Locations squeeze on shoots

City becoming 'unreasonably expensive' for film crews

JOHANNESBURG — Cape Town, the location for the majority of international production activity in South Africa, could lose its star status as a result of greedy property owners in the city, many of whom are starting to see foreign filmmakers as the way to make a fast buck.

A concerned Martin Cuff, chief operating officer of the Cape Film Commission, said May 10 that the city was facing a potential crisis because property owners are charging filmmakers exorbitant fees for the use of their buildings.

Cuff cited the example of a woman who recently demanded nearly $14,000 a day for the use of a building in Muizenberg during a foreign feature shoot.

“Our city is becoming unreasonably expensive,” he says. “This is unsustainable and, coupled with the stronger rand, could cause filmmakers to opt for cheaper destinations, which will have far-reaching consequences for the local industry.”

The increasing strength of the rand has not helped South Africa in its battle for the international production dollar, an industry that brings more than $100 million a year in foreign-exchange earnings for the country. The rand has strengthened against the dollar from 11 rand to the greenback in mid-2002 to around 7.30 at present, sharply eroding the cost-competitive advantage of the country as a location.

Cuff said South Africa was up against extremely cheap countries such as Argentina, Mexico and Chile. Despite still being an estimated 20% cheaper than Australia and 30%-40% less than Europe and the U.S., South Africa now is twice as expensive as Argentina.

Philip Key, chief executive of Cape Town-based Moonlighting Films and production facilitator for major international films such as “Ali,” agreed that South Africa should be concerned about Argentina, which is favored by Europeans because it’s easily accessible to them.

However, Key is still hopeful. “The South African industry has a lot more to offer than a cheap currency. Our people are highly skilled and we have the infrastructure and locations. However, if producers have to pay twice as much as they would in Argentina, things could change.”

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