Andrew Worsdale meets up with Vassie Govender of Visual Studio Production who has just opened a brand new fully equipped studio in the media hub of Randburg that aims to be a one-stop shop for Television production; what’s more Govender aims to help independent filmmakers get their dream projects, whatever the budget, off the ground.

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Vassie Govender with camera
In the 1970s the eager, entrepreneurial sixteen year-old Vassie Govender’s greatest love was the movies. To declare his passion he used to take his trusty Bell & Howell projector into the rural areas and show Bollywood movies in the halls of temples in and around Shakaskraal on the Kwa-Zulu Natal North Coast.

Thirty years, or so, later and Govender still has that get-up-and-go spirit, the entrepreneurial zeal that used to make him pocket money has helped him set up a highly successful Gauteng business – Visual Studio Production – which mainly concentrates on facilitating and producing commercials, corporate videos, educational and training videos, news production and multi-media presentations. Some of his company’s clients have included ABSA Bank, S.A. Coin, the Impala Platinum mines, Telkom as well as work for SABC, SABC Africa, E-TV, BBC's National Geographic, M-Net East Asian Channel and Asian Network (Africa/London).

Last year he made history as the local line producer of the big-budget Bollywood feature “Shakalaka Boom Boom” which shot in Johannesburg – going as New York City. Producer/Director Suneel Darshan was convinced by Govender to shoot in Gauteng, and the production saved over seven million rand as a result – locations like Emperor’s Palace and downtown Johannesburg stood in for ritzy Manhattan and the city’s mine-dumps were the backdrop for a major musical sequence set in the desert. “For that film we received great support from Gauteng Tourism Authority; but my main inspiration was to get Bollywood to Johannesburg and not lose production of films from India going to other provinces,” Govender says, “We have the infrastructure here and above all we have such great, dependable weather.” It was the first complete Bollywood film to shoot in SA and the first for Bollywood in Gauteng using 150 local junior artists and empowering local crew.

Michael Raeburn’s feature film “Triomf” used Govender’s smaller studio based in Bramley Gardens to shoot their ‘hallucination’ green-screen sequences. The studio proved perfect for the task at hand, intimate enough to work creatively with actors yet large enough to bring in a Visual Studios Jib to add some action to the special effects.

Govender has been planning on expanding for the past year as he felt the Bramley studio was too small. “I call that my creative space,” the ebullient, enthusiastic ex-cameraman says, “And with business expanding I realised we needed a bigger studio but also access to all our services under one roof.”

With that in mind he secured a large new studio on Surrey Avenue in Ferndale around the corner from Urban Brew and M-Net’s studios, turning the block into a mini media-hub. With safe parking and a corporate exterior, unlike the Bramley site which is set in a tranquil Chinese themed garden complete with swimming pool a mere dive from the studio door, the new site is more a case of bricks and mortar. “When they walk in here the corporates know their money’s safe,” he laughs. Either way, it’s a major expansion for his company and Govender is enthused about it. “My team does not like restrictions - that's why I give them the best tools to enhance their freedom, our own HD cameras, Dolly and Tracks, Jibs, Lighting, Teleprompt even the Post and Edit tools”, says Vassie.

Apart from the 200-metre square studio space complete with autocue and green screen, Visual Studio’s new headquarters boasts a complete production team within its walls. Peter Ngobese, who used to be with Video Lab and has scored for “Generations” amongst other TV shows, is in charge of the music department, creating unique library source music and is also available for original scoring. Veeran Govender is head of Post Production Facilities whilst Merle Blenderhassett, an educationalist and sociologist with extensive corporate experience, is in charge of training and development. Junior Chunilal is the head of CG and animation, Kuben Govender in charge of Technical, Sound and Lighting and Selvin Govender is the resident art director and set designer.

Vassie is an incredibly approachable studio man and sees himself getting more actively involved, perhaps as a co-producer, in bigger productions. “I think the government is taking movie-making seriously,” he says, “I like putting a pool of talent together you know, many hands make light work. There are a lot of talented individuals out there who don’t have that sense of collaboration and so they feel isolated. I hope we can help out.”

One gets the definite sense that, although he’s an astute businessman, there’s still something of the 16 year-old movie dreamer about him. “If someone comes to me with a low-budget film or project I’ll help out. We’ll take care of the independent producers and directors who want to make their dreams come true. We’ll make it happen, no problem.”

Govender who seems to look at a setback as an opportunity hasn’t given up the Bollywood course that he began last year whilst co-producing “Shakalaka Boom Boom”. He is currently involved as the Media Adviser for the “Pride of India” a glamorous extravaganza that will act as a talent competition and a showcase for local “Bollywood” talent and design. At the same time he’s actively pursuing contacts in the subcontinent to firmly put Gauteng on the map as a destination for production. No problem!

Visual Studio Production is based at 299, Surrey Avenue, Ferndale, Randburg.
Tel: 011-781 7021 e-mail: visualstudio@iafrica.com
Website (currently being updated): www.visualstudioiafrica.com