Zebra Worldwide CCO, Nic Franklin, discusses the benefits of international connections in the South African post and production scene
With a mix of stunning vistas, long summer nights and plenty of bang for your buck, South Africa has quickly become a hotspot for film crews and production companies the world over. Nic Franklin, co-owner and Chief Creative Officer of global content production network Zebra Worldwide, discusses what has spurred South Africa’s success and how Zebra’s approach differs from the rest of the pack.
Q> Zebra Headquarters is based in London, so why choose Cape Town as a second base?
Nic Franklin > First and foremost, it made a lot of business sense to open a production hub offshore to deal with our growing business in London. The other bonus was the chance for me to dust off the surfboard, which was pretty appealing after 16 years in London. But in all seriousness, expansion in South Africa was very attractive as the favourable exchange rate means media budgets stretch further. What’s also great about Cape Town is that it is virtually on the same timeline as London; there is only a two-hour difference in the summer and one in the winter, so we can work very closely with the London office throughout the working day. With clever tech, we can work in all of our hubs on any asset, at any time. We pride ourselves on a very agile workflow which allows our teams working on different continents to share projects. Two years down the track, it feels like second nature. I think this collaborative relationship between Cape Town and London and the rest of the network is something that really sets us apart.
Q> You’re using advanced technology to bridge the geographical gap, but how does Zebra go about sourcing and developing local talent?
NF > Cape Town has become a hub of emerging talent in recent years, especially interesting for us in the post production arena. There are a number of high quality 3D and animation schools on our doorstep and there is also the renowned AFDA film school based in Cape Town. We are able to have highly skilled graduates come straight into the business where needed. We’re big on training and supporting our staff throughout their career so we try hard to support these schools and provide opportunities for young talent from the point of study.
Q> Do you ever move talent between the two locations?
NF> We have recently started running an exchange programme, which allows our staff to travel between London and Cape Town, and our other offices as well, to experience their sister city’s approach for a few months. For both our South Africa and London staff, this opportunity is invaluable and a great way to create closer working relationships within the business. Those who make the switch to London get the opportunity to work in an international, high-pressure environment where their skills will be tested and their ability improved every single day.
The exchange programme is helping our staff in Cape Town bolster their professional portfolios, but is also providing them with the chance to embrace the international style and experience London has to offer.
Q> Your relationship with London also means you have international directing talent available to you at Stripey Horse. How is this beneficial in a locally focussed market?
NF> We’ve actually got a very international team down here but certainly, having an international flavour amongst the directing talent we have is a crucial selling point for us. The local work, like any country, does have its own style, which can become a little one dimensional, so to be able to offer a different perspective sometimes is great.
Recently, my directing partner Mark Dymond and I directed a short film, ‘Konneksies’, in Afrikaans for local broadcaster kykNET. We were immensely proud that the film which won the Audience Choice Award for Best Film at the Silwerskermfees festival. Being able to bring a new flavour to that market and channel and to be celebrated for it really meant a lot.
The Zebra Offices in Cape Town
Q> With films like District 9, Tsotsi and Blood Diamond shining a spotlight on the region, have you seen an increase in international interest in South Africa?
NF> South Africa has a highly valued production history and it isn’t short of people wanting to shoot here, but I’ve definitely seen an increased interest over the past 20 years. Homeland shot its fourth season in Cape Town as they required a location that could give them a Middle Eastern look, swashbuckling pirate drama Black Sails has taken residence in Cape Town Film Studios, and other recent blockbusters like Dredd and Chronicle, have been shot in and around the city.
Q> What is it about the environment in South Africa that makes it a good place to shoot?
NF> People always talk about the light in South Africa, largely because we are never short of it. The ‘golden hour’ here, that glorious time just after sunrise or just before sunset, is much extended due to our geographic position. There is also a vast array of landscapes that can be used to emulate varied locations from around the world: white sandy beaches, huge sand dunes and deserts, interesting urban architecture, quirky one horse towns of the Karroo with dramatic roads that you can see stretching out for miles. All this make Cape Town the production Mecca it is.
Q> Is there anything else that draws people to Cape Town?
NF> Other than the varied locations, amazing sunlight and the fact that Cape Town and the rest of South Africa is simply beautiful, I think there is a lot to say about the value international clients can get out of shooting here. The pound and dollar are very strong against the rand, and have been for some time, which makes shooting down in Cape Town ever more attractive for our clients and their media budgets.
The South African government has also played a role by introducing a 20% tax reduction on foreign productions that have a budget exceeding $1.3 million and an even higher tax reduction if filming and post production also takes place in South Africa.
Q> What are your plans for Zebra Cape Town over the next year?
NF> Expansion is definitely on the cards as we develop more commercial productions and broadcast commissions. As we establish ourselves further in the local market, we will also look to build a photographic studio and sound facility. Providing an international flavour and collaborating with local businesses is key for our success and offering the rest of the Zebra network to the South African market. We will also continue our inward focus on the culture of our business and investment in our talent by promoting the next wave of staff exchanges to and from London. This commitment to international cooperation and skill-sharing will shape our approach in South Africa and beyond.
The Zebra Garden in Cape Town