South Africa’s first ever back-lot set was built in Cape Town recently to accommodate the $20m international television drama, Labyrinth.
A four-part series based on Kate Mosse’s best-selling novel of the same name, Labyrinth is produced Scott Free Productions (the company formed by famed British filmmakers Ridley Scott and Tony Scott) and Munich-based Tandem Communications.
The South African co-production partner is Cape Town-based Film Afrika.
Labyrinth takes audiences on a compelling journey through the present day south of France (Cote d’Azur) and the dark, tortured landscape of the Crusades and Cathar massacre of medieval times.
The series, which is scheduled for worldwide release this year, was directed by Christopher Smith (Black Death, Triangle) and adapted by award-winning writer, Adrian Hodges (Primeval, Rome, The Last King).
It stars Tom Felton (Harry Potter franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes); Tony Curran (X-Men: First Class, The Adventures of Tintin); John Hurt (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows); Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The First Avenger, Gossip Girl); Jessica Brown-Findlay (Downtown Abbey, Misfits); Vanessa Kirby (The Hour, Great Expectations); and Johannesburg-born Janet Suzman (Nicholas and Alexandra, Midsomer Murders).
Scott Free creative producer Chris Hall explains how the project came about. “We optioned the rights to the novel and felt it should be a television series rather than a feature film. It is an episodic tale that takes place over the course of 800 years and intertwines the lives of two female protagonists. We decided that a four hour mini-series would do the most justice to the story.’
According to Hall the scale of the production was very ambitious. “The script has parallel storylines and required a big cast – it was almost like making two movies. A big advantage of shooting in South Africa is that we required a lot of extras and it is cheaper to employ them here than in France or the UK.’
Hall adds that the series is in “fantastic hands’ with the director, Christopher Smith as well as South African-born BAFTA-nominated composer Trevor Jones (Notting Hill, How to Steal 2 Million) and director of photography, Robert Humphreys (The Hunter, Triangle) and Emmy-nominated casting director, Charlotte Holdich (The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles).
This is the first time that Scott Free has worked with Tandem Communications. “They have a very impressive record and produced award winning shows like The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End,’ notes Hall. “Working with producer Moritz Polter was a fantastic experience as he has an exceptional way of doing things.’
Labyrinth was initially scheduled to be shot in France but it proved too expensive.
Hall explains: “We decided to shoot in Cape Town because it could work as the south of France. South Africa has a wonderful capacity to be a world in one country. We also shot at the Cape Town Film Studios (CTFS), which was fantastic. Our production design team built a back-lot set of the village of Carcassonne with the aim that it would last for up to 10 years so that other productions may utilise it.’
Polter explains that initially the producers also considered shooting in the Czech Republic and Romania but opted for South Africa instead.
“We have also worked with Film Afrika before and have a strong relationship with them. While we still remain very impressed with South African crew, a cost analysis shows that local rates are becoming expensive,’ he says.
Although it is a big budget production, Polter stresses that it was necessary to keep things tight and well structured. “We move from medieval times to the modern world and this means double the amount of costumes, sets and locations.’
Film Afrika producer Vlokkie Gordon confirms that they have a strong working relationship with Scott Free and Tandem Communications. “We have worked with both companies in the past. When they asked us if they could create 12th century France, we immediately said yes. The challenge was to create the time periods and plan the project so as to deliver the high quality expected while staying within budget.
“A big advantage for foreign producers who want to shoot in South Africa is that there is no longer a cap on the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) rebate. This makes us much more competitive as a film destination and if you combine that with the weaker rand, the quality of our crews, the CTFS and versatile locations, we are in a very strong position and are the new kid on the block, so to speak.’
Some of the locations Film Afrika had to recreate for Labyrinth include the Vatican City, an archaeological dig on the West Bank and an American civil war site.