Dezi R�rich, director of Metal Moon, who repped the SA Group, gives a report back

The Programme, produced by MediaXchange and Metal Moon in Hollywood 2 weeks ago (13 � 18 April), had the SA delegation of media professionals on �the hop� during an intensive 5 day schedule that included 18 back-to-back meetings in the boardrooms of some of Hollywood�s most powerful players, constituting a good mix of motion picture and television executives in Programming, Development, Acquisition, Production (and Physical Production) at Senior Vice President level � both independent and those with deals with the major studios. The Group also met with the industry dealmakers: top entertainment lawyers who package talent and effect co-production deals.

The Programme commenced with a briefing by seasoned US producer Robert Green who has substantial market intelligence, has filmed in a number of international locations, and completed co-productions. The meetings with the US hosts followed a thorough structure during which time the Group explained the opportunities available in South Africa and explored the US companies� level of interest in co-producing in SA. Each member of the SA Group explained how he/she and/or the organisation represented could assist should the US host company consider co-producing with South Africa, or basing a production in SA.

�There was great relevance in having a large government representation,� says Dezi R�rich of Metal Moon, who repped the SA Group. �There is no debate that the participation of the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) made a significant difference to the programme this year. Firstly, it lent material proof to Government�s support of the Media Sector � an important factor for foreign producers, and secondly, I believe it was very valuable for our Incentive bosses to hear first-hand the requirements, production experiences, and financial advantages via subsidies offered in other territories where they have shot.

�The US Hosts were open to meeting with the Group and admitted to having little knowledge of South Africa due to little exposure, the main reason being that executives at Senior Vice President (production decision) level don�t usually attend festivals, and their companies and product are represented by their sales executives.�

Topics of focus included Incentive (represented by DTI, Francisca Strauss and Moeketsi Moruma); Co-Productions and Development of SA Industry (NFVF, Jackie Motsepe); Locations, cities, regions and neighbouring countries (Gauteng Film Commission, Terry Tselane and Jacques Stoltz).  City of Johannesburg was represented by Maja Ngcobo, under the umbrellas of GFC, to raise awareness of Johannesburg, but was mainly a fact finding mission. General Production Info, specifically Post and VFX capacity, was covered by Mike Smit (Waterfront Studios), and private business media entrepreneur Ken Modise participated to explore business opportunities. The SA Vice Consul, Mrs Kgopotse John, attended every meeting with the Group to support the effort to market South Africa, and also learn about the most prolific business sector of Los Angeles: entertainment.

The feedback from the SA participants was extremely positive. �We were very pleased with our participation in the Hollywood Exchange. The programme was professionally delivered and opened up a number of avenues for us with some of the biggest players in the US market. We were particularly pleased with the strong showing of Gauteng and Johannesburg as well as the enthusiasm with which the SA delegation was received.� says Terry Tselane, Chief Executive, Gauteng Film Commission (GFC).

�The arrangements in LA were excellent. In my opinion the meetings were worthwhile and will hopefully result in more films and television productions being shot in SA� says Francisca Strauss, Chief Director: Incentive 2, The Enterprise Organisation, DTI.

�It was a great pleasure and a wonderful learning curve being part of the exchange. The meetings were of good quality and we all got to hear firsthand what the issues are in Hollywood and how we can gain access to these very important individuals,� says Jackie Motsepe, NFVF.

�The US hosts were enthusiastic to meet the South Africans and very generous with their time; sharing their objectives and major developments in Hollywood trends.� says Rorich. �The meetings were strategised to provide the studio view (ABC Studios), and then a contrasting network view (NBC). Overall, the bespoke strategy was to provide a 50/50 split of TV and Film meetings, however there is a big crossover between film and television and film production companies such as Mandalay and Silver Pictures produce shows for Showtime and The CW respectively. ABC TV Studios are able to sell their projects to any network though most frequently their shows end up on the ABC network. At ABC Entertainment, the group met the Director, Movies, Mini-Series and The Wonderful World of Disney.

