left.

With con­fi­dence wan­ing, the re­main­ing Gam­bit co­founders needed a lucky break, and Dumisa pro­vided just that. She re­ceived an of­fer to di­rect a TV ad for a small busi­ness want­ing to col­lab­o­rate with a fe­male di­rec­tor. The client en­joyed work­ing with her so much that it of­fered the rest of its com­mer­cial work to the broader Gam­bit team. “It was an im­por­tant les­son in see­ing op­por­tu­nity in small things,” she says. “This wasn’t the type of client with mas­sive bud­gets, but it helped keep our doors open.”

In 2015, Gam­bit clinched its first ma­jor con­tract with a broad­caster – to pro­duce the soapie Suidooster for

DStv’s KYKnet. “The con­tract was fi­nalised in June and we had to be on air in No­vem­ber. We had no cast, no crew, no scripts or stu­dios,” she laughs. “Now it’s one of the high­est-rated shows on its chan­nel.”

This year, Dumisa made her fea­ture film di­rec­to­rial de­but with Nom­mer 37 – mak­ing her one of the coun­try’s first black fe­male film di­rec­tors. “Mak­ing that movie was a per­sonal high­light,” she says. “Bring­ing it to­gether taught me to be­lieve in my­self. My part­ners and I were adamant that this would be Gam­bit’s global call­ing card.” With the series’ world pre­mière tak­ing place at the In­ter­na­tional SXSW Film Fes­ti­val in Texas, USA and a spot on the ros­ter at the an­nual Neuchâ­tel In­ter­na­tional Fan­tas­tic Film Fes­ti­val in Switzer­land, they suc­ceeded. The film will also be dis­trib­uted in North Amer­ica, China, Ja­pan, Ger­many and Aus­tria. The team’s strat­egy of “scrap­ing any money we could to go to in­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­vals” paid off.

Be­sides tak­ing lo­cal sto­ries to a global au­di­ence, Dumisa’s fo­cused on crack­ing the code to cre­at­ing PanAfrican con­tent for au­di­ences around the con­ti­nent. “We need more con­tent and more plat­forms. I don’t think we’ve come close to meet­ing the de­mand. We just have to fig­ure out how we can talk to each other and cre­ate con­tent that’s rel­e­vant and res­onates around Africa,” she says.

At just 30, Dumisa’s done ev­ery­thing from writ­ing to di­rect­ing and pro­duc­ing. What ad­vice can she of­fer women try­ing to make it in the film in­dus­try? “Know who you are and what you want to achieve. You have to be en­trepreneurial in the truest sense of the word – that means cre­at­ing your own op­por­tu­ni­ties, be­cause no-one else will hand you any­thing,” she de­clares.

She also stresses the role her col­leagues have played in her suc­cess. “Through­out my ca­reer, I’ve been for­tu­nate enough to work with the same core team. It’s im­por­tant to find peo­ple who’ll al­ways be there for you and to truly nur­ture those re­la­tion­ships,” she says. –

“You have to cre­ate your own op­por­tu­ni­ties, be­cause no-one else will hand you any­thing.”

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