Growing sophistication, subsidies attract shoots

Africa is now on Hollywood’s map.

The box office and award-garnering success of African-themed pics, from Fernando Meirelles’ “The Constant Gardner” to Kevin Macdonald’s “The Last King of Scotland” to Ed Zwick’s “Blood Diamond,” have helped ignite the interest of non-African filmmakers in East, Southwest and South Africa.

Underexposed locales, augmented by government subsidies and co-production treaties, are part of the appeal.

Topping the list for courting international producers is South Africa, which has both an indigenous film and television industry as well as numerous highly experienced production service companies.

Its predominantly English-speaking workforce, favorable exchange rates, tax incentive program and well-established commercials business have firmed the country’s rep as the continent’s leader in attracting international film and TV productions.

In addition to African-themed pics, such as “Blood Diamond,” “Catch a Fire” and “Hotel Rwanda,” South Africa has served as backdrop for Robert Towne’s “Ask the Dust,” the Nicolas Cage starrer “Lord of War” and Roland Emmerich’s upcoming “10,000 B.C.” Currently lensing are Neil Marshall’s action thriller “Doomsday” (Rogue Pictures), set in a futuristic U.K., and “The Deal,” starring William H. Macy and Meg Ryan.

Government-backed subsidies mean qualifying international productions can earn rebates. Budget amounts recouped are based on the percentage spent in the country.

“Co-production agreements with Canada, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom and India have also made Cape Town and the Western Cape a very attractive option,” notes Laurence Mitchell, commissioner of the Cape Film Commission (CFC).

Per a recent economic study by the CFC, production is up 20% over 2005-06, when 600 commercials and 30 longform projects were shot in the region.

International interest increases with each major production.

“With two new studios currently being constructed in Cape Town, the region’s film industry will be able to offer even more,” adds Mitchell

According to Genevieve Hofmeyr, a producer with South African production service company Moonlighting Films, while major productions have upped the country’s global profile, other factors have contributed to the increase in production work.

“Providing production services on a feature film of the scale of ‘Blood Diamond,’ working with talent of the caliber of Ed Zwick and Leonardo DiCaprio, has proved what can be accomplished here,” Hofmeyr contends.

The production overcame considerable logistical challenges such as the management of a multinational crew, massive set construction and location restoration and cross-border transportation of equipment between South Africa and Mozambique.

The region’s location diversity is now a secondary consideration. Infrastructure, crew and talent availability, coupled with financing, combine to generate producer confidence in South Africa’s cost effectiveness.

“Blood Diamond’s” producer Paula Weinstein lauds the local film industry, advising, “The people were wonderful, and Mozambique gave us a generous welcome.”

Cape Town and beyond

MTV’s “The Inferno III’s” exec producer Justin Booth agrees. “The personnel were second to none,” Booth says of the project’s five-week Cape Town-area shoot. “The people were overqualified to do the work, and I was impressed with how far our money went.”

He recommends hiring a local production services company, such as Cape Town’s AFS Prods., as the best approach.

While South Africa’s credits expand, other African nations are getting into the biz. “The Constant Gardener,” “The Last King of Scotland” and Michael Caton-Jones’ “Beyond the Gates” have jumpstarted interest in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, respectively.

“‘The Constant Gardener” created a lot more awareness about Kenya in terms of it not being a wildlife film,” explains Cynthia Kahumbura, international marketer, Kenya Film Commission.

Local industry benefited, too, per Kahumbura, as tech information was shared and local filmmakers apparently were inspired to tell their own Africa-centric stories. “(Kenyan slum) Kibera was also highlighted in the film, which may have led to (the short) ‘Kibera Kid,’ which has won six international awards at various festivals,” Kahumbura notes.

Crew on “The Last King of Scotland” and “Beyond the Gates” also passed on skills.

Interconnected worlds

“We left people who could work on another film and had skills,” explains helmer Kevin Macdonald of his 40-person international crew who worked with 150 Ugandans.

“In Africa, you realize how interconnected the world is,” says Caton-Jones of “Beyond the Gates,” which shot in Kigali, Rwanda. “In the West, people are pretty jaded by media and overexposure to film, (but) there’s a welcoming fascination in Africa.”

He contends that despite difficulties, the physicality of being in Rwanda made all the difference to his film.

“There’s a verisimilitude that’s nowhere else,” says Caton-Jones, adding, “I would go back in a heartbeat.”

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