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SA is losing its competitive edge in the global film investment market. Picture: 123RF
SA is losing its competitive edge in the global film investment market. Picture: 123RF

If I had to describe SA’s film industry in temperature terms, I’d say it’s medium to warm right now — but it has the potential to be red hot. Audience behaviour and tastes may have changed dramatically with the advent of streaming services, but this simply means fresh exposure to opportunities for SA-flavoured stories. 

As we in the industry adapt to this new and ever-changing “normal”, the challenge remains the same, regardless of whether you’re talking about content on cinema screens, TV screens or smartphone screens: securing funding to make quality films and series that can hold their own on the local and international stage.

In my more than 50 years in local film, I’ve had the privilege of meeting many talented people, making films I’m proud of and even winning an Oscar — as producer of Gavin Hood’s seminal “tsotsitaal” film Tsotsi, which won the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award and a slew of others in 2006 and catapulted its cast of young unknowns into stardom.

But that heady Oscar win was almost 20 years ago, and we await with bated breath for “the next big thing”. I suspect this will be a television series and not a feature film, because that’s the content that streamers increasingly want and are prepared to commission.

Some notable productions — one of the more recent being the outstanding Shaka iLembe — have emerged from SA since Tsotsi showed the world the depth, capability and quality of the local industry. From Sarafina! to Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema and My Octopus Teacher, we have an abundance of stories to tell in SA.

Ours is a cost-effective, location-rich filming destination that’s not short of acting, creative and technical talent. However, financing will always be the biggest stumbling block to our industry becoming the next Hollywood, Bollywood or Nollywood. 

The traditional ways of recouping costs through cinemas, pay TV and free TV — which we managed to do with Tsotsi — are now long gone. Plus, with the mega-budgets and high production standards of epics such as Game of Thrones, audiences are becoming ever more discerning.

Streamers will often restrict the resale of a commissioned product for a certain period, limiting opportunities for the further recouping production costs. So filming incentives or grants are a critical part of the financing model and locally filmmakers can get a helping hand from entities such as the department of trade, industry & competition, the Industrial Development Corporation and the National Film and Video Foundation. For example, there is a departmental incentive to help black or emerging producers recoup up to 50% of their costs, which is huge.


But there are challenges. The government has reduced tax incentives and rebates for foreign-funded projects, for example, which is affecting our ability to attract big-budget productions. And even when funding has been secured, it often takes time for the money to be released.

There is often a gap in the funding model that can potentially put the brakes on “the next big thing” in SA seeing the light of day. This is where film bonding companies step in with completion guarantees that aid both producers and investors. 

Investors can commit money to a film or series and go to bed at night knowing it will be delivered. They cannot guarantee box office success or awards, but can give the backers the assurance that the production will be completed within budget and on schedule.

For producers who are waiting for streaming services and other financiers to release funds, film bonding companies can also pitch in to ensure their films get made. It’s vital to have such backing because time is money, shooting schedules are tight, and actors, suppliers and others need to be paid.

Of course, film bonding companies do due diligence to make sure there’s a reasonable expectation that filmmakers can deliver within budget and on time. They go in and ask the hard questions, such as whether the correct permissions have been obtained for pyrotechnics or if animal welfare organisations have been consulted. 

Film bonding companies can monitor each production closely and have a measure of control over how the finances are being used. Daily reports are received and the companies often go on set to see if they can help solve any problems to ensure a particular film or series is completed and delivered. 

Offering producers a completion bond guarantee has been a successful model to date, ensuring smooth production and peace of mind.

As they say, failure is an orphan and success has many fathers. No-one wants to take responsibility for the failure of a creative endeavour, so if it can be avoided it should be. Completion guarantees are one way of ensuring productions stay on course, keeping the industry ticking over and delivering jobs to thousands of people.

Let’s hope the next big thing in SA television or film is just over the horizon, elevating our industry to red-hot status.

• Raleigh is head of film guarantees at Hollard Film Guarantors. 

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