Moonyeenn Lee & Associates (MLA), now the largest talent agency on the African continent, has announced that it is opening a new office in Cape Town. The launch of a representative office in the heart of one of South Africa’s premier film destinations follows fast on the heels of a recent announcement that the agency would be representing screenwriters and directors alongside the leading talent already in the stable.
Samantha Bernhardi, a seasoned agent based in Cape Town has decided to close her well-known business, Samantha Bernhardi Artists Management, which she has nurtured over a period of 15 years, to join the MLA team and lead the Cape Town office. Samantha is a highly respected agent and much loved by her actors and peers alike. As Associate Agent, Samantha will work hand-in-hand with the MLA team in Johannesburg to ensure seamless opportunities for its selected roster of multilingual and diverse talent.
“This was an opportunity I was not prepared to miss. MLA has a stellar reputation representing some of the best in the business. In these challenging times, innovation and collaboration are key to future success. I am looking forward to being part of the incredibly dynamic and successful MLA team,” says Bernhardi.
At the beginning of this year, in a bold move, MLA became an exclusive representation agency, resulting in a situation in which dual representation in different cities within South Africa was no longer an option for the talent pool managed by the agency.
Says Nina Morris-Lee, CEO of MLA: “Opening a Cape Town office just makes sense as does having Samantha on the ground representing us. I felt that although single representation is the right way to work, it was compromising our Cape Town actors and restricting our Johannesburg actors from certain briefs that were not reaching us. I believe that all the actors we represent, regardless of where they are located, have to be given the opportunity to audition on all work available. I’m extremely excited about this new chapter in the story of MLA’s success, and look forward to Samantha being part of the team.”
MLA Cape Town, in association with Samantha Bernhardi, begins operating on the 4th of May 2021.
Nina Morris Lee, who took over Moonyeenn Lee & Associates (MLA) from the late Moonyeenn Lee in November last year, has not wasted any time in gearing up for a promising 2021. Part of her growth strategy is to manage and represent a more holistic pool of talent, not only actors. “We are excited to announce that MLA will be representing screenwriters and directors as of the 1st of April 2021. This new division will be small and exclusive, with a handful of the best behind the camera talent in the business. It’s a perfect extension to our well-established acting representation offering.”
The first director to be signed by MLA is award-winning Oliver Schmitz, well-known for his film Life Above All, which was shortlisted for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards and received accolades from the likes of Roger Ebert. His 1980’s gangster drama Mapantsula, has become a classic and is taught in film studies in many universities.
Schmitz has made five films for cinema, four of which have screened in official selection in Cannes - one being the Parisian omnibus film Paris je t'aime (Place des fetes). Shepherds and Butchers with Steve Coogan and Andrea Riseborough, premiered at the Berlinale 2016, where it won an audience award and Best Directing at the South African Film and Television Awards. Schmitz lives in Berlin.
Says Oliver Schmitz “At last there is an Agency representing directors in South Africa. Who better than MLA. Moonyeenn Lee left a thunderous legacy that Nina Morris Lee is pushing to new horizons. I am proud to join MLA. Let’s create a family of talent! I look forward to using my skills and all that I have learnt in the German television market, to the promotion of pioneering content in South Africa.”
Are you a natural performer?
Do you have something unique and fresh about you?
Are you passionate, curious and willing to work hard?
Then this could be the break you have been waiting for.
We are looking for undiscovered talent that we can mentor, manage and represent in the big, exciting world of the performance arts. .
Success is obviously not guaranteed and we may not find anyone, but then there is always next year.
So for all those that dare to dream or have messaged, mailed and called about being represented by MLA, this is your 2021 opportunity.
The first of our annual CALL FOR CAST auditions will launch on the 5th of February with online submissions via our website.
Criteria for submissions will be available on our Facebook page and our website on the 25th of January.
PLEASE NOTE that auditions are open to anyone over the age of 18 and no formal training in acting is necessary.
Internationally acclaimed South African agent and casting director, Moonyeenn Lee, passed away in July of this year and left her 46-year-old business to her daughter-in-law Nina Morris Lee and her daughter, Cindy Lee. MLA has earned the reputation of representing the best of South African acting talent. Morris Lee will lead the talent agency as CEO and Manager.
Whilst Morris Lee may be considered a new player in the film and television industry, she is certainly not new to business leadership. Morris Lee comes with a wealth of knowledge and experience from her background as a leading player and change-maker in the advertising and marketing industry. Her strong creative and strategic skills will benefit the business on every level.
With over three decades in the advertising industry and running her own agency, she was instrumental in building some of South Africa’s most successful brands. Amongst them Discovery, Wimpy, Southern Sun, Debonairs Pizza and launching kulula.com (South Africa’s first low fare airline) to name but a few.
