Kutlwano Ditsele an interview.

South African Television can be praised for its quality for local content. With the rise of incredulous and sometimes mind numbing International entertainment, it is comforting to know that there are shows that remain true to storytelling. The Bomb Shelter, Television’s A-Team brought us legendary drama Yizo Yizo and recently Isibaya, Ayeye and The Road have always been consistent in their ability to tell stories and connect with the viewer.

So I had a sit down with the Casting Director, Producer and the Future of the Bomb Shelter Kutlwano Ditsele. An open and nice human being tells me of his life, Bomb and dreams of being President of Africa’s biggest film studio.

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Nthabiseng Mosiene:
How colorful was your childhood?

Kutlwano Ditsele:
Very colorful, it has a big influence obviously in who I am. One of my assets is that I know how to network, I know how to build my networks because I started doing it when I was younger. We moved around quite a bit. I was born in Rustenburg. By the time was eighteen years old we had moved fourteen times, I went through three primary schools all very different. I started at a very rural primary school in the mountains in the North-West. That was Grade one and Grade two. We later move to Mondeor just after freedom, a suburb in the South of Johannesburg. It was right before the first Democratic Election’s took place and I encountered quite a couple of racist young kids. Moving around helped me to get to know people and study people.

NM:
What did you do that set you apart from other kids?

KD:
When I think about it while other kids were collecting toys I was collecting video tapes, in my mother’s house and grandmother’s house, I just always had movies. Everybody knew to buy me gifts they would buy films.

NM:
That actually sparks a memory, would you record shows on TV over the tapes and label them?

KD:
I’d record and over record and re-record, like I know you could record 3 movies before the video tape starts looking bad. All of those things, I have always been interested in film.

NM:
You took that further and decided to study the craft which led to International Interests.

KD:
Yes, Film school was available in the country but at the time I kind of felt like to learn and be the best at making films I would have to go where the best is and that was in America, in Los-Angeles. That’s where they have a full on Industry, so that is where the Interest to study at New York Film Academy came in.

NM:
That Interests me, I can imagine the thought or even the idea to study filmmaking overseas back then hardly came into people’s heads let alone entertain the process, how did you do it?

KD:
I wasn’t there for too long, trust me when you find out the fees you can’t be there too long. I studied filmmaking, for two years. I don’t really remember theory work. I got there on a Monday and on Friday we were filming. In my first 8 weeks I made 8 films of my own and worked on 40 in total. In class you have a group, there are 5 of us and we all have to work on every person’s film.

NM:
Since then have you gone back to the USA? Did you stay a little after you had graduated?

KD:
I didn’t and I have not gone back. I came home and hit the ground running non-stop. I made a lot of friends, good friends.

NM:
So you graduated and came back home.

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KD:
I did, and I thought I was a super star, I thought I would shoot the next great film when I was 21. Little did I know it would be difficult. My year after film school was the hardest, I was unemployed and I tried so many things. All I knew was film school and I wanted to break that film school barrier. So 2008, I was flat broke and had nothing going on for myself. In the latter part of 2008, I came to visit my aunt here in Cape Town, everything happens for me in Cape Town actually. I went to the beach feeling sorry for myself, and true story I saw Robben Island and I had an epiphany. I had thoughts running through my head like with the history we have and all opportunities given me, how could I sit there and feel sorry for myself? So the next day I took a flight back home to Joburg, with a changed attitude and because my attitude changed everything else changed around me.

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Mama Yvonne Chaka Chaka, called me and said there was a show and they were going to interview her and told me to go with her and follow the crew and see what would come from it. I remember waking up at eleven in the morning every day and on that particular morning I had to be up five in the morning. Negative thoughts started creeping into my head, I felt like it was useless, it won’t make a difference to my life so I went back to sleep. Within 3 minutes of hitting the snooze button, I heard a voice speaking to me, I felt if I did not get up, opportunity would not come as they had for me, I was pushed. So I got up and got ready. I trace that morning to my journey with Bomb.

