The joys and challenges of running a South African production house

South Africa is home to a vibrant production industry, with work ranging from commercials to television series to films being shot year round. What are the advantages of being a production house that operates in South Africa, and what are the challenges? From world class locations to fierce local competition, those in the know share their thoughts. By Adam Wakefield

The advantages of Africa in a globalised world

South Africa is known to be a diverse country, home to many different cultural groups, and according to Colin Howard, executive producer and managing director at Egg & Arcade, this is advantageous when they seek to tap the local talent pool. Beyond that, Africa’s growing importance to brands sees South Africa as a natural jump-off point for those looking for a freshness only Africa can provide.

“There’s a lot of excitement about Africa at the moment, which we’re definitely benefiting from. Original Is Never Finished, Terence Neale’s new global campaign for Adidas Originals and Johannes Leonardo, is a good example,” Howard says. “It’s not specifically styled as African, but shooting here helped make it feel fresh. People are keen to be here even apart from the cost, so the exchange rate making it so affordable does give us an extra edge and the ability to produce exciting and inspirational work.”

The Rand’s ups and downs may be the bane of many a businessman, but echoing Howard’s point, Megan Dean, head of research and marketing at Velocity Films, says in addition to the favourable exchange rate, South Africa is blessed with world class locations to shoot at.

South Africa is also equipped with a small yet committed and highly specialised film community, which allows local talent to compete and grow at an international level.

“Opportunities are attributable to our geographic location and economic health – believe it or not – and realised through work and the experience gained,” Dean says.

“Furthermore, with the focus internationally on the emerging markets, uniquely African stories are finally being told. South Africa and the broader African market is an exciting area as we are able to contribute to voices that are being heard for the first time.”

Beccy Kellond, marketing manager at Moonlighting Commercials, notes that many other territories around the world have entered the competitive production landscape over the years, but South Africa continues to be a top production destination.

“We’re in the southern hemisphere, so we have the opposite seasons and climate to most of Europe and North America. Clients come to shoot their spring and summer campaigns here in their winter and our spring and summer,” Kellond says.

Mirroring Dean’s point, Kellond says the huge range of locations available in South Africa, all within a two-hour radius of a major city, that can replicate any location around the world, are a big plus for local production houses.

With advantages, there are always disadvantages

Even though South Africa’s production industry has many advantages, inevitably there are challenges that need to be overcome. One such challenge, in Howard’s view, is the debilitating effect of red tape, even though strides are being made to address the problem with local authorities.

“We’re still struggling with the S11.2 work permit requirements when agencies want to shoot their work in SA. To their credit, Home Affairs has been listening to the film industry and the situation improved dramatically when they instituted the visa exemption for oversight personnel in film,” Howard says.

“But foreign talent and crew all still need work visas, which is chasing away some lucrative foreign commercials that are often finalised on a couple of days’ notice, or that celebrity talent or directors are not available to apply in person at the embassy.”

Howard believes there would be even more work reaching South Africa’s shores if foreign crews and casts working on foreign commercials – and not being paid in South Africa – could apply without going to the embassy in person and leaving their passport at the embassy.

Dean points to the limited amount of work that is winnable locally as one particular challenge. Production houses have to be on top of their game to compete, and have years of experience on their books.

“Importantly, the nature of film production is in constant flux as a result of the rapid advancements in technology, and this is affecting consumption patterns consequently,” Dean says.

“It is critical to think ahead, evolve with the industry, and take the needs of our clients and the behaviour of their audience in to account.”

Necessity is the mother of invention … and creativity

Dean, Kellond and Howard agree that among all the industry has to offer, there is a tremendous amount of creativity to be tapped locally.

“There is a wealth of untapped creativity in Africa that is only starting to gain exposure. It’s unlike anything else in the world, and people are responding to it, both locally and internationally,” Howard says.

Kellond notes that many international visitors have shot in South Africa, and know that the infrastructure is world class.

Dean points out that while developing economies have plenty of challenges, it is these exact same challenges that inspire new ways of thinking and that can serve as motivation for those involved in the industry.

“The opportunities here far outweigh the threats,” she says.

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