Young, Gifted & Killing It: Tebogo Malope
by Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) Tebogo Malope (@TebogoMalope) of Bomb is a Cannes Lions, D&AD and SAFTA award-winning filmmaker and the director behind some memorable TVCs, music videos, movies and television series.
Veli Ngubane: Tell us more about yourself: where did you grow up and what did you want to be when you were growing up?
Tebogo Malope: I grew up in the greatest hood in the world [hahaha]. Everybody calls their hood the greatest in the world; not sure which criteria we working with but, yeah, it was dope — Soweto — in fact I was at the geographic centre of Soweto called Central Western Jabavu. Next to my house was a park called Credo Mutwa [Cultural] Village, named after the icon; he spent some time in there making art and writing. To date, the park has the highest concentration of trees in the whole of Soweto. In the middle of the park was a tower called the Oppenheimer Tower; from the top of it, you could see the whole of Soweto. I spent most days in this park, either high on the tower looking out and dreaming, [or] down below in the bushes hunting down wild rats, [or] in the park’s hall rehearsing mini plays we’d perform for tourists, or on the field playing soccer. I’d always been a multitalented individual, which is a blessing and a curse ’cause, as a kid, it’s much easier to choose a path when others are eliminated ’cause of incompetence but I had lots to choose from; much later in life I narrowed it down to soccer and the arts. We can all see where the chips fell now.
VN: Please explain what you actually do and how an average day looks for you?
TM: I often think I get paid to drink lots of cappuccinos and talk a lot; I hire really good people so my talking churns out good work. I’m a director, I’m that dude [who] walks on stage and collects the award and pretends I did all the heavy lifting [hahahaha]. To try explain what I do is a bit tricky; maybe look at it as a group of really talented people standing in front of a massive canvas, all of them with different types of paint and brushes in their hands but they are not sure what to paint, who should go first and what the finished piece should be. Now imagine in front of them stood someone drinking lots of cappuccinos telling them what to paint, how and when. They all look to his guidance, even though most of them are possibly better at painting those strokes; the dude is just good at leading, guiding, inspiring and making sure we all work as a team. I hope that explains it.
Damn, I spent so much time on that first question; let me attack the second. I often write late into the night, so I usually go to bed after 2am. My days comprise standing in front of agency creatives. feeling super insecure about what I do and then try convince them I’m good at it. If I’m not in the pitch room, I’m observing people; yes, it sounds really creepy but I find it incredibly pleasurable to be sitting at a coffee shop and watching people. Then, in between, I’m leading a great team of young directors who I work with to research, build treatments and just inspire each other. Then once in a while I’m on set doing what I was born for: directing.
VN: You’ll be doing a project on the life of Shaka Zulu. Please tell us more.
TM: This project is both ambitious and important. Bomb has always sought to make a big spectacle of a piece, and the Shaka narrative is both timely and grand. Honestly, it is too early to discuss details as pen hasn’t even gone to paper yet — it is going through robust research at the moment. What I can promise you is that it’ll have scale and it’ll make our people very proud.
VN: You have won a coveted Gold Cannes Lion for best use of Film; what has that done for your career and what is that one award you still aim to win?
TM: The dopest thing about winning a Cannes Lion is how quickly it goes on your social media bio. If anything, that award said, yoh, the game has kind of embraced you now… I swear the one thing I’ve struggled with is believing that the ad game has accepted me; [I’ve] always felt like an outsider, still kinda do but, yeah. that award helped in that sense — I’m a gold-plated outsider now [hahahaha]. There are lots more awards I’d still love to get but, if I had to mention one, it’ll have to be the ultimate, an Oscar.
VN: What has been your career highlight so far?
TM: This is the hardest question on the planet; I’ve had so many. Weird, ’cause a lot of those highlights proceeded great traumas. Like getting arrested in Somalia on a shoot which led to me working on a series that won me my first SAFTA (yes, you read correctly but that’s a story for another day) or how my first-ever music video award and credit were stolen by my DOP and editor (another story for another day) or the other day, when a friend was in a tragic car accident where five people passed on; he survived. Those people were driving to my set; on that set I had over 200 musicians from all over the continent, the best talents Africa had to offer; my friend was lying critical in hospital; and here I was directing Don Jazzy, Patoranking, Mafikizolo, etc. So, yeah, a very tricky question.
