Cape Town’s Crew Pencil attempts to “turn Titanic” in SA film industry

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The South African film industry has worked in the same way for over 20 years when it comes to the hiring of crew, but Cape Town startup Crew Pencil is attempting to change all that.

In a disruption that founder Michael Bothma compares to “turning the Titanic”, Crew Pencil has created an online platform that connects production companies with qualified crew members, and automates the whole process of taking them on and managing shoots.

“Production companies have no central database to source independent crew from and have to contact over 30 different crew agents to source crew for jobs, not to mention trying to source and manage independent crew as well,” Bothma says of the current status quo.

“Independent crew either manage their own diaries on various platforms or on pen and paper, or they pay crew agents to do it for them.”

Crew Pencil is looking to change all that. Crew subscribed to the platform create and manage their own profile, listing all relevant information regarding designation, rate, contact details, CV, gear and showreel. Production companies are able to search and book crew – whereby crew are notified via email regarding any pencils and confirmations.

Crew and production companies communicate directly via a messaging system, while invoices are automatically generated by the platform. Crew can manage their own diaries on Crew Pencil, while production companies can manage their booking sheets. Everything is free for everyone bar a ZAR75 (US$5) charge to the production company for each confirmed booking.

“The plan is to start charging crew a subscription fee once the site and user base has grown enough and proven its worth to users,” Bothma said.

Development started in July 2014, with Crew Pencil launching quietly in October 2015 with its minimum viable product (MVP). And in spite of the challenges the startup faces in disrupting a market that has long had a certain way of working, uptake has already been strong, with over 420 crew and 120 production companies utilising the platform.

Expansion is the name of the game, with Crew Pencil seeking funding in order to grow both locally and internationally.

“Our current market is South African production companies and freelance crew within the commercial, feature, music video, documentary and viral mediums,” Bothma said.

“We are busy expanding to incorporate ad agencies and ad agency freelancers, as well as freelance crew and production companies within television, live event and outside broadcasting.”

Longer-term, Crew Pencil will look to make gains with crew agents, as well as suppliers within the film industry such as rental and catering companies. Film industries within other countries are also on the agenda, especially Nollywood, Bollywood and the United Kingdom (UK).

Having received angel funding in March last year, Bothma said Crew Pencil was looking for more in order to expand and add additional features to the platform. With this goal in mind the startup recently took part in the Sparkup! Pitching event in Cape Town.

“Our goal now is to raise a second round of investment In order to expand on current features and most importantly develop the mobile app for crew,” he said.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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