Young, Gifted & Killing It: Zandi Tisani
by Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) Zandi Tisani (@ZandiTee) deserves an extra round of applause. “The show I wrote, directed and starred in has been selected to play at the New York Television Festival in the Independent Pilot Competition. Clap for me,” she tweeted after hearing the great news. Not only that: she was also the only African filmmaker to have her production screened at the festival’s flagship competition this year. And she won, too, in the category OneX Pitch Deal.
The show I wrote, directed and starred in has been selected to play at the New York Television Festival in the Independent Pilot Competition. Clap for me. https://t.co/b4MGlZFvR4
— da ting go (@ZandiTee) September 27, 2017
None of this is surprising, though. As Lebogang Rasethaba, her colleague and cofounder of Egg Films division Arcade Content, said recently: “Sometimes it’s embarrassing talking to her because you are constantly asking yourself, ‘Damn, why didn’t I think of that?’ She’s forward-thinking, progressive, and badass — exactly the kind of person we want on our team.” This young, gifted filmmaker is clearly killing it!
Veli Ngubane: Where did you grow up and what did you want to be when you were growing up?
Zandi Tisani: I grew up in Johannesburg. I remember wanting to be a psychiatrist. Taylor on Bold & the Beautiful was a psychiatrist; I heard the word and liked the sound of it!
VN: Please can you explain a little about what you actually do — what does an average day for you consist of?
ZT: It’s starting to sound like a cliché but there really isn’t anything like an average day in my world. A lot of emailing, prepping treatments, reading briefs, catching up on new work from around the globe.
VN: How did your parents react when you told them that you wanted to be a creative?
ZT: Pretty mortified. I basically had to put together a presentation explaining what it is I wanted to do with my future.
VN: How have your roots influenced your art?
ZT: I guess coming from a family that was politically active, I’m aware of my place in the world; how precarious a state of freedom and democracy actually is; and the importance of always keeping this in mind when going out in the world to produce work.
VN: You are an award-winning creative: can you share with us some of things you’ve learnt that you weren’t aware of when you started but have made a difference to your current work ethic?
ZT: The importance of everyone’s job when it comes to producing a piece of content. There are no minor roles, so learning as much as you can about various roles in the film industry ultimately makes you a more-complete director.
VN: What characteristics and skills does it take to do what you do?
ZT: You need to be self-motivated, a good communicator, and have a balance between confidence and humility, knowing when to listen to others and when to take the reins and do it your way.
VN: What are some of the daily challenges?
ZT: I suppose balancing my personal persona with my professional persona. I’m very vocal on social media and sometimes worry about what effect my opinions have on my career but, at the same time, I feel my perspective is valid and I don’t want to feel gagged.
VN: What do you enjoy most about your job?
ZT: Knowing that I chose this. I didn’t end up here by fluke so, even if things get tough, I don’t feel like a victim.
VN: Congratulations for being the only African filmmaker selected for New York Television Festival’s Indie Pilot Competition. How did you find out you were selected and how did it feel?
ZT: We were notified via Skype chat. I felt really relieved and affirmed. We’ve had a tough time trying to convince local platforms that this is relevant content that deserves to be invested in. To get that kind of affirmation from a platform as established as NYTVF gave me back my confidence.
VN: What is it like to work as a female in a male-dominated industry and how do you think the industry may attract more female creatives?
ZT: I find it hard to answer that question. I’ve always been a woman working in a male-dominated industry. I don’t know any other way. I don’t think the industry has a problem attracting female creatives — it has a problem supporting and retaining that talent. How do you do that? The first step is to genuinely care; the rest is common sense. They manage to do it with male talent; I don’t see why it should be such a conundrum for women.
VN: I’m interested in your thoughts on how women are portrayed on TV and in movies. Who do you think is the best example of a well-written strong female character in TV and movies you’ve seen in the last few years?
ZT: The first that comes to mind is Issa Rae from Insecure. It’s been such a relief to have a relatable black woman, who is far from perfect and still figuring things out. Generally, the way women are portrayed on TV makes me feel like most male writers have never met a woman in their life; if they could just imagine us as actual human beings, I think they might produce better results.
VN: What advice can you give to young women wanting to get into the business?
ZT: Don’t let the bastards get you down.
VN: What is your favourite ad campaign, past and present, and why?
ZT: Gap produced a micro-series to launch a new range of jeans. It was a series of 30-second episodes that were a narrative about a couple meeting and falling in love. I love a good story. From the past? Those Adidas house party ads were great.
VN: What has been your favourite project to date?
ZT: My pilot. It comes from me; it’s the most me thing I’ve ever made.
VN: Tell us something about yourself not generally known.
ZT: I started ballet as a very young girl, about three, and continued into my teens. I stopped because my body started to fill out in very unballerina preportions but, when I look back, it was a huge part of my formative years.
VN: What exciting projects are you working on at the moment?
ZT: A short doccie on an up-and-coming rapper who I actually like; a project about the City of Joburg; and potentially a music video.
VN: Please would you supply two or three pieces of work you have been involved in?
People You May Know trailer
A Standard Bank brand film with Moonchild Sanelly and the Sartists that was Ad of the Week on MarkLives earlier this year
Style Diary: Yeoville
For more, go to arcadecontent.tv/south-african-director/zandi-tisani/.
Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) entered the world of advertising with a passion after completing his BSocSci (law, politics and economics) at the University of Cape Town and a post-graduate marketing diploma at Red & Yellow, where he also currently serves as advisory board chairman. He is the chief creative officer and founding partner of one of the fastest-growing agencies in the country, AVATAR. A full-service marketing agency with digital at the core, its clients include Brand South Africa, FOX Africa, National Geographic, SAA and Chevron. Veli hails from Kosi Bay in the rural KwaMhlaba Uyalingana area of KZN. In his monthly column “Young, Gifted & Killing It”, he profiles award-winning, kick-ass black creative talent in South Africa.