VN: How do you know if you have a great idea? How do you deal with self-doubt and fear?
TM: My self-doubt and fear come from a deep insecurity and we’ve established I’m still grappling with that; I doubt it’ll ever go away. Over time, the only thing that has changed is what I say to myself in that moment of insecurity. I’ve never thought I have great ideas; at best, I have good ideas. I’m still chasing that great idea. I just reread my answer and realised how profound it is; maybe I’m not that bad. Perhaps great ideas come from always pursuing them.
VN: What do you feel is missing in the ad industry today?
TM: BLACK WOMEN!!!
VN: Where and when do you have your best ideas?
TM: I often write after midnight and, for a long time, I thought it’s the peace and quiet and the ambience that gets me there, [but I’m] starting to realise that my best ideas come when I’m not thinking about them — throughout the day, my brain is trying to solve problems. At night I stop thinking about the problems; I’m usually super chilled, ambient music playing in the background, late shower, reading a book, and then bam. Just like that.
VN: What advice can you give to young creative wanting to get into the business?
TM: I find the term “get in” means different things to different people, like I often get emails from [people] saying, “You know, I haven’t quite cracked it yet, I’m still camera assistant: how do I get in and become a director?” My first thought is usually “but you are in already.” I engage a lot with young talent and what I find frustrating is that, often. they are forward-looking while neglecting the present. Instead of being the best cable basher in the world, [they’re] constantly looking at the DOP position; that creates resentment and negligence. You can do both: have your eyes set on the future while being the best at what you are doing right now.
VN: Tell us something about yourself not generally known.
TM: I was a pretty meanass train surfer; okay. I was young and stupid but, still, I was dope with it.
VN: What exciting projects are you working on at the moment besides the Shaka Zulu project?
TM: It’s been a wild ride for about nine months now [at the time of the interview — ed-at-large], I’ve shot and dropped an ad every month since November. When this article drops, my latest one would have just gone live. So, yeah, it’s been wild, trying to recalibrate and take it a little easy on that front. I’m currently pitching on a few exciting jobs: I have a collaboration with an East European creative collective coming up, a small passion project in East Africa and [am] on the brink of tackling two really special documentaries. Haven’t worked on a doccie format in a while so the challenge is really exciting.
VN: You directed the Kwesta Spirit music video; please take us through that creative journey and subsequent reaction to the video.
TM: Yoh, I could go on forever with this one. In Kwesta, you have an incredibly humble and giving individual. His heart is for his people so, when he releases a track like Spirit, [it’s] an anthem for the people. Then you can’t help but make the video about the people. I often struggle to break down the creative process because it was somewhat a spiritual (excuse the pun) exercise. I don’t mean to sound so cryptic; the one thing I can say for now is that my initial departure was to create a piece that would be an onslaught of the kasi energy, I wanted to bombard the audience with so much of that kasi aesthetic that [it] would make it hard to shake off once you’d seen it. The reaction points to that fact; it’s been absolutely incredible witnessing how much the people love it, even international acts — getting shout outs from legends like Swizz Beats and Rick Ross has been incredibly humbling. I just wish people would stop screaming “SPIRIT” each time they see me in public 😭
VN: Please would you supply two or three pieces of work you have been involved in that you are most proud of?
Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) entered the world of advertising with a passion after completing his BSocSci (law, politics and economics) at UCT and a post-graduate marketing diploma at Red & Yellow, where he’s currently advisory board chairman. He also sits on the IAB’s Transformation & Education Council, is a DMA board member and has judged Loeries, Apex and AdFocus. He is the Joburg MD and founding partner of the largest black-owned and -managed full-service agencies in the country, AVATAR. He is also co-founder of M&N Brands, which is building an African network of agencies to rival the global giants. In his monthly column “Young, Gifted & Killing It”, he profiles award-winning, kick-ass black creative talent in South Africa.
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