“The industry generates billions of Rands in revenue, and it has created thousands of permanent jobs, as well as many part-time jobs. Of great importance, too, is the positive spill-over for many other sectors, such as the accommodation and food sectors, transport, vehicle and equipment hire, among others.” – Danny Bryer
“While the function was, of course, a celebration in honour of a very specific milestone in the history of the relationship between Cape Town Productions and the Protea Hotels by Marriott group, it was also a fascinating glimpse into the extent of the film industry’s contribution to the South African economy.”
On Thursday 22 June, the African Pride 15 on Orange Hotel played host to an event celebrating a significant milestone in the relationship between the establishment and Cape Town Productions: the lodging of 10 000 nights by the production company at the hotel.
Douglas Allen, the general manager, welcomed the crowd – which gathered in the hotel’s stylish Judge’s Lounge – and introduced Gavin and Denise Levy, the owners of Cape Town Productions. Gavin then gave a speech in which he shared the history of his working relationship with Allen, which has developed over the course of more than 20 successful years.
After opening its doors in 1988, Cape Town Productions was already a prominent figure in the city’s film industry, when Allen – under the direction of Danny Bryer and Arthur Gillis of the Protea Hotel Group (now Protea Hotels by Marriott) – approached Levy with the idea of setting up a hotel establishment customised for the needs of the film production business. As Levy explained, this model needed to include about “25 key requirements for the production industry, such as centralised check-in facilities, privatised ice-machines, tailor-made collection rooms, clothing rails and steamers” – a daunting list of specifications that was, nonetheless, implemented at Cape Town’s Protea Hotel Victoria Junction in the mid-1990s.
This unique approach to servicing the production industry – where the very construction of the hotel is geared around the industry’s specific needs – has yielded great success for both parties. After lodging 10 000 bed nights in a four-year period at the African Pride Hotel in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg, Cape Town Productions has now repeated the trick at the African Pride 15 on Orange establishment, which borders the Mother City’s CBD and has been servicing the production industry since 2010.
Levy spoke about the challenges of the production industry, the vagaries of managing within a field full of variables like “bureaucracy, inclement weather, difficult personalities, tricky clients and sensitive locations” – and he underscored the importance of having reliable partners, especially when it comes to accommodating clients who sometimes need to be away from home for months at a time.
Allen then picked up on this theme of the complexity of the interaction between the production and accommodation industries, highlighting the sheer scale of the logistics involved – from cultivating personal relationships, to planning, coordinating and being involved in endless meetings – and he gave more of an insight into what was involved in transforming his establishments into “what we term them now, ‘production-friendly hotels’.” This included things like complying with requests to have the beds taken out of the hotel rooms to make space for dress rails, needing to set up stations for hair stylists to be able to work at the breakfast tables, and building specialised cabinets to ensure that the keys to the various production vans would never get mixed up or be inaccessible to the crews at any time of day or night.
While the function was, of course, a celebration in honour of a very specific milestone in the history of the relationship between Cape Town Productions and the Protea Hotels by Marriott group, it was also a fascinating glimpse into the extent of the film industry’s contribution to the South African economy.
“The industry generates billions of Rands in revenue,” commented Danny Bryer, the director of Sales, Marketing and Revenue Management for Protea Hotels by Marriott, “and it has created thousands of permanent jobs, as well as many part-time jobs. Of great importance, too, is the positive spill-over for many other sectors, such as the accommodation and food sectors, transport, vehicle and equipment hire, among others.”
Levy was forthcoming about film production’s sphere of influence, crediting it with the creation of an “entire industry of suppliers. From hair and make-up and model agencies to equipment rental companies, from catering to location companies, the list goes on extensively. The production industry now, as a whole, generates R5 billion before the multiplier [the aggregate effect of investment over time] – so it actually injects in excess of R8 billion into the economy of South Africa each year. Our industry also employs 26 000 people, and that’s before applying the multiplier. So it’s truly a significant industry.”
Interestingly, this influence also extends far beyond the hard economics of investment and job creation. In a private interview, Levy revealed that being a pioneer of the South African production industry has led to some high-level responsibilities, “chairing and sitting on a number of steering commissions” that have brought great changes to an array of related sectors. “The first was the film permit office, where I sat on the steering committee to organise the online film permit system, which the City of Cape Town developed and now uses very successfully” – and then, on an even larger scale, Levy was called upon again when shifting visa regulations in 2014 threatened the industry’s livelihood by changing the status of certain visa exempt countries. “When the visa rules changed three years ago, it was devastating for the industry as a whole – something to the effect of a 38 per cent drop in revenue for the industry, in one year. It was very much apparent that a committee needed to be set up on behalf of the film industry to deal with the Department of Home Affairs – which we did, and still continue to do on behalf of our clients.”
Further, the Film Industry Fund is an initiative that ensures that film locations benefit directly from their involvement in shoots. “A certain portion of the location fee is directed into the fund: money which is ring-fenced for use in that specific community. For example, we shot recently in the Bo-Kaap and improved a neighbourhood park, built a jungle gym there, and we built a library with 8 000 books after a shoot in Kommetjie.”
Finally, Levy reflected on what, after 29 years in the business, he sees as one of the most satisfying developments in the South African production industry: “the transfer of skills has been amazing. You know, 20 years ago, the crews that used to fly in here consisted of dozens of people. Everybody from the hair and make-up department, their assistants, photographer’s assistants, stylists and their assistants – the whole crew used to come out here. But over the years there’s been a significant transfer of skills and skills development, which has created this wonderful local employment base. And now our clients come out in teams of five – all the rest of the people involved in the project are local. Our skill-sets and our equipment companies, in terms of gaffers, sparks, grips – they are absolutely phenomenal, and every year our clients are more and more impressed by what they’re seeing here in South Africa.”
With this sense of the film production industry’s greater significance to the South African social landscape hanging in the air, it was a fitting end to the function when Volker Heiden, the new vice president of Protea Hotels by Marriott (Marriott International, Middle East and Africa) presented Cape Town Productions with a final token of the hotel’s appreciation: a charitable donation of R10 000 (to represent the 10 000 hotel nights) in Gavin Levy’s name to the Reach For A Dream Foundation.