I love studios. Always have, ever since becoming involved in the film and television
industry in the early 1970s. There is something about this custom-made building
that is both awe-inspiring and fascinating. It’s a structure where dreams are made,
fantasies fulfilled and magic is enacted.
It is a marvel of technology with the ability to allow sweeping camera moves on a
leveled surface, whisper quiet air-conditioning, sound-proofing par excellence,
lighting grids and sufficient space and height to handle even the most daunting
shots. It is indeed a rare and fascinating environment.
My first experience of studios was in London in 1974. The famed Ealing Studios
were shooting a popular comedy Porridge and I went to see a recording while
studying Film and Television technology in London. Not the largest studio in England
of course, but well utilised for both television and film productions.
Later, on return to South Africa, I built a television “animatic’ studio for a local
advertising agency and moved on to other studio based facilities including Video
RSA, then based in the studio complex in Highlands North. Here, under the new
name of ZSE TV, a deal was concluded with M-Net to provide studio services for
South Africa’s first daily drama (or soapie as they are internationally known).
This deal was the result of a tour of several international studios shooting daily
dramas at that time.
The intention was to determine whether South Africa could produce an episode of
high quality television programming a day – five days a week – hitherto unheard of.
As part of the research team which included producer Franz Marx, and M-Net’s head
of local productions at the time, Leon Rautenbach, we visited studios in South and
North America and England.
South American telenovelas produced by companies such as Rede Globo and Rede
Manchete were legend even at this early stage, both companies produced at least
one episode a day of high drama television. Likewise at ABC studios in New York an
episode of the hugely popular soapie Loving was taped in a day. The drama series
The Bill in England differed in that it used a set of buildings in Artichoke Hill,
Wapping, East London for the shoot. The series Brookside also differed from other
soapies as it was filmed in real, brand-new houses, in a real cul-de-sac, situated off
Deysbrook Lane in the North West city of Liverpool.
Armed with this essential information, upon return to South Africa, a second studio
– stage 5 – was commissioned and built on the Highlands North site and both this
and studio 2 were equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, and Egoli first aired on
M-Net on 6 April 1992. Egoli’s final episode was broadcast on 31 March 2010, after
18 years of acting from South African and international actors. This was truly South
Africa’s first and arguably most loved soapie.
Of course other studios existed at this stage, and the national broadcaster SABC had
some of the finest studios available at the time, including a 600sqm wonder – but
its use was generally limited to internal dramas and the like. The studios have been
upgraded and modernised over the years (and indeed burnt down!) and there is talk
of upgrading to HD in the near future, but information from this quarter is sketchy.
The old SABC studios in Commissioner Street, which were also technology’s finest in
their day, are now run by Global Access that continues to offer studios and
facilities. According to Amelia Thiart, head of television broadcasting, they have
been busy and prospects on-going are good.
Likewise most of the studio based facilities are bullish. Panalux SA, who have studio
facilities in both Milnerton (Cape Island Studios) and Midrand (Gold Island Studios)
report a good year in 2014, and that 2015 has kicked off with both complexes
showing a healthy bookings sheet.
Telemedia in Rivonia are currently hosting Cliff Central, Mzansi Insider for SABC
and their ever popular Phumelela Horse Racing. Since their studios are running at
90% occupancy, an additional studio is in the planning stages.
SuperSport senior manager production services, Johan Chandler, explains that in
recent months the studio business was restructured after being transferred from M-
Net to SuperSport Outside Broadcast, and all studios are now integrated into one
department – Supersport Production Services. Some of the best – if not the best
technical and operational skills in the country – are employed by SuperSport and
are available to service this environment (facilities used to turn around and enhance
externally produced live sports feeds) Studio 1, 3, 4 and 6, studio 1 and 6 being
used for Supersport HD productions. Studio 2 has been moved to the sport
broadcaster’s sister company M-Net to house local productions.
Sasani Studios continued to thrive over the years, and now offers an amazing array
of studios with more to come. All of Sasani Studios on site are international
standard television/film studios. “We have seven operational studios fully occupied
at the moment,’ says Sasani’s Neil Van Heerden. Sasani are currently building two
new studios. These studios will be completed by the end of the first quarter 2015.
Sasani of course host Isidingo as well as Skeem Saam, Rhythm City, Scandal, 7de
Laan and the past six seasons and current seventh season of EKASI Stories and
Mzansi Love Stories. They have also provided studios for seven years of Big Brother
shows, the last one being Big Brother Angola in 2014.
Waterfront Film Studios are busy. They have several international productions using
their studios: Wallander for the BBC, Dominion – an NBC series and Eye in the Sky,
directed by our very own Gavin Hood. 2015 is also positive with a number of local
feature films planned for Cape Town.
I have had the good fortune of either visiting or working in all the South African
studios mentioned and some things have not changed. Studios are still magic and
have lost none of their mystery and intrigue. And the outlook is good. Both local
and international productions will ensure the viability of these structures for many
years to come.
– Andy Stead