On location in South Africa with Bobby Amm, the Executive Director of the CPA (The Commercial Producers Association of South Africa)
How did you become involved in the film business and what has been your career path to get you to your current role as Executive Director of the CPA?
I stumbled into the industry in my early 20’s - after completing a degree in journalism and psychology I went to work for an organisation connected to the Film Industry and from there I moved to the CPA in the late 1990’s.
What does this role involve exactly and what do you enjoy most about the job?
My job is to co-ordiante and action all the activities of the Association. The thing I enjoy most is the big picture view I enjoy of the industry and dealing with challenges that we encounter along the way. There is always something different and interesting happening. I like the challenges the role presents - particularly when it comes to collaboration and problem solving.
Please tell us about the CPA
The CPA was started in the mid 1980’s by a group of interested producers and ran as a committee staffed by volunteers for many years. It was more formally constituted in the mid 1990’s and the full time office opened in 1997 and has been running ever since.
The CPA is quite unique in that it services two main production centres (Cape Town & Johannesburg) and two different sectors (international and local) although there is now a lot of overlap between the two with both types being produced in both cities.
The Association has a membership that ranges between 45 and 60 member companies at any given time. It is run by an Executive Committee of 8 elected members who work with me (as Executive Officer) to ensure our mandate is met.
Are all your members commercial production companies or do some members also do TV and feature film production?
Yes, all our members have in common that they are primarily production companies that make TV commercials. Many of them have diversified and now do other work as well - this includes feature films, TV series, reality shows etc.
What percentage of your production company members also offer location / production services to incoming productions?
The CPA’s membership is generally split 50/50 - half our members offer production services alone while the other half represent directors and offer production services. There are a handful of companies who prefer to work only in the South African market and also those with sought after directors who work directly with foreign agencies and clients.
Do any of your members offer post-production services?
One or two, yes. We have been talking to the post houses about coming on board but these discussions are still in progress.
Are you a trade association or film producers / production company union or both?
We are a professional trade association - our members are companies, rather than individuals. We are not a union as we do not represent workers in the industry. Although we act in our members best interest much of our work focusses on what is best for the industry as a whole (which is usually what is good for our supply chain too).
What are the advantages to being a member of the CPA?
I think the biggest advantage is that you are part of something that is bigger than just your company and, through this, you have an idea of the challenges and opportunities that exist in your industry and are able to capitalise on these. I see being a member of the CPA as in investment in the industry and its future because if you don’t nurture and manage an industry properly there is not much hope for it.
I think one of the strengths of our industry in South Africa is that there has always been collaboration between competitors and this has made them a lot stronger rather than weaker. We work in a challenging and highly competitive business so companies need help and support. The CPA creates this infrastructure.
Unfortunately there are companies that opt not to join the Association - as a result many of them aren’t privy to important information and that’s ultimately disadvantageous to their clients.
Do you help producers find development and film finance?
No - that is not part of our mandate as we only represent commercial producers who are fortunate to be paid in full by their clients.
Who can join the CPA?
Any company registered in South Africa that is involved in the production of television commercials.
Do you have international members and if so who?
No - part of the membership requirement is that companies are registered in South Africa.
What is the state of the SA production industry today?
The industry is quite stable but isn’t growing a much as we would like it to. From the service perspective, South Africa still offers great value and all of the other positive elements it is known for.
Our service industry is almost 30 years old and is still going strong - many repeat clients have been coming to South Africa for years while newer ones are just discovering it for the first time.
The local industry is stable but its composition has changed in recent year - the larger production companies have been replaced by fewer, more bespoke outfits. There is pressure from work going in-house to agencies but our independent production companies are busy reinventing themselves and are proving more than capable of meeting the challenge.
What are the approximate dates of the foreign production company incoming 'production season' for short format and long format?
The foreign commercial season generally runs from October to April each year whereas South African commercial are produced all year round. Cape Town has a Mediterranean climate (wet winters) but Johannesburg has sunny crisp days with no rain that are well suited to filming.
Long form is generally also year round as shooting takes place throughout South Africa.
What approximately is the maximum number of incoming productions that metropolitan Cape Town can service at the same time with cast and crew, stage space, equipment availability, hotels etc..?
It’s difficult to say but I do know that in December 2019 there were 60 shoots on the go in Cape Town over the same weekend. Cape Town is a compact city so there are limits however the industry is used to working under pressure and has a reputation for being able to deliver.
In order of trade volume importance, who are the top ten countries coming to film in SA to benefit from the exceptional diversity of SA locations and great production services.
In order from most to least:
The United Kingdom
How many TV commercials are filmed for the SA domestic market each year?
Our members produce about 400 commercials per year for the domestic market. In reality, the total figure is probably closer to 500 as some agencies produce jobs in-house and there are also non-members who don’t participate in our research.
How many feature films?
No idea - we only work with commercials.
Roughly how many incoming foreign TV commercials are filmed and serviced by SA production and production service companies each year?
CPA members service around 300 international commercials per year. Again, this is a conservative figure as some commercials are produced by non-members who don’t participate in our research.
What is your favourite SA restaurant and why?
There are so many great restaurants in Cape Town - Black Sheep, Kloof Street House, Pot Luck Club, Modern Tapas, Salsify and Riverine Rabbit to name a few.
My favourites are The Stack because the food is simple and delicious and the garden is like an oasis in the centre of the city and also Chef’s Warehouse for its inventive and delicious food.
Which film crew and cast friendly hotels do you recommend in SA?
The old favourites The Mount Nelson, 15 on Orange, the Taj are always popular with clients. There are also some fabulous guest houses for smaller budgets.
If you hadn't become the Executive Officer of the CPA what other job would you like to have done?
I’m definitely a frustrated lawyer - I love the legal questions and challenges at the CPA so I think I would choose a courtroom for a parallel life.
Thank you Bobby. It has been great talking to you and finding out more about you, the CPA and about filming in South Africa.
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