NM:
Which really is the place to be, so that was where the door of opportunity came for you.

KD:
Oh for sure. Before stepping foot at Bomb I was interning for the show that Loyiso Mangena was producing and presenting that had done the segment with Mama Yvonne. I was a Camera Assistant. While learning, the ego and pride left very quickly and I remember the guys not liking me very much because I would say I will make it big. My ego was my best friend and my enemy at that time.

NM:
I am very curious on how you got into the The Bomb Shelter family.

KD:
On one of the episodes, they had Thembi Seete and she had said she worked with Teboho Mahlatsi of Bomb Productions so we were scheduled to go there and interview him. So there I was carrying bags, going into Bomb. Seeing all the Yizo Yizo images and I just had this overwhelming feeling of I need to be here. So we sat down with Teboho I remember being told not to speak to him, I ignored that and I spoke to him I told him about my studies. He gave me his card and I actually never used it, it just wasn’t the right time. So fast forward, another episode we shot was with David Kau, he also took a liking to me and suggested I join him when he shoots films. So hung out with David a lot and one of the films we were going to do, Teboho was going to direct. That is where we rekindled our friendship. Our friendship was great because we represented the opposite of each other, I represented to him the young energy he had and the passion I possessed, for me he represented where I want to be one day so it was quite good synergy. So I started hanging around bomb and him, generally having a good time. Desiree Markgraaff would see this young man hang around the office so at some point I knew I would get asked not to come back because I was this dead weight at Bomb but they did not know they would later fall in love with me. I needed to soak up Information as much as possible.
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They were quite intrigued by my curiosity. One day a Casting Director was fired at Bomb, they kept saying they needed a casting director and I said I could do it even though I had no clue how it worked but I needed a job and money so I was eager. I had no idea what I was getting into. The first person I had to cast after Terry Pheto, made a decision not to do TV anymore and she was with zone 14. They had to find a replacement for her. I learnt a lot along the way, I still feel I don’t get it right, I would call agents and tell them I need this and that, I didn’t write briefs and I’d tell them what I want. I often made a lot of people upset!

NM:
Bomb pretty much is TV royalty. I often think that many shows on TV that really have left a dent to the South African viewer would mostly likely come from Bomb, and one would not really know that. Yizo Yizo for instance was an explosion, it was fearless, and it got tongues wagging. The history that Bomb holds within South Africa entertainment is Incredible. How do you feel being a part of such a world-class company and being with prolific filmmakers, Angus Gibson, Teboho Mahlatsi and Desiree Markgraaff? You are a Casting Director and Producer so where do you see yourself going within or outside of The Bomb Shelter?
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KD:
I am blessed to have been mentored by the partners of bomb over the years. I have spent a full year with Tebogo and the rest of the years it expanded to Angus and Desiree building me. What makes Bomb different is that it has a particular DNA to its TV, when you turn on the channel there is a particular aesthetic to a Bomb show and you know it is a Bomb show you don’t have to watch for longer than five minutes, you just know. They have kept me close to that DNA. I’ve just turned thirty, I am still young and . as I grow older I get better. Maybe one day I will be at the head of bomb or be the head of my own production company. For now I am a student.

NM:
It’s a constant working on your craft isn’t it?

KD:
Always, my natural Instinct is to continue learning and growing, I am not scared to ask questions. I have no arrogance, no ego. That is why they fell in love with me in the beginning. I’m blessed because I get to work with people who are better than me because I am always learning. I literally see Angus and Desiree get better and better at what they do with each production and I am a smart guy so I get smarter too.

NM:
So this is what I am curious about. How do they conceptualize such ‘ethnic’ story lines, stories that really speak to a specific audience or group of people? How have they been able to strike such chords?

