By:Gbenga Teejay Okunlola Chris Roland is an award-winning American producer, director, and writer living and working in Cape Town, South Africa. Chris owns My Movies, a sales and distribution company, and previously owned Zen HQ Films and The Imaginarium, both leading production companies, and the South Africa Film Finance Corporation (production financing), and Basecamp Logistics (unit equipment rentals). As a consultant, Chris provides a wealth of experience that helps turn challenges into opportunities and ideas and dreams into realities.I recently caught up with Roland to talk about his latest movie-Santana. The film tells the story of two estranged brothers who discover the identity of the drug lord who killed their parents decades before. Scenes from the movie were filmed in around Cape Town at locations including Gugulethu and Constantia.
A-CHOICES:Santana was released onto the video streaming service on Friday 28 August and by Sunday 30 August had shot to the number one spot globally. How delighted are you by its success so far?
CR: We hoped to get into the top 10 in South Africa. That Santana shot to #1 in the world for six straight days was completely unexpected. Netflix did an amazing job with the marketing.
A-CHOICES:Tell me about writing the screenplay for SANTANA, how did you get to craft the story?
CR: Maradona Dias Dos Santos’ uncle was a policeman in Angola, which inspired the idea for a crime story. I had never been to Angola and knew nothing about the police there. Before completing the story I visited Angola to get a sense of the country.
A-CHOICES:What do you think makes it such a powerful story?
CR: Without giving away the story, there’s a discovery that is made about an event that took place thirty-five years earlier. This has had a lifelong impact on Dias, the lead character. When the discovery is made, he becomes overwhelmed with revenge.
A-CHOICES:How do you relate to the story personally?
CR: The story revolves around two brothers – one is pragmatic and by the book, the other is reactionary and spontaneous. We all have those two tendencies to some degree.
A-CHOICES:Is there any plan in the pipeline for a sequel?.
CR: If there is demand for sequel, we will cross that bridge when we come to it.
A-CHOICES:As a Co-director of the movie what would you say the success of the movie means for the local film industry in South Africa?
CR: The South African film industry has already had a long history of incredible successes. Santana is a result of that not the reason for it.
A-CHOICES:You recently shifted away from producing and has turned your attention to writing (10 current screenplays available), directing, consulting, and inspiring others, Have you always wanted to be a movie director, writer and producer? Where did it start for you.?
CR: I started out as a creative, first acting, then writing and directing. Actually, I started out as a radio DJ – the best job ever; they paid me to talk and play my favorite music! I ended up taking on the role as a producer and running a production company more out necessity to get projects into production and put bread on the table. Unfortunately, I was a good producer. Before I knew it, the years flew by and I was missing just being a creative. It took some will power, but I hung up my producing hat and now focus only on writing and directing.
A-CHOICES:In 1992 you sold all your belongings, slipped on a comfortable pair of shoes, and backpacked around the world, leaving behind Los-Angeles. Why did you choose Cape Town home?
CR: I think Cape Town chose me. While I was backpacking around the world, I followed a woman I had met on the road who was coming down here for studies. She eventually left and I stayed. At that time the money had run out and I needed to work. It was the very beginning of the film industry and I am proud to have been a part of growing Cape Town into one of the top production destinations in the world.
A-CHOICES:You have been involved in over eighty productions, which one would you say was most challenging?
CR: They each have their own unique set of challenges. That’s what makes the film industry so interesting to work in. Every project is different, almost like starting a new career with each film.
A-CHOICES:You have enjoyed a successful career in South Africa. What inspires and motivates you?
CR: Movies, and the arts in general, have always inspired me. I had a tough time as a kid, no real parenting. I learned a lot about life from stories I saw in films. My singular motivation these days is to help people better their lives. Film has that power, even if it’s just a moment of entertainment that stirs the imagination.
A-CHOICES:Any advice you would like to give aspirant writers?
CR: Write,Like any craft, you have to be doing it daily to get better at it. You can’t wait for that writing opportunity to come along. I write every day, starting a new script or book, or polishing an existing story.
A-CHOICES:What do you think makes a screenplay marketable? A screenplay producers want to invest in?
CR: No matter the genre, a good screenplay has characters that are relatable and are facing a human challenge. There is no story without a conflict that is overcome.
A-CHOICES:Why do you think most writers are afraid to go the distance with their story and give up?
CR: Success at anything has one core at its center – passion. Passion is an internal commitment. Passion and commitment create an energy that cannot be ignored.
A-CHOICES:How do you see the future for screenwriters in South Africa, particularly after the corona pandemic?
CR: For the past seven months no new films or series have been made. Exhibitors such as cinemas and TV, need fresh content to stay alive. I spent the lockdown writing like a madman. I now have ten screenplays and series, either created new or polished. There is going to be a huge need for content when the industry fully reopens.
A-CHOICES:What do you think audiences will get from watching Santana? CR: Entertainment. And Africans can be proud that it’s homegrown.
A-CHOICES:Any final words you would like to share with your fans, followers and the readers?
CR: If you want to change the world, make your focus in life to give selflessly for the benefit of others.