The South African film industry is quite literally booming. Last year, over 60 films were shot in the country, up from only five in 2005 and, according to the National Film and Video Foundation, the industry added R3.5bn to the national purse.
The numbers are impressive in themselves: over 25,000 full-time equivalent jobs were created, some 2,500 direct service providers were roped in, and the industry earned an economic multiplier of 2/89.
Cape Town is responsible for the lion’s share of both local and international film production in the country. Up to as much as 90%, according to Martin Cuff, an economic development specialist who consults across the globe in the film and media industry.
The Central City in particular is benefitting from this. According to the Cape Film Commission, there has been a 30% rise in enquires for films. TV series and documentaries wishing to shoot in and around the Cape Town CBD.
According to Cuff, there are two reasons for Cape Town’s popularity: “Number one: there are 150 globally-competitive production companies in Cape Town who promote the city and are vested in its success. And two, there is city buy-in.”
Cape Town and the Western Cape government directly support the industry, boasting a dedicated Film Permit office, which takes away the strain of running around to various departments for permits and approvals.
“It’s a one-stop shop,” says Cuff, adding that Cape Town’s unique geography adds to the city’s appeal: seaside and harbour scenes, snow-capped mountains and down-town urban infrastructure make it the perfect generic city.
Speaking specifically to the appeal of the Central City, Rob Kane, chairperson of the Central City Improvement District (CCID,) says: “There are many reasons why the film and advertising industry choose the Cape Town CBD. For one, the diverse architectural styles found in the CBD enable this area to be ‘cast’ as any number of other cities in the world. You could be somewhere in a large USA metropolis or a historic part of Europe. Plus of course there is the first-world film and television infrastructure that is available in the Mother City and the fact that, for the international market, the Central City is an economically viable option. Not to mention that when the northern hemisphere is covered in snow, the sun is shining here. These elements make up a winning combination, resulting in the Central City being a major draw card as a film destination.”
The Central City is also able to provide and service the entire film production value chain: hotels, production facilities, catering, equipment hire, a multicultural cast of extras, as well as being safe, clean and easy to navigate.
Casting director, Benedicte Roumega of BR Casting has been operating in the city for 20 years. Her studio sits in what is known as the “East City” side of the Central City in Roeland Street, because it offers quick access to and from the highway, a 10-minute walk from the train station and ample parking for potential clients.
“If I have to audition 150 people, they all need parking,” she says. “I chose this location because there is a huge parking lot directly opposite our building.
Roumega estimates that at least 80% to 90% of production houses in Cape Town are based in and around the Central City. This, she says, is due to the fact that costume hire and hotels are nearby.
“You don’t have to be driving your clients from the hotel to the office for hours,” she says. “There is never a lot of time when you’re shooting.”
This sentiment is echoed by Peter Sherlock, producer and company director at Farm Film Productions, situated on Loop Street: “Being based in the central hub of Cape Town has its advantages. Not only do we save time travelling, especially in an industry that is so deadline driven, we are also always close to clients, who generally stay at hotels in the Central City.”
A major feather in the city’s cap is not only that it attracts international investment, but that it is also seen by South African producers from other parts of the country as a viable destination. Graham Montanari, head art director at Verve Direct, an advertising agency based in Durban, travels to Cape Town’s CBD purely because of its infrastructure.
“There are so many producers and prop warehouses compared to the rest of the country, and as a result the city is equipped to deal with shoots of any size, making it a very feasible option,” he says.
South Africa’s eight co-production treaties (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Germany, France and Italy) and the DTI’s 35% rebate on local spend, make filming in South Africa – and indeed in the Central City – an affordable option.
“Cape Town has forged a strong reputation as a capable hub for film production and has raised its recognition on the global market,” says Cuff. “The industry has achieved a remarkable transformation in perceptions from being a ‘cheap’ destination to being a ‘quality’ destination for productions.”