One of South Africa's top three production houses opens office in Los Angeles
Established in Cape Town, Film Afrika Worldwide is launching an office in Los Angeles to be headed up by CEO David Wicht. David started out as a writer and director and made Windprints with Sean Bean and John Hurt in 1990, so the move will allow him to focus more on developing original material with American partners. “In addition to facilitating productions shooting in South Africa, we will be developing original material with US partners for filming in South Africa,” says David. Balancing Act looks at the potential impact of this move.
Film Afrika has produced over 50 films and television series since independence in 1995. The company is also one of South Africa's most established production companies and one of the big three along with Moonlighting Films and Out of Africa Entertainment. Not forgetting Kalahari Pictures, who made Dredd and District 9.
Film Afrika specialises in raising local finance and providing a complete location facilitation and co-production service to international producers. Film Afrika films throughout South Africa, including neighbouring countries Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. It also services films further afield in places such as Kenya, Morocco, Ghana, Mauritius, Madagascar and the Seychelles.
CEO David Wicht said, “After years of working with all the major studios and independents, I’m looking forward to being closer at hand and being immediately accessible to producers seeking to shoot or collaborate with South Africa. The presence of an LA office means I can engage directly with production partners and facilitate the workflow from South Africa, resulting in a faster turnaround and the ability to give a first-hand account of shooting in South Africa.”
Light, wildlife, landscapes and convenience of location — within a few hours' drive of Cape Town or Johannesburg — are the keys to South Africa's moviemaking appeal. There is also a cost issue. Cast and crew are cheaper than it would be in Europe and the USA and what looks like a $50 million US production could be done for less than half that figure.
David’s move to Hollywood builds on the success of recent projects like Chronicle, which topped the American box office earlier this year after shooting in Cape Town with Film Afrika.
“Chronicle was set in Seattle but shot in South Africa, beating out competitors such as Vancouver and Eastern Europe,” says David. “The success and look of film, which utilized the state-of-the-art Cape Town Film Studios, has generated a lot of interest in filming in South Africa. Similarly, The Department of Trade and Industry’s decision to remove the cap on the rebate, and raise the rebate percentage for serviced films, has been a terrific boost to South Africa and has made the country extremely attractive as a partner and destination.” He's referring to the DTI's recent decision to raise the cash back rebate from 15 to 20%. David adds that South Africa’s burgeoning post-production and VFX facilities are another selling point he’ll be promoting.
Film Afrika’s South Africa headquarters will provide all the production, budgeting and logistic support for films and TV series arising through the LA office. Film Afrika’s track record of producing major international film projects in Southern Africa includes the Emmy-winning productions Gettysburg and America: The Story of Us, the Emmy-nominated No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and Endgame, and the upcoming miniseries Labyrinth, for Tandem Communications and Scott Free Films.
Film Afrika is currently in production on Videovision Entertainment’s much anticipated adaptation of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom, with Anant Singh as producer and Film Afrika’s Vlokkie Gordon returning to her roots as a line producer. “We were very honoured to be entrusted with the management of such a prestigious and iconic story,” says David.
The move should have a positive impact on South Africa’s film industry, potentially opening doors to further co-production and distribution deals. The big advantage is essentially relational. Ignorance and poor telecoms remain an issue for American producers and distributors willing to expand their arms to Africa.
Above all, the time difference and travel distance between America and Africa has always worked against closer relationships, but having such a high level South African producer based in Los Angeles means that there's now someone a phone call away, who's available during their normal office hours, and who can come in and explain the possibilities of shooting in South Africa face-to-face. Film Afrika's team has strong existing relationships over there, but it should allow those to be taken to a deeper level and hopefully allow Film Afrika to be consulted much earlier in the development process.
As far as we know, Film Afrika is the first of the big three to open a USA branch, so it's definitely a USP for them, although Kalahari Pictures is run by an American, Michael Murphy, who now lives in South Africa and goes back to the USA regularly. The striking contract is with Nollywood, which has yet to make these kinds of international connections and Nigeria is not an easy place for international film locations.
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