By Siyabonga Mkholo

As a young cinephile, one of my most treasured memories was when my cousin invited me to watch The Matrix Reloaded in cinema with him. Now, I had not seen the first part of this beloved trilogy, so there was a lot of preparing I needed to do. I remember how the night before, we had planned to have a sleepover where he prepared snacks and drinks with the first Matrix on VHS — a world pre-Netflix. As I marvelled at this action packed story of purpose, I remember his enthusiasm as he broke down all the key concepts of the film even though I couldn’t fully understand all of them at the time. However, when the tape stopped rolling, I was ready for the sequel the next day. Suffice to say, The Matrix Reloaded was all the more glorious and I was glued to the screen all the way till the heart wrenching cliff-hanger. It’s safe to say that had I not spent the night watching the first instalment, I would’ve been completely lost.

You may be wondering what this may have to do with future-proofing but there’s a lesson in preparation that this experience taught me.

In my sessions on the jamlab Accelerator Programme over the past few months, the programmes manager, Phillip Mogodi spoke heavily about future-proofing our ideas so that we don’t create temporary solutions that can easily be disrupted. He highlighted how we should pre-empt how our environment will change in the next five, 10 or even 20 years so that we can remain at the forefront of our industry; essentially, building with the endgame in mind. This takes a lot of preparation, much like my cousin ensuring that I understood every line in the Matrix. I needed to understand every facet of my industry before embarking on this project. One of the key takeaways from this was understanding how even though cost of sales remain high in the film and television industry, there has been a gradual decrease from the time of purchasing film stock which could only be used once to now purchasing memory cards that can be reused over multiple productions. This insight is key to understanding how our experience with content is not limited to a dark room with a big screen showing content by filmmakers who’ve studied at the most prestigious institutions flexing their muscles — but the landscape is changing so much so that children such as Godwin Josiah can utilise cracked smartphones and laptops to create visual spectacles that at one point could only be achieved with teams of highly skilled visual effects artists. Moreover, we can enjoy their content in the palm of our hand.

In all my research and preparation, I could never have imagined how my plans could easily be disrupted by a seemingly distant virus that I had never heard of and much like the cliff-hanger at the end of Matrix Reloaded, there was a greater conflict to come.

The coronavirus has disrupted almost every industry including entertainment, which is still coming to terms with its devastating effects. The mind-boggling fact is that many content creators in South Africa don’t fully understand how to exploit their work through various distribution windows and as a result, don’t enjoy the benefits of royalties and licensing agreements through repeat viewings. One would assume that because people are at home and are able to engage with a large pool of content, this would translate into continued earnings for the creators themselves.

This is not the case.

As viewers continue to watch television or binge-watch on various streaming services, the people that stand to benefit are the broadcasters and streaming platforms whilst the creators either lack the access to get their film onto the right platforms or don’t have sufficient legal assistance to retain their IP. When one also investigates the working conditions of the industry, it is disheartening to learn that freelancers can’t access a lot of the relief plans because they aren’t regarded as employees and are therefore ineligible for most of these funds.

This has caused us to go back to the drawing board — not to so much change our strategy but to better understand the root causes of the problems we’re currently experiencing. What we’ve come to understand is that these problems have persisted for some time now and the coronavirus has given practitioners the space to express their grievances.

In as much as The Matrix Reloaded introduced viewers to a greater conflict in the world of the story, the coronavirus has also showed us that there are greater threats to the sustainability of the film industry. This can be seen in the open letters penned by industry veterans to the Minister of Arts & Culture as well as twitter threads highlighting the reality faced by many freelancers in South Africa.

Although we are faced with immense constraints and problems during this period, this outbreak has allowed many industries to take a step back and review what was assumed to be “business as normal”. As we continue to refine our business case through the jamlab Accelerator Programme, we believe that we will be able to tailor pocketstudio so that it anticipates what the future may hold whilst remaining agile enough to iterate should the climate require us to do so.

In any revolution, we need to endure a great loss but as history has repeated itself ever so often, we come out better and stronger than before. Just as the Oracle once said to Neo, “Every beginning has an end”, the question now becomes, are we prepared for a future uncertain

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