How Allan Ungar's ‘London Calling' doubled Cape Town for the UK capital and LA

US sales outfit Highland Film Group is handling international rights and is showcasing the film at the European Film Market in Berlin

By Gabriella Geisinger 14 Feb 2024

How Allan Ungar's ‘London Calling' doubled Cape Town for the UK capital and LA
Allan Ungar; Cr: Julia SH

London Calling, the action comedy from Canadian director Allan Ungar, stars Josh Duhamel as a mediocre hitman who accidentally kills a relative of a London crime boss, played by Aidan Gillen, and flees to Los Angeles. While the latter is an iconic city in which to set a buddy road movie, it is a difficult city to film in.   

Producer Nathan Klingher of Short Porch Pictures, suggested shooting in South Africa which offers a 30% cash rebate for international films. (This rises to 40% for official South African co-productions, which London Calling was not due to the desire to shoot quickly.)  

After looking at pictures, Ungar was first convinced by the ease of doubling locations in and around Cape Town for California and then realised the city could also work for London. 

“In the business district of Cape Town, we were able to find a lot of street corners a lot of buildings, a lot of architecture that very much resembled what we needed from London,” says Ungar.  

London Calling shot for 26 days in South Africa in December 2023. Johannesburg-based Mannequin Films came on board as a local co-producer and helped to facilitate the permits required and navigate the guidelines for shooting in a metropolitan area. “We are a little bit different to the average production service company, as we also produce,” says Mannequin’s co-executive Delon Bakker. “Kyle Ambrose [Mannequin’s co-executive] runs all the physical production of the films that come into South Africa, and I handle setting them up and getting them into South Africa.”   

Cr: Julia SH

The Mannequin team worked with Ungar find backdrops against which to recreate specific California iconography such as the Pacific Coast Highway. The director says he had initial doubts how to work with the South African version. “The freeways [in California] are so wide and so specific,” he explains. But the team found a solution in a closed- off freeway often used for film and television production, framed by a mountain range that mimicked Burbank. 

"We started bringing in the decals and the signage and started turning it into the 405,” Ungar says, explaining they had to  cheat the lanes to make the highway appear wider than it was. “It was certainly a tough one,” he admits. 

Despite similarities in architecture to Los Angeles in Cape Towns’ suburbs of Constantia, Durbanville, Melkbosstrand, and Simonstown featured South Africa-specific items such as electric fences. But the team was able to secure spots that suited the cinematography. “I feel like I'm starting to have a track record as the guy who has to cheat things in the most absurd way,” Ungar says. His previous film Bandit, which also stared Duhamel, “was a film set in 1980s Canada that we shot entirely in Georgia. And now here we are again.”  

The production ventured outside Cape Town city limits for the desert to double California’s arid landscape, which Ungar says was “super easy” to do. He credits South African crews with being able to keep a productive pace that helped facilitate the shoot.  

Cr: Julia SH

"The interesting thing [in South Africa] is about continuous versus straight days, which was something I had to learn,” he explains. “They do a lot of 10-hour days, which is based on the European way of things. My director of photography Alexander Chinnici and I were so incredibly impressed by the work ethic and the pace.” 

One thing the crew had experience in managing was the weather, a significant factor when filming in South Africa. “There’s this joke that everybody kept reminding me of, which is ‘Cape Town is four seasons in a day,’” says Ungar. “I was terrified because our first day demanded this perfect blue sky clear sunny Malibu Beach vibe. We were so lucky. The weather was pretty much flawless throughout the entire shoot.  

“The one thing that became very apparent to us is the wind in Cape Town in November to February is so turbulent,” Ungar says.   

During a two- night desert shoot, the wind got “really intense. To the point where we were nervous that we’d have to pull down our Condors,” the lighting rigs that simulate moonlight. “If those go down you can’t shoot, you have no light. But again, we were very lucky; it’s kind of like miracle after miracle, the wind cooperated and we didn’t have to make any shifts.”  

Ungar would return to South Africa in a heartbeat. “You have so many landscapes, it’s so eclectic. I initially thought a lot about mountains and desert and sand. But if you go up to certain parts of South Africa, you're going to get a very different aesthetic. That's the thing that I love about our business, it takes us to parts of the world that we want to go but normally wouldn't be able to access. I would love to go back and make another movie in Cape Town.”  

US sales outfit Highland Film Group is handling international rights to London Calling and is showcasing the film at the European Film Market in Berlin this month.  

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