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15 July 2011

American Indies Look to SA for their Production Needs





by Rebecca Pahle

Production companies based outside the entertainment capitals of L.A. and N.Y.C. have grown increasingly popular over the last several years as financial incentive programs in states like Louisiana and New Mexico have drawn low-budget productions away from the bright lights of Sunset Boulevard and Broadway. But there’s another company giving independent movies a reason to go even further afield. Since 1995, Film Afrika has brought over 50 film and TV productions to South Africa and its neighboring countries, where moviemakers can take advantage of Film Afrika’s full range of product services as well as the area’s skilled crew base and diversity of locations.

Films including Lost Boys: The Thirst and The Lost Future, starring Sean Bean, have benefited from South Africa’s generous incentives package. Film Afrika’s head of production, Vlokkie Gordon, spoke with MM about the financial benefits of shooting in South Africa and how the recent upswing in international productions has impacted the country’s own local film industry.
Rebecca Pahle (MM): How would you describe the type of productions Film Afrika works with the most in terms of budget and size of production? What range of services do you provide to the films you work with?

Vlokkie Gordon(VG): There is no specific type of production that Film Afrika works on. We work on a very wide range of projects, all with different budgets and creative requirements.
We also service, produce and co-produce projects. To give you an example, in the past 18 months we’ve worked on three docudramas for the History Channel, an eight-part TV drama series for BBC 1, a French TV movie, an Italian feature film and a feature film for 20th Century Fox! Shot in and around Cape Town, these films ranged in time period from 1600 to 2050.
We provide the same level of service to each project. Our service level is not attached to the budget level but rather to our dedication to the project and our clients. We offer a full range of services, from development (budgeting, scheduling and location presentations) to production (attaching the crew, supervising the production logistics and supervising legal issues) to post-production accounting (performing final audits and closing the SPV). We also offer a full service in applying for the rebate, managing the rebate process and finally repatriating the funds.



MM: What financial incentives exist that make shooting in South Africa a smart choice for independent productions working with a low budget?

VG: South Africa (SA) has built up a reputation for its efficient and reliable rebate. It is the least complicated of all rebates available; you get a percentage back on all funds spent on goods and labor from SA, including the hiring of South African citizens or the use of South Africa-owned companies (there are specifics about this, but we will advise you on the company’s BBBEE [Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment] status).
There are two incentives available, and each qualifies for a different percentage rebate. The Service Rebate qualifies for 15% back on money spent in SA. The co-production and SA Film rebate qualifies for 35% back on the first $6 million South African rand spent (approximately $850,000 in U.S. currency), and anything over that qualifies for 25% rebate. The maximum payout is $20 million rand (approximately $2.85 million) on both rebates. In order to qualify for the Service Rebate the minimum spend is $1.75 million rand, but if the film is an official SA film or co-production, the minimum spend is only $360,000.

MM: What are some of the reasons you’ve heard from producers as to why they’ve brought their productions to South Africa?

There are various reasons, but a few are the incredible diversity of locations, the unbelievable production value and the fact a $5 million movie shot in SA can look like it cost $20 million. The crews speak English and work according to the British and American set rules. South African crews are very diligent and hardworking, and their experience level and the depth of crew always amazes international producers.
We have various equipment rental companies supported by the U.S., Germany and the U.K., all with very good support structures and trained technicians. There are no unions, though we do work to a strict code of conduct, with a gentleman’s agreement existing between the crew and SA producers.

MM: Have the international productions who have come to South Africa affected the country’s local film industry? Have you observed any changes in South African films over the last few years?
VG: 
The international productions coming into SA have had a big indirect impact on the local film industry. The international films serve as a very important arena for skills transfer and training. The income generated by equipment companies, post-production facilities and even the technicians allow local moviemakers to reinvest their time and talent at a huge discounted rate into the local industry. 
I do feel that the quality of local films and content has improved. Also, there’s more of a local distribution platform being established, but a lot of work still needs to be done in the development phase.

MM: Anything you’d like to add?
VG: Four state-of-the-art film studios were completed in Cape Town in 2010. The studios had hardly opened their doors when they started filming the 3D feature film Dredd, directed by Pete Travis. As that was completed, Chronicle, directed by Josh Trank for 20th Century Fox, moved in. We are very excited about the studios and believe it gives the SA industry an edge above other territories.

The original article may be found here.

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