Commercials industry weathers recession


The South African commercial production industry has remained a competitive and
popular destination for international productions, despite the global recession. Screen
Africa spoke to the chairperson of the Commercial Producers Association (CPA), Peter
Carr, as well as representatives from regional film bodies and production service
companies to get an idea of the current state of the industry.

South Africa has over time earned a reputation as a competitive and creative commercial
production destination. CPA chairperson Peter Carr says on the whole the past season
saw less international work coming into South Africa, but he believes that the country
has been doing a lot better than most foreign countries during the recession.

“The strength of the rand has certainly made it harder to attract price sensitive clients
and provide the same value as in previous years, but the quality of our production has
kept clients returning to South Africa even though they were still hard pressed on the
tail-end of the global recession,’ says Carr.

He explains that they had to act mid-season to ensure that the industry cut costs to
remain attractive as a commercials destination. They engaged with the entire industry
from suppliers, to producers, crew and talent associations and post- production facilities
to ask those involved to keep their prices competitive.

“Most crew agreed to work 12-hour days for a period to remain competitive on lower
budgets. Our efforts paid off as suppliers became very negotiable. We researched other
foreign markets that were cutting costs during the recession to make sure we remained

Despite competition from Malaysia, South American countries including Chile and
Argentina, and European countries like the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and
Bulgaria, Carr believes that price, locations and solid production support continue to
draw international productions to South African shores, as does the country’s diverse
talent pool.

“Our directors play a vital role in attracting business with the quality of their work. The
level of creativity in our scripts has vastly improved lately, so this will bring us more
attention. We need to start winning a few awards around the globe to gain more
momentum and bring in work directly for our director base,’ says Carr.

According to Carr most business continues to come from the UK, although he expects
the CPA survey in August to show an increase in visits from Germany, France, Italy and
the Eastern markets, with India as a particular growth market.

Regional business

The CEO of the Cape Film Commission (CFC), Denis Lillie, says he got the impression
that the Cape Town region was “pretty busy’ during the past season, but not as busy
as previous years. He believes this is not only due to the recession but also a change in
the way advertisers are addressing the public around the world, making use of viral
marketing and social media and reducing budgets for traditional advertising.

However, he says commercials continue to be filmed in Cape Town within the restrictions
of shrinking advertising budgets, with locations such as Long Street, the Green Point
Stadium and Camps Bay remaining popular, as well as the use of Cape Town as an
“invisible backdrop’.

Gauteng Film Commission (GFC) marketing manager Puisano Phatoli says that 20% of
film permits facilitated by the GFC are for commercials. “It is therefore fair to say that
commercials represent the life blood of the film and TV industry in Gauteng,’ says

She notes that the recession and strong rand contributed to a reduced number of
productions coming in to Gauteng. “However the GFC is optimistic that the 2010 FIFA
World Cup played a positive role in increasing awareness of South Africa as a major
production centre. This together with our strong skills base, technical know-how, world
class infrastructure and diverse locations, will yield good results in the future. Good
client relations and easy access to locations also contribute to most clients coming back
to film in Gauteng,’ says Phatoli.

Toni Monty, CEO of the Durban Film Office (DFO), says that the city is well known and
often used for its art deco architecture and the stretch of easily accessible golden
beaches and mangroves. “In previous years the commercials industry has been very
active in the region, however this year we have noticed a slight decline for a number of
reasons, including the global recession,’ she explains.

The Northern KwaZulu-Natal (NKZN) Film Office project manager Leonie Berning says
the information they’ve gathered indicates that there is quite a lot of commercial activity
in the area, but no definite figures are available. “Awareness is the key to success and I
am convinced that once the film industry is aware of the NKZN Film Office, the work will
be directed via the office and statistics will be tracked better,’ says Berning.
She says more production companies are considering the area because of the vastness,
natural beauty, forests, long stretches of beach, accessibility, film support and good

Production service companies

Ken McKenzie, owner of Cape Town based production service company McKenzie
Rudolph, says they were down on previous seasons with regard to turnover and
profitability, but he believes that the recession forced the South African industry to
become more competitive. “The awareness of the recession by all parties is helping the
industry to find creative ways to maintain a work flow. In a funny way the tough times
are bringing healthy solutions,’ says McKenzie.

Cape Town based company Moonlighting Film Production Services reports a good
season. Marketing manager Beccy Kellond says: “It started off quite slowly with just a
few jobs in the run up to Christmas, and then January through to March was
“I think at the end of the day South Africa still offers huge production value with world
renowned expertise alongside all the natural benefits of location, climate and so on. For
example, we’ve just shot a production entirely in studio – it was shot here because of
our competitive prices and depth of talent,’ says Kellond.

Meike Laesch-Schoeman, executive producer at Navigator Films, says they had a very
busy summer with 92 shoot days and over 30 projects. “We had a large amount of very
interesting shoots to facilitate, one of which was our first 3D production,’ says Laesch-

Their work has also continued into the fall / winter season. “This project originates in
the US and features a lot of local talent, so the saving in royalties seems to pay off the
chance of rain,’ says Laesch-Schoeman.

Domestic market

According to the CPA’s Carr, who is also executive producer at Velocity Films, the
industry has been fortunate to capitalise on the strong local market despite the drop in
international work.

“The domestic market has been surprisingly active and most budgets are reasonable
relative to foreign budgets. Most local TV agencies are very busy right now and agency
producers predict a busy year ahead.’

He says the African emerging markets are also providing a boost, as local agencies are
picking up business from around Africa and producing it locally. “African television
markets are growing and demanding better quality production from South African film
directors and companies,’ says Carr.

They set up Velocity Afrika in 2010. “The business has exceeded our expectations and
gotten off the ground a lot quicker than we anticipated,’ says Carr.

Cannes Lions

Carr explains that Velocity Films and sister company, Bouffant, will be attending the
Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France in full force this year, although
it won’t be a sponsor again.

“Keith Rose (creative director at Velocity) is president of the film craft judging panel, so
it will be great to have Keith there with us to highlight Velocity’s name,’ says Carr.
Moonlighting will also attend the Cannes Lions. Kellond says they are one of a group of
companies that have started a joint initiative to have “a great South African party’ at

“We had such an amazing presence as South Africa Exposed in Cannes from 2005 to
2009, and while we don’t have the funding this year to recreate that, we are determined
to make South Africa a presence there again,’ says Kellond.


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