The highly popular British and American action military television series Strike Back is
back for its fourth season. In October 2012, HBO’s Cinemax and Sky1 called up the
troops again to shoot the first four episodes of the new season in South Africa, which
doubles as Lebanon and Colombia. Martie Bester found herself at an air field in Beirut,
just a few kilometres outside Johannesburg.
“South Africa doubling as Colombia and Lebanon shows the versatility of the country as
we have created Colombian rain forests and rivers in KwaZulu-Natal near Port Edward,’
said co-producer Selwyn Roberts who has high-action movies such as King Arthur, Pearl
Harbor, Plunkett & Macleane, X-Men and X-Men: 2 to his credit.
Co-producer Bill Shepherd approached Roberts about the possibility of working in South
Africa on Strike Back: Shadow Warfare. “I love the country and enjoy spending time
here plus South Africa has huge filmmaking potential. I have other ideas for the country
about programmes that can be made here. It’s a filmmaking destination and because
the tax rebate works, the deal is very well-run and clever and benefits the
In the first two episodes of Strike Back: Shadow Warfare, the many water scenes and a
big boat chase were shot in KwaZulu-Natal. “These episodes are of feature film
standard. They have very big production values. We try to go for the feature film look in
the series,’ continued Roberts.
He added: “We then shot Bogota, the capital of Colombia, in the middle of
Johannesburg and also turned parts of Johannesburg and Limpopo into Lebanon. At the
moment, we’re actually sitting at an air field in Beirut run by an international arms and
drug dealer called Leatherby played by Dougray Scott.’
Johannesburg lends itself to filmmaking, Roberts commented. “The city has a lot of
different angles and views. It’s an ideal place to convert into many other locations. You
could actually shoot a lot of New York in Johannesburg for instance. It also looks a lot
like downtown Dallas or Chicago, so it is a very versatile city.’
Roberts especially praised South African film crews for their excellence, mentioning that
80% of the crew on Strike Back: Shadow Warfare was local. “South African film crews
are extremely good. Their go-can-do attitude is far greater than that of a lot of
“Also, they have exceptional expertise and a lot of experience. Local crews do a good
job and know what they are doing. They are excellent film technicians and filmmakers.’
Roughly 285 crew members worked on set in South Africa, including drivers as well as
first and second units.
Strike Back: Shadow Warfare was shot on a huge budget divided between Britain and
America. “You could never do anything of this scale on just British finance alone, you
have to have an American partner, especially for distribution purposes,’ remarked
Philip Winchester (Crusoe, Flyboys, Fringe, Thunderbirds) reprises his role as Sergeant
Michael Stonebridge. The actors receive military training as they do most of their own
stunts. “You get banged up. I’m wearing knee pads and braces for the most part, but
it’s fun and par for the course. We do a lot of physical training in combat and knife
training as well as a lot of gym work,’ said Winchester.
He continued: “I love the fact that we’ve come back to South Africa as we’ve all worked
together for three years and trust each other. We really get to be boys and have a ball
travelling the world, shooting guns, driving fast cars and jumping out of helicopters.
“Johannesburg is a tough city but I enjoyed seeing that there is a community of people
doing urban regeneration and removing the decay that has occurred. That is
Michael J. Basset and Julian Holmes directed the episodes in South Africa. “They are two
very different directors with very diverse attitudes. Michael is more gung ho while Julian
is more cautions but both tell fascinating stories. The series carries a strong political
message and combined with all the action it is extremely popular,’ concluded Roberts.
The remaining six episodes were shot in Budapest and the entire series was shot on
ARRI Alexa cameras.
Strike Back: Shadow Warfare also stars Sullivan Stapleton as ex-Delta Force operative
Damian Scott; Rhona Mitra as Major Rachel Dalton, the head of Section 20; Michelle
Lukes as Sergeant Julia Richmond and Liam Garrigan as Sergeant Liam Baxter, as well
as Dougray Scott, Robson Green and Milauna Jackson.
The series screens on Fridays at 21h30 on South African pay-TV channel M-Net.