South Africa is one of the world’s top locations for film, television and commercials. Excellent crews and equipment, diverse geography, low costs, state-of-the-art studios, good exchange rates and long days of sunshine combine to make it a popular choice for international producers. What’s more, South Africa’s very supportive government has introduced attractive incentive regimes for foreign producers.
In terms of locations Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban are the focal points, offering varied cityscapes and access to diverse geography within short distances. South Africa is also the best jumping-off point for neighbouring countries such as Namibia and Mozambique.
Historically best-known for its commercials and TV work, the last couple of years has seen an influx of film producers. The team behind the new Judge Dredd film told Time Magazine that “South Africa is in the business of making movies that cost half as much as they look… (We can make) something that will look like $100m for less than half that figure.”
Recent shoots have included key scenes for Hollywood feature The Dark Tower and UK TV drama Hooten and The Lady.
In 2014 Coca-Cola launched a new campaign with a stunning television commercial shot in South Africa, as did Dulux.
Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem were in Cape Town in the late summer of 2014 filming romantic drama The Last Face, directed by Sean Penn. Helen MIrren, Colin Firth and Aaron Paul starred in Gavin Hood's thriller Eye in the Sky, which also shot in Cape Town.
Sci-fi blockbuster Chronicle used Cape Town to double for Seattle, and other movies to have visited South Africa include the Denzel Washington/Ryan Reynolds thriller Safe House and Machine Gun Preacher, which used locations near Johannesburg to impersonate Southern Sudan. Johannesburg has also been the set for other big international films in the past decade, including The Bang Bang Club, District 9, Tsotsi, Invictus and Hotel Rwanda. More recently Johannesburg got a major international profile boost hosting a key action sequence from Marvel's big-budget Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Among TV productions, UK-Germany co-production The Sinking of the Laconia was filmed around Cape Town. Multiple series of Strike Back (Left Bank for Sky TV, UK) have used the Durban area to double for the South Asian sub-continent. Other interesting shoots have included History Channel’s History of America – The Story of US series, which used Cape Town to double for locations in America, and the British TV production Tutankhamun, which doubled South Africa for Egypt.
Commercials producers are in and out of South Africa all the time. Brands to have visited in the period since the 2010 World Cup include Visa, Wrigleys, VW, Strongbow and Orange.
Gauteng Film Commission coordinates the production industry around Johannesburg. It’s the first port of call for advice about permits in its region – though the actual permits are issued by local councils in the areas where shooting takes place. GFC recommends applying at least 14 working days before filming is due to start.
Cape Town Studios has four state-of-the-art sound stages and has been described as the first Hollywood-style studio in Africa. It is widely expected to boost the country’s status as a production venue. Shortly after opening it hosted the comic-book thriller Dredd and it's since become the long-term home of the pirate TV series Black Sails.
There are numerous other good studio complexes in South Africa. In Johannesburg, market-leaders include the Atlas Studios complex, which has a range of studios and supporting facilities.
Cape Town is world famous for the huge range of locations within a couple of hours drive. Aside from cityscapes there are beaches, mountains, forests, deserts, vineyards and farming landscapes (but see permits section for current concerns).
Also important is Gauteng Province (the area surrounding Johannesburg). This boasts a developed infrastructure, an established film industry and locations that range from “the urban and industrial landscapes of Johannesburg to gold mines, small towns, nature reserves and botanical gardens, monuments, historical buildings and the majestic Magaliesberg mountain range.” Pristine cave formations and savannah grassland are also accessible.
South Africa is a good base for getting out to exotic locations like Namibia and Mozambique, though producers tempted to work here need to be aware of the potential for greater bureaucracy and language issues.
South Africa is superbly equipped by companies such as Media Film Service, run by Jannie van Wyk. MFS was formed 12 years ago by van Wyk, who was previously MD of Movie Camera Company. It supplies camera, grip equipment, lighting rental and is active across both Cape Town and Johannesburg. Big investments in recent years have included HD.
Another leading player is Panavision, formed in 2008 by the merger of One8Six and Panacam. The company “supplies and supports every major camera system; grips equipment; HD systems; filmstock; and a full range of specialist kit including high speed film and high speed HD cameras, underwater housings, and 3D mountings.” Like MFS it has Johannesburg and Cape locations.
As for talent, South Africa has a diverse range of people that can fulfil most casting requirements. A lot of international models spend the summer months in Cape Town. Crews speak fluent English while art department and set construction are good.