How the SAFTAs voting works

Written by TVSA Team from the blog News on 17 Mar 2016
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When the SAFTA nominees were announced this year there was an explosion of emotion and opinion about them. Some people were happy with the nominees but many people weren't - a situation which flares up annually.

To get to the bottom of matters we decided to investigate EXACTLY how the voting works so that we all have a proper idea of the process.

We spoke to head judge Robbie Thorpe, grilled him with our questions and today we're pleased to present an ultimate guide to the SAFTAs voting ahead of the awards coming up this weekend.


The process is headed-up by three Jury Chairpersons who don't do any judging but who oversee the process and guide the judges. The three are:

Zanele Mthembu (Industry professional, TV and film producer and owner of Brown Panther films)
Jerry Mofokeng (Stage and screen actor) 
Chairperson of everyone/head judge: Robbie Thorpe (TV and film producer and director and three time international Emmy judge)

The judging is done by panels of judges made up of TV and film professionals. There are approximately 300 of them across the process, located in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

Shows and films enter the awards by submitting entries for the categories they want to be considered for e.g. a soapie will enter for Best Soapie, Best Writing in a Soapie, Best Directing in a Soapie etc. They don't need to enter all categories - they can choose which ones to enter.

They enter by submitting two of the best episodes from their show.

Submissions were done online for the first time this year. Entrants uploaded their best episodes so that judges could watch them from round the country.

In the actor/actress categories: shows submit a show reel of the performers they want to enter. The show reel features clips of the actors' best scenes.

If a show submits their entry in the wrong category, they get disqualified e.g. if they enter a reality show in the soapie category they get disqualified.

Only South African citizens can enter.

Phase 1: The filtration phase

This is the first round of judging in which each entry gets considered.

The judges are divided into panels and different panels judge different categories e.g. one panel of judges judge the directing categories, another panel judge the writing, another panel judge technical aspects like editing, cinematography etc.

The judging of each category is based on specific criteria e.g. a panel who are judging the directing on a show will have three or four things that they have to look out for and they have to give each aspect a rating out of five.

This is an example of the criteria they have to look for and what the score might look like:
The technical direction of the show 3 out of 5
The direction of performances 2 out of 5
The directorial interpretation of the script 4 out of 5
Total score 9

Shows (and films) that receive the Top 7 scores in each category move on to Phase 2.

If there are three or less entries in a category, the category falls away for the year.

Phase 2: Selecting the Top 3 and winner

Different panels of judges judge this second phase which involves choosing three nominees for each category from the seven finalists who were selected in Phase 1.

The judging process works the same as Phase 1: different panels of judges judge the various categories according to the category-specific criteria which they rate out of five.

The three shows or films that get the highest scores make it to the nominee list.

Voting for the winner

The judges from this phase then have a meeting, either in the flesh or via Skype, to discuss the three nominees - their strengths, weaknesses etc.

Each judge casts their vote for who they believe should win. They don't see each other's votes and they don't know who the final winner is until the announcement on the night of the ceremony.

These discussions and the voting process are overseen by the SAFTAs auditors and by Robbie Thorpe.

Robbie: "I make sure that the discussions are free and fair and that there’s nobody dominating the discussion or trying to persuade people to do something against their will to check that there’s no conflict of interest or anything like that.

"According to the conversation, in certain instances, there might be a show that’s being overwhelmingly discussed as being the best so of course the judges have a good idea of who might win but they don’t actually see the result.”

The judging panels have changed since the awards first started in 2006. The panels used to consist of a mix of critics, lay people and people from the TV and film industry. Now the panels only consist of TV and film practitioners which means that decisions are made solely by the industry.

The judges are people who’ve won or been nominated for a SAFTA in the past and people with 10 years or more experience in the industry. Anyone in the industry who fulfils these criteria can apply to be a judge including directors, producers, actors and crew from any department (sound, art etc.).

The names of these judges aren't released until after the winners have been announced, for two reasons:

1. No-one can coerce them while they're in the judging process.
2. No-one can freak out at them when the nominees are announced.

According to Robbie, getting judges is one of the most difficult aspects of the awards.
Robbie: "People from the industry must judge. They must get involved. People can volunteer - anyone who fulfils the criteria can apply to be a judge. Everybody’s happy to win but people aren’t that happy to get their hands dirty and do something. My word to people is: get involved, contribute.

The administration of the SAFTAs are always looking for judges. If you fulfil the criteria I can guarantee you will not be turned away, ever, because finding the judges is one of the most difficult things because people are really reluctant to give back.

It’s very difficult to persuade people to judge and the awards need a lot of judges. If a guy’s got nine years experience in the industry or eight and a half and he’s credible, I can promise you they’ll welcome him with open arms.”

Conflicts of interest

One of the issues that's always been very troubling over the years is the fact that the set-up means that the judges are often from shows that have entered the awards. We asked about this...

TVSA: Some of the judges are from production companies who have entered – isn't this a conflict of interest?
Robbie: No, because in an industry the size of ours, everybody is connected to something or somebody. It’s absolutely international best practice.

If you're going: “We need people who can judge comedy,” and they’re in the world of comedy, then they might end up in a situation where they have to recuse themselves in moments in the judging.

I was very much on the case with that - certainly in the final stages when I was participating, there was nobody in the final stages who was connected to any show who was voting. People are very honest about it in my experience - it’s not like they hide the fact that there’s some connection to a production company etc.

You can make an argument for people being connected but it’s always going to happen. We rely on the honesty of people. Sometimes it's obvious if people are connected because their name is on a show but in my experience people are very quick to volunteer the information that they're connected.

It's a question that's asked because if you're caught in a lie, the industry is so small - if you've got 10 people sitting in a room and I say: "Is there any conflict of interest?" and it's the comedy category and they all work in that category, they know: "You work on this show."

Everybody knows where everyone works. No-one wants to be caught in that uncomfortable situation - it's a bit awkward if you get up to receive the award and the rest of the judging panel are going, "But hold on..."

TVSA: Would you ever have a situation where someone from a particular production company is on a judging panel for a category that they’ve entered?
Robbie: It can happen. So the way that works is, let's say you have 10 judges and one of those judges has worked on one of the programmes, they would not vote - they wouldn't put it in anything.

Say there were 10 programmes, they would only vote on nine of them. The scores aren't totalled, they're by average so it shouldn't make any difference because the average score that programme gets is what we take and not the total.

Five nominees instead of three

Through our conversation with Robbie we discovered that he has concerns of his own, about the number of nominees. As you know, there are only three per category and he wants to see this change.

Robbie: “I think if there had been five nominees it would have made a difference. If you’ve got 18 soaps entered and there are only three nominees, that’s a lot of people competing for a little piece of something whereas if there are five, you’ve spread the love, you’ve recognised more people in a very difficult category.

It's a very competitive category so a really good show could have finished fourth in every category and not appeared anywhere so it’s not getting recognised whereas it could have received five or six nominations and been recognised.

When we have the debriefing it’s something I’m going to push for, that they have five because you know, this business is so hard and people are unacknowledged and I think it's important.”

Channels in this post: SABC2


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