The Martini Shot: A look at the Service Industry

The past year has been one of flux in the South African film services industry, seen across multiple platforms and fields. But, although many areas have been turbulent, we’ve got a lot to look forward to. So, to close off the year, here are the six top topics of 2017:

1. Budgets vs expenses

A current challenge in South Africa is budgets and production costs. With SA’s trying economic times, there’s a strong push by suppliers to raise fees but budgets aren’t increasing with them. This has a negative impact on an industry that’s already under constant scrutiny by cost-controllers and clients.

The Commercial Producers Association of South Africa (CPA) and its members are consequently in dialogue with suppliers about why putting rates up is counterproductive to the sustainability of the service industry. Instead, we recommend that service companies be smarter about their quotes and make a concerted effort to negotiate wherever possible.

2. SA, the film location

The 2016/17 film season was a challenging one for SA’s service sector, as it seemed to end prematurely, and it was down compared to the busy one we’d had before. Frustrations have also remained around bureaucratic red tape regarding visas and location restrictions, particularly over the holiday season.

Another concern is that clients seem less inclined to travel. This could be due to Brexit, current international instability, and the threats posed by terrorism. With SA expenses going up, SA’s also threatening to price itself out of the competition, meaning clients are also looking for cheaper production centres such as Portugal, Thailand, and South America.

The CPA has communicated with suppliers regarding its concerns about the sustainability of the industry but, with everyone battling financially, this isn’t always well-received. Their tendency is to increase rates to try offset losses, which we believe is the exact opposite of what’s needed to attract more international work.

3. A change in mindset

It’s becoming clear that production companies in the service sector need to negotiate harder than ever before. Many smaller and less-experienced companies are cutting corners to win jobs but leaving clients in the lurch when they can’t deliver on their promises. This is not good for SA’s reputation as a service destination.

Formal agreements between the CPA and supplier associations have also become problematic in that they are too rigid and often don’t allow for flexibility or negotiation. The International Performers Agreement (IPA), for example, which is used by clients to contract actors and models in SA, was verbose and confusing, so the CPA took a decision to have the contract rewritten in plain language.

Some of the old usage tables and recommended talent rates had also become outdated and lengthy, so they have also been rewritten to assist producers and agents to budget and negotiate effectively. We anticipate that this new talent documentation will be in use by the end of the year.

4. Location challenges

Location availability, and the regulations governing their use, continues to present challenges to the service sector in Cape Town. Regular meetings between industry association representatives, the City of Cape Town, and provincial government are held to find ways to accommodate everyone. This, however, is tricky, considering it’s a city where space and resources are in short supply.

One of the biggest challenges regarding the Capetonian location restrictions is when the holiday season kicks in and when other events such as Cape Town Cycle Tour or the opening of parliament take place. Events like these effectively shut down the industry.

As the issue is ongoing and requires constant management, the CPA has partnered with the South African Association of Stills Producers (SAASP) to contract a full-time location consultant, Rudi Riek. He will assist with all location-related issues that negatively impact the industry’s access to locations.

5. The film industry fund

Because of negative public perceptions about the film industry, the CPA and SAASP started The Film Industry Fund NPC in 2013. This was to address the impact that the film industry sometimes has on the public, and to give back to the communities in which filming often takes place.

The Film Industry Fund consequently puts money and resources into projects that have a tangible benefit to the people affected by filming at Cape Town’s most-popular locations. This goes a long way in uplifting the city and its people.

Since inception, the fund has undertaken the following projects:

Apr 2014 Computers donated to Baphumelele Waldorf Foundation R37 000
Aug 2014 Dancing lessons at the Samaritan Fun School of Dance in District Six R6 375
Sept 2014 Construction of a jungle gym in the Bo-Kaap R35 000
Sept 2014 Donation to Learn to Read R30 000
Sept 2014 263 books donated to the Astra School for the Disabled R10 000
Feb 2015 Television, DVDs, and educational videos donated to Hout Bay Educare R15 767
Sept 2015 Chess sets donated to Ummangaliso Primary School in Khayelitsha R3 300
Oct 2015 Construction of jungle gyms in parks in Rugby and District Six R70 000
Oct 2015 Donation to Friends of Wynberg Park for plant ID tags R5 720
Nov 2015 Construction of jungle gym in Leeuwenhof R35 000
Apr 2017 Donation of a container library to Kleinberg Primary School, Ocean View R270 000
Jul 2017 Donation to the fire relief fund in Knysna, following the devastating fires that ravaged the area R50 000
Oct 2017 Donation of a life-saving jet ski to the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) R250 000

For more info on the fund and pictures of the various projects, go to www.filmindustryfund.co.za.

6. The industry evolution

The evolution of SA production is complex. This is because, instead of following a straight trajectory, it’s meeting challenges as they come up and adapting accordingly. With many companies closing and restructuring, the industry is having to diversify.

There are also a lot of newcomers challenging the more-experienced companies. This is both good and bad as, with increased competition, comes the need to work harder to win jobs and attract clients, which pushes limits and drives innovation. So, while this may be rocky terrain for most, it opens up vast new areas of opportunity.

This year’s been one of great highs and lows. We’re confident that, with a strategic and organised approach, 2018 will be more-consistently positive for the greater industry.