KD:
You can tell any story as long as you are interested in it. When you are interested in something you research and dig into the story, you could tell a Kung-Fu film if you really want to tell, you don’t have to be Chinese to tell the tale. You will study it till you are confident. You have to remain interested. Angus probably has the widest knowledge of black history in South Africa. He is the one they called and said he will be the one to tell Nelson Mandela’s story when he was released from prison. He got an Oscar nomination for it. 20 years before Isibaya he did a project where he passed through the Tugela ferry and he remembered there was a bridge that divided between valleys and there were big wars so he took that and made it a taxi war between two different families, one in the east and the other in the west and that was the premise of Isibaya. It was life experience. With Yizo Yizo he spent a lot of time in the townships and saw what was going on in the school’s and he thought there was a story that could be told, there were people’s lives that mattered and needed to be told. All of these stories are personal to us in some way.

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NM:
Ayeye is personal to you.

KD:
Yes, Ayeye was mine and my friend’s life story. This is how we are, how our challenges are. We don’t represent the majority of South Africa where people are unemployed and don’t have opportunity. Nobody was telling a story of people who had opportunity and that is what Ayeye is about. It’s telling the narrative of young people who live wild and have fun, they are the kids who benefitted from Mandela’s dream.

NM:
I don’t know if reception was what you thought it would be, from what I see within local content, it certainly was not what South African viewers watched generally and could immediately recognize. What was reception like for you, what had you been anticipating when it was broadcasted?

KD:
It was a show that was made for the viewer that was not consuming South African television. They were watching House of Cards, Entourage and Breaking Bad. All the shows they could see themselves in. Sex and the City, a lot of these girls could see themselves in it. I lived it, I know that I am that person. I am of a particular demographic, a particular market. The show was something I could relate to. We certainly pushed the boundaries with language, sex and nudity and put it on prime time.

NM:
Director’s you look up to and admire?

KD:
Without question; Tebogo Malope, Teboho Mahlatsi, Angus Gibson and Earnest Nkosi, Roli Nikiwe, Thabang Moleya, Keith Rose. 3 of these 7 are at Bomb. Really these are people I admire and feel are the truth to filmmaking. They want to change the landscape of South African filmmaking and they are not afraid to do so.

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NM:
In knowing what you know now, what can you impart as words of wisdom, experience that you can only encounter with time. I like to ask his question because it is very necessary and the reality needs to be known.

KD:
And the reality is that it is really hard. Find a team that you want to work with. I am so close with my team that I go on holiday with them. Be your particular filmmaker find your voice. Don’t compromise. Everybody has a particular narrative that they have inside them. Stick to your voice, sure it’s okay to adapt a little but don’t compromise otherwise you will be telling the same story as the next filmmaker, regurgitating each other’s tales and nothing will stand out about you.

NM:
What is your story?

KD:
I am still finding my voice, I like to put it this way, if I were to be an existing director in Hollywood, I would be one of the Scott brothers. I want to make epic blockbusters, American Gangster, Shaka Zulu, Gladiator films. I want to tell stories that push the envelope and are epic and grand.

NM:
I am a curious being, I am curious about the people who make what we see on TV and the Silver Screen. The whole Idea of sitting down with people such as yourself is to learn and impart. When your journey comes to an end what is it that you want people to know about you and when people mention your name what words should be said about you?

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KD:
So I always say to people that my glass is always half. Half full, half empty. I know for sure there is water in it. So I know for sure that I am a filmmaker and I know for sure there is another side that is empty. Even though now I know that filmmaking is all I want to do, there is possibility that in 30 years’ time I could be doing something that is not film related at all. The country may turn and filmmaking may not have space in South Africa, I don’t know you never know. I may become the Minister of Arts and culture or head of a broadcaster, you never know where your journey could go but at this particular moment, all I am all I want to be is a filmmaker. My biggest dream, my ultimate dream is to be the President of the biggest film studio in Africa aged 65. I want to build it myself. I want the industry to be an industry because right now it is not.

NM:
Do you see yourself as a global influencer?

KD:
I want to tell the African story. My Hollywood dream is to make South African blockbusters that will compete with Hollywood blockbusters. I want them to say ‘damn, the Superman film would’ve done great if it had not been for that damn South African film’. I want to be neck and neck with Jerry Bruckheimer.

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