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Into the Shadow: A look behind SA’s Netflix Original

Netflix Original writer Gareth Crocker chats with Gadget’s BRYAN TURNER about writing a show as a novelist.

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Netflix’s first South African Original acquired series was a courageous move for the streaming giant. 

That’s the view of Gareth Crocker, writer and director of Shadow, is an eight-part show that began airing on Netflix a week ago. The series, which revolves around the life of a superhero and ex-cop, Shadrach “Shadow” Khumalo, is South Africa’s first Netflix Original.

“Our studio hasn’t had the opportunity to work with Netflix in the past,” said Crocker. “Netflix brings a fresh approach to TV, and they’re here to disrupt the TV industry.” 

Crocker was asked how he got his show to be the first South African Netflix Original: “We didn’t approach Netflix. We made it series first, financed it ourselves, and it went out to the market. Very fortunate for us, Netflix loved the show and acquired it. There was a very big chance, and it took a lot of courage, especially considering we are the first show that has been acquired.”

With the various recent superhero Netflix Originals added to the platform, Crocker said: “The superhero aspect is very subtle, and very different from the recent Umbrella Academy series. We didn’t want the superhero aspect to dominate the show, and rather portrayed a street superhero approach.”

As a South African series, an obvious question is how the show would be perceived across Netflix’s international audiences.

“Our thinking was to make a universal show with a South African flavour. It’s also important to note this is an aspirational show, and it’s not rural. The Western-African fusion that the South African TV viewer doesn’t often get.

“A great example to compare the fusion to would be Cool Runnings. What’s so fantastic about that is you get a touch of Jamaican culture in a Western film.” 

The series also represents a variety of genres. 

“In terms of the show’s overall genre, it’s an action drama. My background as a novelist leads me to pay a lot of attention to emotion. I felt like my job really is to make viewers feel something in the show. We have created ‘micro-genres’ per episode. For example, episode two follows a very serious tone, while episode four is a lot lighter. We have tried to bring some nuance to each episode to keep it fresh for viewers.”

The show was shot on location in Johannesburg. Visitors to the Maboneng precinct will recognise many scenes. 

Said Crocker: “We’re a small team. What makes it quite different is that very little of the show was set-based. Most of it was location-based – we’re talking tops of building, coffee shops, it is very much set in Johannesburg and we think it shows.”

We asked if the show was born from Netflix’s need for more superhero content. Crocker said: “Because we made the show without Netflix in mind, we made it as our own original. Netflix’s acquisition only came later. Writing the show, we wanted to make our audience feel something and I like to think the emotions will be strong for viewers. I think locally, we will get a kick out of it being a South African themed show but, in my experience, my novels have been international sellers.

“We are very mindful about where the show is experienced, and it won’t always be in a lounge. With Netflix on smartphones and tablets, especially available for download over Wi-Fi so that a user doesn’t have to use data, it will be easier for viewers to watch. We designed the show so that viewers on public transport can get their quick fix. We think Shadow will be that.”

The Netflix Original series, Shadow, is available to stream now on Netflix.

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1 Comment

  1. Alan Locke

    Mar 16, 2019 at 9:27 am

    I really love the show Shadow. I hope that they will keep coming

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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget spent two days at Netflix studios last week, and ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read about Netflix’s international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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Google announces its ‘Netflix for gaming’

The new gaming platform, Stadia, promises high-definition gaming on TVs, computers, and mobile devices, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Google has announced that it has moved into the gaming space, and it focuses on two big aspects of gaming: streaming of games for gamers, which will allow gamers to game anywhere with a fast, low-latency Internet connection; and audiences that watch gamers in-game.

This is a big move in making gaming accessible to more gamers, as it reduces hardware costs, by utilising the benefits of low-latency cloud computing. This will be achieved by using a globally connected network of Google data centres. Gamers who stream games are most likely already using a high-speed, low-latency Internet connection, so access to the Stadia platform will be an added expense.

Through the Stadia platform, gamers will be able to access a large library of games at all times, with no installation time, on virtually any screen. Scaling of hardware like CPU, GPU, memory, and storage is also possible, as one would for cloud server resources.

Google will be leveraging its other platforms, like YouTube, with Stadia streaming. It claims that 200-million people are watching game-related content daily on YouTube. This allows, for example, Stadia players to jump in with other Stadia players – no downloads, no updates, no patches, and no installs.

For console players, Google has designed a custom controller.

The controller was designed to establish a direct connection from the Stadia controller to Google’s data centre through Wi-Fi for the best possible gaming performance. The controller also includes a button for instant capture, saving, and sharing gameplay in 4K resolution. It sports a Google Assistant button and built-in microphone, as many Google products do, for voice control. 

The device is expected to be released later this year, pending FCC approval.

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