Written by James Peak on Apr 8, 2009. Posted in On Location

Filming in Gauteng

The 2010 FIFA World Cup will take place in South Africa. Events of this scale are commonly viewed with mixed emotions – as host cities benefit from increased attention but also risk suffering from over-crowding and drains on resources. So how will it affect the filming industry – particularly in Johannesburg and Gauteng? Are industry experts bracing themselves for a hectic year or looking forward to increased attention from the international filming community?

Producer Michael Games believes it will be business as usual for films that are making use of studios in and around Johannesburg. He concedes that equipment and personnel will be stretched but adds that production houses will plan accordingly wherever they can.

There will inevitably be an increase in the need for local technicians to facilitate the numerous news crews that will descend on the country. Michael observes: “This in itself will showcase the calibre of available technicians in South Africa and help to convince people from abroad that we have a fairly sizeable base of available technicians whose level of competency is equal to anywhere else in the world.”

As far as the wider pros and cons are concerned, Peter Carr, Executive Producer of Velocity Films, asserts that there is a long term upside but also a short term downside to hosting the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. As far as the downside is concerned, Peter points in particular to the fact that the host cities’ resources will be focussed on the event. He predicts difficulties in obtaining film permits for certain locations. Peter also identifies transportation challenges: “Accommodation and flights (internally and international) will undoubtedly be overbooked for 2010 players, organisers, dignitaries, fans and press so this will make it hard for foreign filmmakers to get out here and work here for a few months surrounding the tournament.”

On a more optimistic note, Peter points out that fortunately the event is not during peak summer season and so the effect on the service market should be slight.

Peter goes on to explain that the upside, as with any big event, will be the growth in the country’s infrastructure – and this will be of long term benefit. The Gauteng Film Commission also identifies the boost to infrastructure as a significant issue. He asserts: “For an event of this magnitude, it was imperative for South Africa to improve on its current infrastructure including roads, airports, accommodation, telecommunications etc. For Gauteng this means that the province will soon be boasting spectacular new locations including three World Cup stadia, the Gautrain (a rapid rail network) and its associated stations as well as the Bus Rapid Transit system currently being implemented in Johannesburg.”

The Gauteng Film Commission is closely monitoring the impact of the Confederations Cup as well as the FIFA World Cup in order to ensure that it is up to date with information around locations, access to stadia etc. It is anticipated that some locations especially the ones around the stadiums will not be accessible during the championships and this will affect filming among other activities. “We are in discussions with the local industry to see how disruptions to location filming can be minimised. We obviously are also assisting visiting international crew with accessing 2010-related venues,” a spokesperson for the commission said.

The attention South Africa is likely to enjoy both during and following the World Cup will further strengthen the area’s increasingly positive reputation amongst international filmmakers. As the Gauteng Film Commission observes: “We believe that Johannesburg and Gauteng is increasingly being recognised as a value for money and film friendly production centre. Our crew is also rated as globally competitive.”

So are there any particular parts of Johannesburg and Gauteng that are attracting filmmakers? According to the Gauteng Film Commission, research shows that in 2008 the five most used suburbs were: Johannesburg CBD (24% of all shoots); Braamfontein (11%); Soweto (8%); Newtown (6%) and Houghton (3%).

In particular, there is evidence that Johannesburg is continuing to attract commercial filmmakers despite a difficult economic climate. Peter agrees, “JHB has always had a solid film infrastructure servicing the local advertising market.” The most recent survey of the Commercial Producers Association shows a slight drop in the number of commercials produced both in the Western Cape as well as Gauteng during 2008. However Johannesburg retained its national lead, slightly ahead of the Cape. Gauteng Film Commission's spokeperson also adds: “The survey also showed that despite the slight decrease, the total billable value showed robust growth. It remains to be seen though what the impact of the global economic crisis is going to be on production volumes.”

Michael goes on to explain: “Johannesburg is also a lot more accessible to locations that depict the real Africa and that is to a large extent what people come here for. We are closer to the larger, more accessible national parks and privately owned game farms where the big five are more readily available. It is easier to move crews and equipment so would seem to be well placed to access more of the real Africa.”

Cape Town of course remains a major filming attraction in South Africa. As Michael observes: “Don't lose sight of the studio complex being developed in Cape Town. This will become a large factor and go a long way to encourage the Cape to fight tooth and nail to keep productions there and encourage more. There are a number of studio facilities available in Johannesburg but they are mostly small to medium sized and occupied on a full time basis by local soapies. A couple of large studio spaces would certainly impact on the level of production in Johannesburg.”

There are certainly some interesting developments to watch in South Africa, particularly as Cape Town and Johannesburg vie for the attention of international filmmakers. As far as the 2010 World Cup is concerned, the general view is that while there may be some inconvenience during the event, the long term benefits to South Africa will be significant.

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