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Filming in South Africa - An Insider's View

The UK-produced drama from Company Pictures, Wild at Heart, enjoyed seven series on prime time television, including a two hour special finale. It was filmed at Glen Afric Country Lodge, Broederstroom, South Africa, where the Leopard’s Den set was built especially for the series.

We sat down with producer Nick Goding, who shared his inside knowledge on some of the pros and cons of shooting the beautiful country, and gave us the lowdown on certain specifics to look out for.

Dealing with the authorities

Wild at Heart is well respected by the local and state government departments that the team dealt with, helped by the fact that the tourist office was thrilled to report visitor numbers to South Africa went up as a result of the show.

The Department of Trade and Industry was very happy to extend the rebate scheme, and also to review it each year as costs rose, partly due to the poor exchange rate. Over the seven series of Wild at Heart, the local spend, on things like supply companies, labour and transport, was over R200,000,000 (£20,000,000).

The working day

Most of the shoot was based on a five-day week, with full weekends available to recover. The working day generally started at 7am, so that the crew could take advantage of the low sunlight during daybreaks. The team still stuck to the standard UK filming day, so wrapped after eleven hours, with an hour’s break for lunch.

However, this could be hard on the local crew who had had to make an hour’s journey to the farm in the dark; some of them took longer if they were the first pick-up of the mini-bus trip. Those crew who had the chance to take rest periods during the filming day may have left home at 4am, not getting back until 9pm. 

As a British insured programme, the team had to observe all the same health and safety regulations as in the UK. The crew was slightly larger, with greens, swing gangs, larger grip numbers and a big unit department. The rough terrain and sheer distances they had to cover, even within the farm, meant huge numbers of vehicles were needed just to get the equipment around. This was even before the animals and people had been considered. 

The language

Most of the crew spoke very good English, although the differing accents could be more problematic. A lot of the black Africans could speak five languages: English, Afrikaans and three tribal languages, so communication was good, with language rarely a problem.

The animals

There are differences between countries in the regulations surrounding the use of animals in film production, but Wild at Heart had to adhere to the laws of both South Africa and the UK. The Animal Anti-Cruelty League was on set for the days when animals were used, but as the series progressed, they relaxed. This allowed the production team’s professional animal wranglers to be the authority in charge of animal welfare. The wranglers were the animal owners at the farm where the show was filmed, but the company also used animals from other parks, which came with their owners.

At the end of filming, the crew were not allowed to transmit the show without a certificate from the Animal Anti-Cruelty office, a stipulation which they duly achieved. No doubt this was helped by the fact that any animal which appeared on screen to be wounded or sleeping was only drugged for an operation it was due to have anyway. The period of sedation was used for whatever procedure a vet was carrying out, giving the crew the chance to grab some footage with the actor next to the animal, under the strict supervision of a vet.

Working with dangerous animals nearly every day meant protective fencing was built in vast areas, to make it look as if they were running free, while protecting the crew from being eaten…

The KFTV team would like to thank Nick Goding for taking the time to talk to us and sharing his informative expertise.

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