Loving the Octopus

The film industry is about saying ‘no’ to people, and inherently you cannot take ‘no’ for an answer. — James Cameron

Ronnie Apteker
5 min readNov 26, 2020

I have been working with indie film makers for 19 years from this Christmas, and it has been a constant struggle. We are getting better at it, and we keep doing it, and yes, we do love what we do, but it often does not love us back. Once in a while though a film comes along that just captures the imagination and it makes the struggle worth it. My Octopus Teacher is one such film. It is a must see on Netflix. This film team did a proper job!

I was recently invited to interview the film’s director, Pippa Ehrlich, and it was a super cool conversation. If you did not get a chance to see this interview from last week Friday then check it out below.

This past year we have tackled our first documentary project “57”. It is a film about violent crime in South Africa. We have been working on it since last year and yes, it has been a struggle. But I am happy to say that the team is inspired and strong and the film is looking powerful. We believe that this is going to be an important piece of work and we are excited about what it may lead to. We are hoping to sell it to Netflix but I can tell you that this is not an easy thing to do. Not easy at all. Pippa will tell you.

After the interview I had a few people write to me, but I could not help them. My plate is way full and I have very little spare time or resources. What I never have understood is why would someone write to a stranger and say “We are making a film and would love you to be involved.” What does that really mean? I assume it means they need funding. We all need funding. Imagine a married person writing to you, a stranger, and saying “We are married, and we would love you to be involved.” Yes, I know, that sounds crazy, but you get the idea.

Making a film and selling a film are two separate things. Two different journeys. Making a product and selling a product are not the same thing, in any industry. Every entrepreneur knows this, and still, I get people saying to me, year on year, things like “That film was cool, when will it come out in America?”. It does not work like that. And then there is my favourite “Let’s make this movie together. We will make a lot of money.” Maybe. But I have not seen that happen. Also, money is not my big driver in life, so if you write to me telling me that we are going to make lots of money it doesn’t excite me.

Perhaps it’s good for one to suffer. Can an artist do anything if he’s happy? Would he ever want to do anything? What is art, after all, but a protest against the horrible inclemency of life? — Aldous Huxley

I wish it was easy sometimes. But again, it is always a struggle. So when someone pipes up “You should get the crime film onto Netflix.” I just smile these days.

Yes, of course. We would be thrilled. We are trying and trying and trying. It is seriously not easy. Netflix is a leading platform today, and they are dealing with the best in the world. We are competing with the best in Hollywood, and beyond. For a film to be sold to Netflix by an indie team, the product has to be rock solid. And also, you need to know who to talk to at Netflix. I think we have the goods with “57” and we are on a path that could result in a Netflix sale, and now, we need a bit of luck.

The truth about films is that most of them fail. That means, they don’t see the light of day, and they lose all the money. Yes, you need some luck (as with most artistic ventures) but you also need a fantastic product. In my view, most films are either boring or mediocre. To make a truly magical film is not easy at all, and when it happens, it is a rare and wonderful kind of magic. Of course, no one ever sat down and planned to make a bad film, but it happens that way all too often, for many many reasons.

There is no substitute for hard work and for mastery of your craft, but a bit of luck always helps, especially when it comes to selling. Knowing the right person and talking to them at the right time is about luck. A bit luck for us with “57” is Pippa’s Octopus film. They have opened the door for documentary films from South Africa and we are hoping that we may be the next documentary film out of South Africa that Netflix puts on its platform. We will soon find out.

Another bit of luck came with the Corona lockdown, which is an odd thing to say. Yes, there have been some positive effects from COVID-19. More and more people are at home and Netflix is getting a lot of eyeballs. The Octopus film offers something fresh and the timing for its release was fantastic. Also, we had some luck on our side with our project “57”. We managed to get a film made while production had pretty much come to a standstill around the world in 2020 because of the Corona. We were lucky to have been shooting in February and managed to get most of what we needed in the can, and during the lockdown an intense edit has been underway.

If we do manage to get “57” onto a leading platform like Netflix then there is still another challenge. Who will watch it? Sure, it would be a fantastic milestone but the truth is we will be just another title on Netflix. How do we get people to watch the film? Marketing and spreading the word, on a small indie film, even if it is on Netflix, is another whole journey. A subject for another blog piece.

I was not involved in My Octopus Teacher but I am spreading the word wherever and whenever I can. It is an awesome film.