Lessons from the Gringo film

Gringo the Troublemakerq

Gringo the TroublemakerqOn the evening of independence day, 18 April, the Zimbabwean Shona film Gringo the Troublemaker by NAMA award winner writer Enock Chihombori premiered. The 1 hour 50 minutes production was based on the ever popular 1990s series “Gringo”. The reviews were excellent and the movie received a lot of praise from many critics. Yet almost three and half months later the film is still yet to recoup its $48 000 initial cash outlay.

This seems inconceivable considering the amount that western movies gross in a week. At first I was tempted to join the bandwagon and blame it all on the insensitive pirates who have terrorized the local arts industry, but I decided to take a more in-depth look at the story and I gained a lot of insight. The pirates were to blame but producers might well have chosen the wrong marketing strategy and to some extent, the local market is not yet ripe for the picking.

The movie was set to premier in local theaters and a certain online store called Headlines Africa which is based in Canada. Close to four months after premiering there is still no “official DVD” release. Pirates discovered that and took advantage of the situation; they have been selling the disk for an average price of $2 on the streets. The online version was provided on a Pay per view basis at $3.50 per view plus any internet bandwidth costs that people have to incur in order to watch the film. Meanwhile, in cinemas people have to pay an average of $5 per person. Given that any of the two options are much more expensive than the pirated disk, it is no wonder people chose the street version.


The situation was not helped by the fact that most people in Zimbabwe do not have access to high speed internet connections that they can use to watch the film on their devices. Some do not even have the credit/debit cards that they can use to make international payments to the online store. While it is my understanding that the strategy to release the movie online was meant to cater for the diaspora market it would be a good thing if we had a local streaming service that accepts local methods of payments such as EcoCash and saves international bandwidth. As an aside I think it was the online version that provided the high quality Rip used by the pirates.

While cinemas are popular within some circles and in some countries, this is not the same in Zimbabwe. On the countless occasions that I have visited the cinemas I am yet to see a full house except during “classic” European league soccer matches. In fact a good part of the population do not have access to cinemas which are mainly located in major towns only.The majority of Zimbabweans prefer watching on DVDs. Also in most cases those who go to cinemas are not deterred by the availability on the street of DVDs of the same titles that they are watching. All this should have encouraged the producers of the movie to quickly release a DVD for the movie.

Summary of the lessons

  • The local movie market is very price sensitive.
  • Due to a number of problems such as cost and bandwidth online watching of movies is yet to catch on with the wider public.
  • The Western method of film release: starting with a Cinema release then waiting a while for the DVD release is not suited for Zimbabwe.If you are a film producer do not wait too long to release the DVD
  • Pirate practices have ruined many a producing company and may well be the reason for the absence of good productions.
  • There is a trade off between a good production which costs more money and the ability for the producer to recoup their expenses. In short it might not be worthwhile to make a heavy capital injection as it may be hard to recover the initial outlay.
  • Zimbabweans have desensitized themselves when it comes to piracy but as I have said before sometimes this is through no fault of their own.
  • A local streaming service would be a welcome relief that may well solve some of the international bandwidth problems we face.

It has been said on countless occasions that one ought to “think global but act local.”

I cannot help but feel if the production team for Gringo the Troublemaker had paid heed to this creed they could have avoided at least part of the piracy problems that have fallen upon them. This is not to say that the pirates are justified in their act of infringing upon other people’s copyrights. Far from it. It is rather an assertion that despite how people may feel after comparing the local industry with the global market they ought to recognise the local market’s needs first.

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10 thoughts on “Lessons from the Gringo film

  1. The solution is simple. The pirates need to be pinned hard (extremely). After pinning them down, someone needs to establish a formal market for both local and international DVDs. Again Zim Filmmakers need better outreach efforts with their films. In the greater world one or two crew members (cast) attend certain paid screenings when the film is on tour to gross cinema sales/attendence.

  2. You can’t stop piracy because everyone in Zimbabwe is a Pirate. If you bought a movie that cost a dollar, you are a Pirate.So the only way to avoid it is to do live performances like the musicians do.

    1. the phrase “the only way” and others similar to it should be reserved for story lines in soapies (e.g. when Daniel says the only way to deal with Q is to threaten him).

      There are always alternatives. How does gringo do live perfomances of a movie?

  3. “On the countless occasions that I have visited the cinemas I am yet to see a full house”

    You should really get out more often then…The Saturdays I’ve been to Westgate there’s definitely been countless full houses. Last week it was even a bit ghetto as they oversold the tickets so a few people actually sat on the floor!! :p

    Anyways, back on topic, Zimbabwe’s film and media industry aswell as delivery channels are still far too young to make any serious money just from sales. These production houses should rather focus on making great content with lovable characters which can then me monetized in the real world in the terms of appearences, merchandizing etc..

  4. So just a silly question: WHY DID THE PRODUCERS NOT “PIRATE” THEIR OWN DvD?
    Sounds silly but if zimbos are so fond of these $2-dollar DvD, then suprise the pirate and start selling the DvD on the street for that $2. If they do that on a national scale, I believe they can “recover” most of the $50,00 they spent. No tthe best of marketing strategies, but depserate times call for desperate measures.

    1. That’s been my arguement all this while. Munya did it with his Lobola and The Gentleman releases. The Go Chanaiwa guys are also setting their own DVDs from the boot of their cars at public and crowded spots like Market Square, Copacabana and 4th Street. Why not take a leaf from that and at least make something out your sweat,

  5. Gabe Newell from Valve said it best

    “We think there is a fundamental misconception about piracy. Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem,”

    “Prior to entering the Russian market, we were told that Russia was a waste of time because everyone would pirate our products. Russia is now about to become [Steam’s] largest market in Europe,”

    So timely, good releases that can be easily obtained and at a decent price will win over pirates.

  6. I am in the film industry and relying on cinema’s for revenue is a non starter. There are only 3 models that work in Zimbabwe
    1. Donor funded – i.e the Kind that Media for Development used to make – Neria, Yellow Card, Everyone’s child. You make them and give them to whoever wants for free. All you are after is to get your message across to and audience.

    2. Online – If you are going to sell it online make sure it’s on a pay-per click platform, amazon on demand and iTunes all at the same time and everywhere else.

    3. The Nigerian way – Burn discs sell them for a dollar for two like Lobola, The Gentleman. It is folishness to make a film without a marketing plan, especially in a market where piracy is prevalent. You might as well shoot yourself in the foot.

    A film is a business like any other business and should be approached as such with cash flow projections etc. Piracy is not a problem as long as you price according to prevailing piracy rates. $2 is double the price of a disc on the street. There is absolutely no reason why it should be $2. So maybe we need to ask the producers of Gringo what their angle is with the film…..This is not hollywood, what works there doesn’t work here.

    1. I wonder if the producers thought through all this before even making the film. It’s pointless to cry over spilt milk.

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