The US Hosts were impressed to learn of the vast benefits of filming in SA, specifically bottom line saving, via incentive, exchange rate, and other funding instruments (such as the IDC, which unfortunately wasn�t represented).

In TELEVISION the Group met with the producers of Monk, CSI, Boston Legal, The Starter Wife, Desperate Housewives, Lost, Grey�s Anatomy, Ugly Betty, Brothers & Sisters, Samantha Who?, and Scrubs. ABC Entertainment, ABC Studios, NBC Entertainment, Ridley Scott�s Scott Free Productions, (a number of their projects have filmed in Morocco, Budapest and Toronto), historically produced limited series (not ongoing), and are now moving into mini-series in the international co-production arena. The Television arm of Mandalay (Seven Years in Tibet) is new, but in just one year it has sold 25 shows to networks. They were enthusiastic to keep communication open about developing projects with SA. Other TV entities engaged were USA Networks and the Sci-Fi Channel.

Among the US hosts in FILM were Silver Pictures/Dark Castle (lower budget arm), Joel Silver�s company. Silver is known as one of the most prolific producers in the history of motion pictures including the Matrix trilogy, the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard series, and Predator. Silver�s pictures have earned a combined gross of over $5 billion worldwide. The company has an eight picture deal, with four to go, and budgets usually around the $40m marker.

Picturehouse, the acquisitions based company that is owned by Warner Bros, seek lower budget features in the $1-$2m range, ideally to acquire a packaged project, script polished and ready to go. Their recent films include The Orphanage, Pan�s Labyrinth, and La Vie en Rose. Legendary Pictures� focus is on big budget pictures such as 300, Superman, Batman Begins, and the company has a 5-year, 25-picture agreement to co-produce and co-finance with Warner Bros., which started in 2005. Myriad Pictures provides funding via distribution rights. The company, who�s core operations are financing, producing and worldwide sales of motion picture and television programming, helmed by Kirk D�Amico, is one of the top independent entertainment companies with an impressive library that includes The Good Girl, Factory Girl and Little Fish. United Artists Entertainment, which was formed under a partnership between Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner, and Metro Goldwyn Meyer Studios, was impressed with the capacity to recreate 1930�s Los Angeles for Cruise/Wagner�s Ask the Dust (Moonlighting Films). Also in the schedule was The Weinstein Company�s Head of Production and Post Production who indicated he had been approached by many people to shoot outside the U.S., but never SA � so he was interested in what we had to say. Their decision to shoot in SA would be based on the idiosyncrasies of the project.

The Group also met with Overture Films, which is their own studio, fully financed to produce, distribute and acquire feature films (average 8-12 films a year), as well as Mel Gibson�s company Icon Productions, who�s trend is lower budgeted projects under $30m, and at one stage had SA on the radar for one of their films. Warner Independent is a new company that will consider projects at any stage, but preferably presented in a package. They like to get involved with the development process, and usually have a slate of 6-8 films per year.

The thrust of SA�s marketing message (production ability, key hands-on experience, production case studies) would have been enhanced had producers participated, but Moonlighting and Film Afrika, seasoned facilitation production companies, had to cancel due to production commitments.

From the SA perspective, it was believed to be a very productive exercise as trends in the US marketplace were shared, specifically the challenges of Vertical Integration, (off-shore) production requirements, as well as experiences in competing facilitating territories. It was extremely worthwhile to learn first-hand from such senior level producers their experience of various incentives, what works and what doesn�t.

Exchange Programmes for the balance of 2008 include an SA/Hollywood Animation Exchange (from the horse�s mouth, we learnt that this format renders significant potential for SA), an Inbound Exchange (similar to the 1995 Event) which will be a national exercise. �We hope to continue to work with government and industry organisations on these projects,� says Rorich. �This proved to be the most positive exchange we�ve produced, and government and industry organisations can reinforce these efforts on a much wider scale.�

Source: Metal Moon +27 11 442 4790, email: metalmoon@icon.co.za