A large and mainly arid country located in southwest Africa, Namibia exhibits some of the most desolate and lonely coastline in the world as well as large tracts of untouched scenery and nature conservation areas. This provides a stunning choice of backdrops for filmmakers.
The climate in Namibia is pleasantly warm and dry, with clean air and good water quality, and the country has an excellent infrastructure. Since Namibia is scarcely populated there is virtually no pollution and the clean air allows for extreme distance in film shots.
The shifting sand dunes of the Namib Desert spread inland for 80 to 130km (50 to 80 miles) and along the northwest coast lie 25,500 sq miles of the Kaokoland mountains. Further inland the vast sand basin of the Kalahari desert and the Etosha Pan – a dried-out saline lake – are surrounded by grasslands and bush which support a large and varied wildlife. The Etosha National Park & Game Reserve, almost untouched by human activity, is one of the best in Africa with an abundance of wildlife including cheetah, leopard, lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and giraffe.
Namibia boasts ideal weather conditions for filmmakers with over 300 days of sunshine on average per year. The best time to film is in the dry season during which the sun shines undisturbed from clear blue skies. The sunrises and sunsets are truly spectacular.
Raifall, normally as heavy thunderstorms, occurs in the summer months from November to April. During this time the usually dry riverbeds fill with muddy water.
With regard to production service providers and technical services, location scouts, aviation services, catering, transport, accommodation or telecommunication, the Film Commission can provide the visiting producer with an excellent list of experienced and reputable companies.
Another great resource is the Filmmakers Association of Namibia, founded to form a body representing the interests of homegrown production companies and producers.
Namibia hosted the 2019 edition of MTV reality adventure series The Challenge.
The country has become best known in recent years for hosting George Miller's action movie Mad Max: Fury Road, which used desert locations near Swakopmund for its dystopian wilderness settings.
Tom Cruise and director Alex Kurtzman also worked in the area to shoot action scenes set in Iraq and Egypt, for which they built their own set in the desert.
Any commercial filming or photography in Namibia needs to request a film permit from the Namibia Film Commission, three weeks prior to filming by completing an application form and faxing it to the Film Commission. An administrative fee of N$500 (approx. 42USD) is payable to the Namibia Film Commission. The Namibian dollar is on par with the South African rand, which offers a favourable exchange rate on the international market. On average Namibia is in a similar price bracket to filming in South Africa, with slight variations when it comes to crew rates and vehicle hire. The former tends to be cheaper, the latter slightly more expensive.
All foreign crews working in Namibia must have a valid temporary work permit to work on a film set in Namibia, even if it is only for one day. The Namibia Film Commission acts as a liaison between foreign and local production companies and assists with permits from government agencies including filming permits, work permits or obtaining security services.
Location fees in Namibia vary depending on genre and scale of production (commercial, feature or documentary). There is a reduced location fee when working through a local, established service production company.
An additional entrance fee is required when filming in National Parks. This is paid to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. An environmental officer is also required to be on set each day of filming in a national park or in protected areas;, a daily fee is incurred.
In terms of logistics, it is recommended that all international productions work with a local location manager and a production company. Firstly for safety, it is an advantage to have local knowledge of the environment and understanding of the prevailing weather conditions in such an unforgiving and uncompromising terrain and secondly it is easier knowing which permits are needed and how to obtain them.
When it comes to studio and film production facilities, there are no studios or backlots at present in Namibia. South Africa (Cape Town and Johannesburg) is the closest major production hub, easily reached with a two hour flight from Windhoek. South Africa has a large variety of studios, ranging from big sound stages to small pack shot studios. The biggest examples are Roodebloem Studios, Cape Town Studios and Propoganda Studios. It also has excellent postproduction facilities.
At present there are no post-production facilities.
Namibia’s jewel in the crown is its extensive and unmatched desert landscape and it would be easy to think that this was the sole major attraction. No so, Namibia has four main geographical regions: Coastal Plaine/Namib Desert, Namib Escarpment, the rocky Central Plateau with its high mountains and the Kalahari Sandvelt which is characterised by its flat layers of sand. The most spectacular for filmmakers can be found in the Namib desert and surrounding area. Stretching along the Atlantic Ocean is belt of spectacular sand dunes and rock formations that reach up to 200kms inland and range from yellow to reddish hues.
With no trace of civilisation for miles, Swakopmund and Walvis Bay - where the Ocean meets the dunes - come as quite a surprise amidst the endless landscape of the Namib. Swakopmung, a modern costal holiday town with some pretty historic buildings from its German colonial past, is the centre for the local film industry, due to its proximity to incredible locations like Spitzkoppe, Moonscape, Swakop River Canyon.
Walvis Bay is an industrial town with the only deep water harbour in Namibia. With its industrial berth and big shipping containers, it makes for excellent action shots.
Another location of note is the Skeleton Coast, so named after many early explorers’ ships were wrecked on its shores. It is a barren area that encompasses sand dunes, canyons, gemstone beaches, salt pans and mountain ranges. Filming is made easier by the few visitors that come to this area, and difficult by its accessibility only by 4 x 4 vehicles. The ecologically sensitive area north of Terrace Bay is inaccessible to the general public.
Ideal for breathtaking filmmaking, the Skeleton Coast fittingly has an animal cemetery with elephant rib cages juxtaposed with turtle shells, topped with whale vertebrae and seal skulls. Skeleton Coast also keeps the ghostly remains of ships it has wrecked.
The Namib Escarpment, a rugged landscape with strange rock formations and no trees or human settlements, also evokes a doomsday atmosphere.
However, if an arid, desolate, desert look is not what you are looking for, Namibia still has a lot to offer. Caprivi Wetlands, one of Namibia’s best kept secrets, is an area steeped in wildlife (hippos, crocodiles, buffalo, elephants) and tradition. And the Fish River Canyon, located in the south of Namibia, is the second largest canyon in the world - an excellent Western-esque location.
The colours and scenery throughout Namibia, but especially in locations like Sossusvlei, are some of the most contrasting and dramatic in the world, making for a filmmaker’s paradise.
Namib Films, a film production and location services company, have an excellent directory of film locations and have worked for some heavyweight clients including 20th Century Fox, CNN, BBC and ITV.
Until recently the rule of thumb with Namibia was that equipment needed to be brought in from abroad. Neighbouring South Africa has a brilliant range of standard and specialized equipment. Johannesburg and Cape Town can be easily reached by plane (approx. two hours) and there are a number of rental facilities there. However your Namibian service provider can now assist with sourcing equipment locally including Arri cameras and lights, Fisher dollies, 4x4 tracking vehicles, wind machines, etc.
For productions looking to bring in equipment, Namibia is an ATA carnet country. At present there are no post-production facilities.
All unit support equipment is easily obtained through local suppliers. On-site accommodation, i.e. luxury tented camps can be arranged even in the most remote areas of the country, as can catering and transport (including small aircraft, helicopter and ultra-light plane rental).
Most equipment companies working within Namibia offer unit support. Equipment List Rentals offers unit support, camera support and location management. Lemon Reel Film Services advertises itself as a truly Namibian company, providing professional film services, with experience gained working on every continent. Not only do they provide fixing services, they support all departments including lighting, grip, camera, props, wardrobe and SFX, VFX, unit gear and camping equipment. Other companies providing services are Desert Rain Films and Magic Touch Films, based in Swakopmund.
The need to bring in a lot of the key crew and most equipment, especially specialized equipment, adds to the costs of filming in Namibia, but can be easily obtained from neighbouring South Africa. Fuel and support crew rates are very competitive.