South Africa is one of the top production hubs in the southern hemisphere and is even busier now Netflix has decided to back a slew of local series.
“You certainly get your bang for your buck in South Africa,” enthuses Marios Hamboulides, a UK based AD and producer, who recently worked on the Cinemax TV martial arts series Warrior, set during the Tong Wars in the late 1800s, which filmed in and around the Cape Town Studios. “You can build entire sets at the studios for much cheaper than in the US or Europe. There’s also the appeal of no unions. They take the position there that they want the international productions coming in, so they pay their people less money on longer hours, but keep them working on projects.”
“We’ve even travelled to Cape Town just for studio work because it proved to be more cost effective, and because the sound stages there are as vast as the ones at Pinewood,” enthuses Toby Walsham, a producer at UK production outfit Familia, which has a partnership with Cape Town based service provider Robot, run by Liam Johnson.
Additionally, the country offers a base 25% filming incentive for local and international films and TV productions that shoot in South Africa for at least four weeks. It can rise to 30% for productions that also undertake post-production work in the country.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) revised the cash rebate in September 2018 to require incoming producers to procure at least 20% of goods and services from 51%-black-owned local companies in order to trigger the newly enhanced 30% rebate.
Major production presence
Unsurprisingly, Netflix has seen the benefit of setting up camp there, backing a slew of local series, include spy drama Queen Sono, starring Pearl Thusi, and high-school drama Blood & Water, produced by Cape Town-based Gambit Films.
Other major international projects to shoot in South Africa recently include Sony Pictures’ Monster Hunter, directed by Paul WS Anderson (Resident Evil), while BBC series are regulars in the country, including The Watch, an adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s City Watch books, which began shooting in Cape Town from September 2019.
Drama series Noughts And Crosses, produced by UK-based Mammoth Screen, also shot in and around Cape Town, with the city doubling for London. Filming was mainly on location, with director Julian Holmes and his team organising large-scale set builds. The production team worked with Cape Town service company Film Afrika and — aside from some key heads of department — largely hired a local crew.
“South Africa is a large and diverse country, with locations from Med-style beaches to arid deserts, mountains, cityscapes, sprawling farmlands, wine farms, African wildlife, rivers, waterfalls, the list goes on,” enthuses Peter Constan-Tatos, CEO of local outfit Zap High Speed Studios, to KFTV. “So, in short, practically any location you can think of, South Africa will have it.”
“You imagine South Africa to be mostly dry land, but actually there are striking green forests, incredible lakes that look like the ones in Switzerland, and the cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg are bustling with great beaches,” enthuses Walsham. “Plus, Cape Town is small enough to move your production around quickly, and it’s straightforward to get permissions.”
Cape Town has changed quite a lot in the past 10 years, with huge development of new buildings that look like other main cities around the world. “This together with world class beaches, mountain ranges, deserts, English style countryside and American style beach cottages make Cape Town a superb location for most shoots and productions,” adds Justin Miccoli at the 3D Model Agency to KFTV.
Shooting at these locations also proves cost effective. Neil Marshall said of the production costs for Doomsday that they came in at a third of the production costs of the UK, according to Cristian Abbott and Ken Mehrtens, founders of iKraal Film and Video Production. “Many series and films have been shot here and if production houses are prepared to use local crew, the costs savings will be great.”
“Summed up in a few words South African locations have a dynamic adaptability with crisp light and stunning talent and professional crew,” adds Miccoli.
Permission to shoot across the country is generally easy. Although it’s best to get local partners or crew who know the system to apply. Where the production shoots dictates who you need to apply to….
Cape Town Film Studios is South Africa’s main production facility and includes five soundstages. The largest of which is 2,100 square meters. It also offers water tanks and backlot sets (including a Robben Island prison and American 1950s motel set).
Atlantic Film Studios is a smaller complex, but offers eight stages of soundproof studios, including a green screen studio, and a large backlot. Producers also frequently convert unused warehouses into temporary filming facilities.
The experienced crews have the depth to host about six large shoots at any one time. All departments can be covered locally, and “there are some great young DoPs emerging in the country. You just might need to bring your own production designer,” says Liam Johnson at local outfit Robot.
“Durban is in the process of developing its studio offerings and Johannesburg has a well-established network of studios and rental companies,” says Constan-Tatos. “We at ZAP have established a studio in Johannesburg with a selection of high-speed motion control rigs close at hand from Reflex Motion Control who share our premises.”
As for crew, Abbott and Mehrtens insist they are highly experienced on all levels, and work all over the world as well as locally on international South African productions.