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Africa emerges as TV production locale

19 Emmy noms for programs shot in the region

CAPE TOWN — Southern Africa is emerging as a destination for runaway TV production, as the 19 Primetime Emmy nominations for shows shot in the region prove.

HBO’s “Generation Kill” miniseries about U.S. troops in Baghdad filmed in South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique via Out of Africa Entertainment; Fox’s “24: Redemption” shot in South Africa with Moonlighting; while “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency,” the BBC adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith’s bestselling novels, filmed in Botswana with Film Afrika.

Approximately 90% of the cast and crew on all three productions were South African — indeed, four Emmy noms are for local crews.

Cape Town-based Moonlighting’s Genevieve Hofmeyr believes that the depth of non-unionised, English-speaking talent in southern Africa is a big draw. “Television series have found that they can hire feature-quality crew, as the Emmy nominations show,” she says.

For example, Emelia Weavind, the Emmy-nominated set dresser on “Generation Kill,” is better known as an art director on features. Her recent credits include Neill Blomkamp’s feature debut, “District 9.”

Anthony Minghella, who directed the pilot of “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” shortly before his death last year, was full of praise for his South African crew.

“They’re absolutely fantastic,” Minghella said. “I’ve found them to be so sturdy, and so caring, and so funny. Nothing’s a problem; everything just works.”

Johannesburg-based Out of Africa’s Lance Samuels says price is another selling point. Southern Africa secured “Generation Kill” and “The Devil’s Whore” — Company Pictures’ four-part English Civil War-set drama for Blighty’s Channel 4 — on the basis of value-for-money.

“We were way more cost-effective than anywhere else for ‘Generation Kill’ and (had) a similar price to Romania on ‘The Devil’s Whore,’ but we could offer a government rebate, which Romania doesn’t have,” Samuels says.

The Dept. of Trade and Industry’s incentive schemes offer a rebate of 15% to qualifying overseas projects, and 25% to qualifying South African productions and co-productions, both capped at R10 million ($1.25 million).

Vlokkie Gordon, of Cape Town-based Film Afrika, believes the diverse locations are another major attraction.

For “Generation Kill,” southern Africa doubled as Iraq; in Sony’s “Natalee Holloway,” about the teenager who vanished in Aruba, it stood in for the Caribbean; in “The Devil’s Whore” it assumed the look of the English countryside.

When NBC’s “The Philanthropist” had to find a base “that could re-create all the countries of the world,” they chose South Africa, Hofmeyr says.

British commercial broadcaster ITV’s “Wild at Heart,” about a veterinarian and his family who start a game park in South Africa, is prepping its fifth season. Samuels says “Wild at Heart” is now a highly rated TV series, adding, “Last season, we averaged 8.5 million viewers a night.”

Other high-profile series lured to South Africa include AMC’s upcoming “The Prisoner,” starring Ian McKellen and Jim Caviezel in a reinterpretation of the cult British 1960s series, as well as “Silent Witness,” “Crusoe,” “Top Gear,” “The Triangle” and “Fear Factor: India.”

Indeed, television is quickly becoming the dominant service sector in South Africa.

For example, Moonlighting, founded in 1989 and primarily seen as a commercials, stills and features company, has serviced roughly 200 TV shoot days over the last 14 months, nearly triple the number of feature film days.

More work is already being confirmed: Out of Africa is prepping for “Strike Back,” based on Chris Ryan’s books about his time as a soldier, while Moonlighting is in preproduction on “Atlantis,” Tony Mitchell’s docudrama for the BBC, which is being shot entirely on a green-screen stage in Cape Town.

Film Afrika is going into production on two German telepics: “Bush Station” for Sat.1, which will shoot in the North West Province, and “Through Africa in a Bridal Dress” with RTL, to be shot in KwaZulu Natal. It is also working on “The History of America” for the History Channel.

And with Cape Town Film Studios scheduled to open a Hollywood-style studio on the tip of Africa early next year, the volume of TV projects coming to South Africa is only going to increase.

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