In 2014 after selling her advertising agency, Nina moved to the NGO sector using her unique set of skills to create and manage the marketing department at the Anova Health Institute. During her tenure, Nina was responsible for launching wethebrave.co.za for the Elton John AIDS Foundation and managing the programme for five years.
Moonyeenn and Nina weren’t just family, they were friends. They spent many nights over the past 13 years discussing and debating the pros and cons of the industry, dissecting films, breaking down performances and scripts and plotting the course for MLA. For Moonyeenn, Nina was always part of the future of the business.
Says Nina Morris Lee of her new role at MLA, “It feels like a natural fit. At its core MLA is about people, about mentoring them, guiding their careers and selling their talent. All the things I love doing. I am excited about the new challenges and the opportunities for growth.”
Veteran actor Terry Pheto says of Morris Lee, “I cannot think of a more qualified and suitable person to take over from where Moonyeenn Lee left off. Nina brings a wealth of knowledge and heart to MLA, her vision for the agency makes me excited to be one of MLA’s talents. It’s also comforting to know that Moonyeenn’s legacy of cultivating and nurturing talent will live on.”
With over 35 years in the advertising and marketing industry, Nina Morris Lee’s approach to running MLA is through a different lens, one which will proactively benefit the actors MLA represents as well as the industry as a whole.
Morris Lee recently renewed MLA’s membership of the PMA (Personal Managers Association), standing collectively with fellow agents and managers to bring positive change to the profession.
“It is right that we are part of the PMA. The association is doing a lot of good work and I look forward to being part of this great team. It is important to work as a collective if we want to instigate positive change,” says Morris Lee.
Tarryn Edwards, chairperson of PMA says, “We are delighted to welcome Nina Morris Lee and Nashoda Billy from MLA as members of the PMA and look forward to successfully collaborating with them, as members of our association, in our various committees and industry platforms.”
Morris Lee was previously chairperson of the ACA (Association for Communications and Advertising) and understands the power and influence that industry bodies can yield, particularly where it concerns areas such as negotiation of fees and modification of industry standards. This all leads to the continued growth and expansion of an industry to the benefit of all involved.
The other big change at MLA is the addition of a new agent – Nonhlanhla Khanye. Khanye is steering the commercial, voice and brand endorsement side of the business. She has been a producer in the advertising sector for seven years and brings a wealth of expertise to the role.
With Nina Morris Lee at the helm of MLA, it is not only a continuation of a legacy, but the beginning of a new exciting chapter for MLA.
It is with great sadness that we announce the death of the legendary South African agent and casting director, Moonyeenn Lee. She passed away on Saturday morning, 20th of July 2020 in Johannesburg. Her death was due to complications caused by the coronavirus.
Her 47 years in the film industry earned her a formidable reputation. In 2003 Moonyeenn was nominated to the National Executive Committee of the Independent Producer’s Organisation and to the Film Board of Create South Africa. In the same year, she formed Khulisa Productions to make South African films.
The first film produced by Khulisa was Promised Land. Moonyeenn’s passion for South African stories and local talent was well known. Over the years, she would travel around the world introducing producers and directors to South African actors. She would always do everything in her power to convince them to rather cast local actors over foreign actors. Her dedication eventually paid off as many international productions trusted her to cast locally.
She was renowned as one of South Africa’s leading agents and represented some of South Africa’s best-known actors through her company, Moonyeenn Lee & Associates (MLA). She cared deeply for actors and was a fearless defender of their rights.
Work was central to her life. Her actors were her family. The directors and producers she worked with were all her friends. She was brutally honest, a bit too much for some, but she believed in saying things as they were. Her quick wit, her wicked sense of humour and deep understanding of her craft made her interesting company. Her family and friends will remember her for her generosity and kindness to those in need, for her fighting spirit as well as for her unwavering commitment to the local industry.
She received the Lionel Ngakane Lifetime Achievement Award from the South African Film & Television Awards in 2017. A highlight in her illustrious career was when she became the first South African member of both the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which votes for the Oscars and the Television Academy, which votes for the Emmys.
She managed the casting of films such as The Bang Bang Club, Disgrace, the Oscar-winning Tsotsi, Fanie Fourie’s Lobola, the Oscar-nominated Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, Hotel Rwanda and Blood Diamond; the Oscar-shortlisted Black Panther and Life, Above All; the Golden Globe nominees Machine Gun Preacher and Mandela and De Klerk; and Emmy-winning series like Homeland, as well as nominees like The Prisoner and No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, among others. Moonyeenn was nominated for two Emmy Awards for The Looming Tower and Roots.
Moonyeenn helped shape the lives of many actors, directors and writers through her fierce honesty and passion. The South African film industry has lost an icon and a formidable champion of the arts. She will be sorely missed by us all.
She is survived by her daughter, Cindy Lee, her son, David Lee and her pets, Hitchcock, Eva and Spice.