Coproduction: The “South African gold rush” from the perspective of minorities

The Rush is a promising adventurous dramatic series that follows a ragtag group of people who come together by chance as they are pursuing very different goals in the South African gold rush that happened in the late 1800s.

The show is currently in development, thanks to the Canada-South Africa Co-Development Incentive, a collaboration between the Canada Media Fund (CMF) and the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) to fund the co-development of eligible television projects between producers from Canada and South Africa.

THE LIFE ADVENTURE OF FIVE UNDERDOGS

Martin Chan, a Canadian of Chinese descent, arrives in South Africa from working on the railway in Canada with dreams of striking it rich on the gold fields. 

Lara Meintjies, an Afrikaans woman whose husband has recently died, needs money to buy back her family land. 

Bhekuzulu, a Zulu warrior famous from the battle of Isandlwana, is trying to earn money to pay off his hut tax in KwaZulu Natal. 

Cole Carrigan, an ex-Mountie fleeing a dark past took under his wing the stowaway 15-year-old Kimi of Indigenous descent, who has fled her reform school in Canada. 

“These five characters make up our motley crew of heroes and come into constant conflict as they seek to navigate a place that was especially hard on minorities and immigrants, whilst doggedly trying to find the gold so as to make the rules,” explains Josh Rous, co-owner of Rous House Productions, the South African company behind The Rush.

Josh Rous
Josh Rous, co-owner of Rous House Productions

“They gamble everything in their lives because, right at the beginning of the first episode, they discover this massive vein of gold in a certain piece of land that nobody else knows about yet. They do not own that land yet, but they know it is there and nobody else knows. They have to decide: are they going to trust each other to try to get that gold?”

Determined to get the land, they spend what little money they have, only to realize digging out the gold is much harder and costly than they thought it would be.

SOUTH AFRICA BEYOND APARTHEID

Fans of Indiana Jones movies, Josh and Luke Rous wanted to tell an adventure story set in the early days of their hometown. “A lot of the historical stories about South Africa that have been told are obviously based in apartheid and trying to understand that dark part about our past, but it’s actually more interesting to go a little bit further back into our history to understand where the seeds were perhaps even sowed for what became apartheid, and they’re largely sowed within an economic world”, says Josh Rous.

“It was this time period when [Johannesburg] was just the frontier […] We were interested in tackling what it is that created value in Johannesburg to start with, and who were the kind of people who would have the guts and the determination to come to what would have been a very obscure place […] We thought of it as a really interesting canvas to paint very adventurous and interesting characters who are from diverse backgrounds”, he adds.

THE IMPORTANCE OF INTERNATIONAL COPRODUCTIONS

For such a period piece, with action, horse races, and the need to recreate Johannesburg back in the late 1800s, a large budget is needed.

“The South African TV industry is pretty small budget-wise, so this kind of show cannot be made with only South African money […] We always wanted this to be [an] international [show], and we have quite a close relationship with Canada: my brother Luke [and business partner] has been to TIFF and other film markets in Canada a number of times”, explains Josh Rous.

Kyle Irving
Kyle Irving, Head of Production and Executive Producer at Eagle Vision

The story evolved once Manitoban production company Eagle Vision joined. “It took quite a while to actually find somebody who’d actually get excited about this with us, and it seemed like [Eagle Vision’s team] has a similar vision to what we wanted to do in terms of representing minorities in a time that was particularly punishing to minority groups.”

Kyle Irving, Partner, Head of Production, and Executive Producer at Eagle Vision, says that both companies wanted to ensure that they were going “to write a story that wasn’t simply driven by the funding opportunity. We wanted to ensure that we were writing a story that was driven by relevant characters and shared Histories between the two countries'', he says.

FINDING A COMMON HISTORY

The writer’s room then explored the shared history between Canada and South Africa, especially when it comes to the impact of the gold rushes and settler exploration on the Indigenous peoples in both territories.

A great part of their work was to collaborate with Historians in both countries and learning about the historical events from the perspective of Indigenous peoples and minorities.

“Interestingly as a white South African, I studied history in high school, but we obviously got this very sanitized History that was heavily apartheid whitewashed, says Josh Rous. It’s quite hard, not only as a white person, but as a South African, to actually have an accurate sense of what our History is, because History is always written by the victors, so we have this very skewed sense of where we came from and what really happened.”

Rebecca Gibson, Partner, Head of Development, and Executive Producer at Eagle Vision explains that the character of Kimi, the 15-year-old of Indigenous descent who has fled her reform school in Canada is “really an accurate story to History: how that character’s story evolves, it comes straight from History, which I didn’t know about, even as a Canadian”.

Rebecca Gibson
Rebecca Gibson, Head of Development and Executive Producer at Eagle Vision

“One of the most fun parts [of this project] is to work with historians to figure out all of these in-detail historical perspectives that we did not know about. And we still have a lot of work to do in that area because, to make this show right, we need to get more historians to work with us and more historical perspectives so that we are accurately portraying some of these things for the first time ever”, Rebecca Gibson adds.

In the fall of 2020, the writers’ room worked online to develop the storyline and the characters. Rebecca  Gibson was the only Canadian in the writer’s room. “It was incredible, she says. Meren Reddy, the showrunner, led such an empowered and efficient writer’s room, I almost felt like it was more efficient doing it online. […] There wasn’t a whole lot of just sitting around and yapping and wasting time. It was very electrifying, intense, and comprehensive set of sessions.”

SUPPORTING THE DEVELOPMENT OF UNTOLD STORIES

For Kyle Irving, it’s very important to have programs like the Canada-South Africa Co-Development Incentive to support projects that may struggle to find development resources to get them to a place where they can go to market. 

“Without these kinds of programs, these projects will never come to the surface, they will never be seen. […] Those are incredibly interesting stories that are untold, and those voices have not been heard. They’re the kind of things that, without the support of organizations like the CMF and the NFVF, would never be heard. It’s a great example of what’s possible when resources like this are made available to independent creators”, he adds.

The next part, after writing is done, is to create a sizzle or a visual element that can go along with the pitch package, says Kyle Irving. “Then, we would take it to market, when hopefully the market reopens, perhaps later this year, and start getting in front of international broadcasters.” In Irving’s best case scenario, production would start in 2022.

“I feel really happy that we have such a strong project that, maybe if the streamers start to take a look at more Canadian content, which I think they have to, then maybe this is something that would sit really nicely in a streamer’s lineup, adds Rebecca Gibson. This is the kind of show that people would want to binge. I know I can’t wait to binge watch it.”


Rime El Jadidi
Rime El Jadidi is a writer and documentary filmmaker. After a career in journalism, she is now working in digital marketing and content strategy. Rime is especially passionate about helping filmmakers reach their audiences online and sustain their businesses.
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