Versatile locations, stellar crews boost business

The list of international talent hitting South Africa for shoots is impressive: Clint Eastwood directing Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon in “Invictus”; Peter Jackson producing Sony’s “District 9”; HBO’s “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency”; Fox’s “24: Redemption.”

And the reviews are positive.

Jon Cassar, “24’s” executive producer and Emmy Award-winning director, says “Shooting ‘24: Redemption’ in South Africa was the highlight of my six years on the show. It was nothing short of exhilarating.”

As Vlokkie Gordon of Film Afrika says: “We are still one of the few countries with our expertise that can make a $5 million feature look like a $20 million film. With the present exchange rate, we would like to believe we’re still 20% more cost-effective than our competitors.”

The cost saving was even larger six months ago. “Earlier this year the rand was trading at around $1 to R10,” says Chris Roland of ZenHQ Films. “This provided excellent value for incoming hard currencies. Today the dollar is hovering around R8, and this, coupled with production rates below international levels, is still an attractive enough rate to keep South Africa very competitive internationally.”

Producers praise the world-class crew base, cast, versatile locations and the fact that everyone speaks English.

South Africa offers experienced crew bases in both Cape Town and Johannesburg, while Durban is starting to develop its own. All three cities have dedicated film commissions to facilitate shooting in their provinces, and they act as much-needed bridges between the industry and the public, the government and producers.

Local producers single out the Gauteng Film Commission (GFC) for praise. “They were extremely supportive and helpful on ‘District 9.’ With the GFC and the National Film and Video Foundation, we really felt like we had friends in government,” says Michael Murphey of Kalahari Pictures, which co-produced “District 9.”

South Africa offers a world in one country. “We had to find one base where we could re-create all the countries of the world, where we could find multiple terrains with a different geographical and topographical look. It also had to be a part of the world where people with multiple ethnicities could work as background artists and extras. A lot of the stories in the scripts took place in the Third World, so filming in Africa made perfect sense. We chose South Africa, as it has a very substantial First World element and has a very advanced television and film production industry,” says Gareth Neame, executive producer of the NBC series “The Philanthropist.”

With Cape Town Film Studios scheduled to open a Hollywood-style studio on the tip of Africa in the first quarter of 2010, and all eyes turning to the country for the FIFA Soccer World Cup in June, the size of the projects coming to South Africa is only going to increase. After all, if Clint can shoot there, so can you.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more