South Africa is firmly on the radar of the US studios, streamers and international producers as countries emerge from the pandemic.
You get bang for your buck in South Africa,” says Marios Hamboulides, UK-based assistant director and producer, who worked on the Cinemax TV martial-arts series Warrior, set during San Francisco’s Tong Wars in the late 1800s and filmed in and around Cape Town Film Studios.
“You can build entire sets at the studios for much cheaper than in the US or Europe. There is also the appeal of no unions. They take the position that they want the international productions coming in, so they pay their people less money on longer hours but keep them working on projects.”
The BBC and UK production outfit Mammoth Screen was so impressed with South Africa that it returned for the second series of Noughts + Crosses, which is shooting for 10 weeks from June in Cape Town and a warehouse in Paarden Eiland.
“The crews are first class, the locations are cinematic, and government support and financial incentives are strong,” says Cheyenne Conway, production executive at Mammoth Screen.
South Africa offers a base 25% filming incentive for local and international films and TV productions that shoot in the country for at least four weeks. It can rise to 30% for productions that also undertake post-production work in the country. “The application process is smooth and efficient,” says Conway. Incoming producers need to procure at least 20% of goods and services from 51% black-owned local companies to trigger the 30% rebate.
Netflix is backing a slew of local series, include spy drama Queen Sono, high-school drama Blood & Water and Happiness Ever After, a sequel to the successful South African feature Happiness Is A Four-Letter Word, which is shooting in Johannesburg and will debut on the platform later this year.
Further major international projects to film in South Africa include Sony Pictures’ Monster Hunter, directed by Paul WS Anderson, and HBO Max science-fiction series Raised By Wolves, produced by Ridley Scott. The BBC is a regular visitor — shoots include Terry Pratchett adaptation The Watch, which filmed in Cape Town from September 2019.
“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.”
Cape Town’s adaptability is a huge draw for filmmakers, offering countryside that is reminiscent of England, US-style beach huts, mountain ranges, deserts and modern cityscapes.
“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.