South Africa: Wish you were here?

Exotic locations, good weather and top crews: South Africa has the lot, Jane Bainbridge says.

When South Africa's first democratic elections took place in 1994, it allowed the world - and particularly the advertising and film industries - to discover the country's diverse range of locations that had until then remained largely a secret.

Since 1994, the country has become a darling of the ad world, thanks largely to the landscape, but also because of its accessibility, good value and cultural familiarity for Brits shooting there. Even simple things, such as driving on the same side of the road, help to make it a popular shooting location for British creatives.

Cape Town remains the location of choice thanks to its climate and the variety of looks on offer. When Britain is blanketed in winter gloom, Cape Town enjoys dry, sunny weather, ensuring minimal disruption due to poor conditions. And it's not just the exotic scenery that agencies head south for. The country can also offer very British- and European-looking locations, boosting its appeal considerably.

Ashley Bacon, the group executive creative director at FCB Johannesburg, says: "Cape Town is used the most: it has a very Mediterranean feel where you can maximise Northern Hemisphere light conditions. You can approximate almost anything there. You can get two to three looks in as many days, from Mediterranean to mountaintop to desert. The Klein Karoo, which is semi-desert, is a 90-minute drive away from Cape Town."

Barry Munchick, the proprietor of the South African production house Velocity Films, thinks another reason Cape Town is so popular is because of its "good vibe", with top hotels, restaurants and a well-established cafe society to keep teams happy.

While Johannesburg plays second fiddle to Cape Town in terms of shoots, the city can offer a wider array of urban landscapes and is only an hour's drive from the game farms.

But Clare van Zyl, a producer at Monkey Films, a service company based in Cape Town, says: "There is prejudice against basing in Johannesburg because there's still a fear among some clients of the violence, but it has fantastic locations."

Indeed, she's worried Cape Town is being overused. "We often encourage people to shoot out of Cape Town because some locations are being over used. You might have to spend a bit more money to shoot in Durban because there are no crews there, but it's worth it."

The country's capital, Pretoria, can provide a European look with tree-lined streets, good shopping areas and piazzas, while the tropical nature of Durban means it works well as a substitute for India or Cuba and its ocean setting makes it particularly popular for water shots.

Van Zyl is keen to point out that there's more to South Africa than dramatic scenery. "Often people think we can't give them very ordinary and downbeat," she says. But she cites two recent ads shot in South Africa that make no use of its scenery. The Wrigley's "alien" ad, shot by Guy Manwaring and winner of a silver at Cannes, was mostly set-built, looked totally English with its range of domestic, street and bingo shots, but was filmed in South Africa. Similarly, M&C Saatchi's Privilege insurance ad, set around an English golf course and starring Joanna Lumley, was all shot in Cape Town. An orphanage was used for the Club House exterior, a hall of residence for the interior and a local golf course for the fairway shots.

Locations aside, there are several other key factors to South Africa's success as a location. While the language, culture and minimal time difference from the UK are all big plus factors, the country's renowned production crews are also crucial.

"We've got the best crews in the world and our export of directors has been fantastic. The industry here is very tight. A roll of film is expensive so we have to maximise our frame rates on one roll of film. Because of that discipline you get very good crews," Bacon says.

But South Africa has not had it all its own way. The strengthening rand meant it was no longer the cheap option and, recently, the country lost business to South America in particular. Munchick says: "I think people had some good shoots and some not so good shoots (in South America), but there were significant problems for the Brits with the difference in the time zones and language problems, while the level of film infrastructure is not as reliable as in South Africa.

"Here, we had a really good run from ten years ago to about four years ago when prices climbed steadily each year. That backfired and, with the rand getting stronger again, it made us quite expensive compared with Asia, South America and Eastern Europe." But, with the rand weakening again, he predicts business will improve for the film industry.

Oliver Nurock, an executive producer at Reel Africa, believes other locations outside of Cape Town must market themselves better if South Africa is to tempt agencies back to its shores. He believes that what is good for the film industry is good for the country because of the increased exposure, tourism revenues and job opportunities it provides.

"The greatest positive about shooting in South Africa, and in particular Cape Town, is that there is less red-tape, fewer restrictions, an absence of unions, the general non-jaded friendly eager-to-make-it-happen attitude of the residents and the fact that nothing is impossible," Nurock says.

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