As part of a Gauteng Film Commission (GFC) initiative, producers, unit managers, location managers and location scouts met in Johannesburg last month (September 2009) to discuss the status of location filming in Gauteng.

At the meeting, held in the newly completed Sci-Bono Centre in Newtown, the GFC briefed the industry on projects to ensure location enquiries and permit applications are processed more efficiently, in line with the recommendations of the Gauteng Film Permit Framework, adopted by the GFC last year in consultation with the industry.

According to data presented by the GFC it is clear that increases in JMPD permit tariffs, the recession and the crisis at the SABC are significantly affecting production volumes in the Province. This has meant that permit applications for the 2009 season has been notably less than previous years.

The data also shows that the Johannesburg CBD, Soweto and northern suburbs of Johannesburg remain the favoured filming locations in the Province. The data confirms that the main source of location filming remains commercials, followed by documentaries and TV programmes. While the overall number of permit applications facilitated by the GFC has dropped overall for 2009, total shoot days for 2009 was surprisingly slightly higher than 2008.

According to Jacques Stoltz, Senior Marketing Manager of the GFC, during the past 18 months, the GFC and industry have had to deal with a number of challenges that have impacted on location filming. These included:

  • Increases in location fees (both public and privately owned);
  • Negative publicity regarding Johannesburg becoming 'film unfriendly';
  • Enforcement of a R450.00 an hour permit fee by the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD);
  • Cheque payments made to JMPD by production companies being returned by the banks;
  • Airspace restrictions instituted during the Confederations Cup and for the FIFA World Cup;
  • Transnet Freight Rail restrictions introduced nationally on filming on railway lines;
  • JMPD strike action which affected the issuing of permits;
  • A permit fee increase and 6 week lead time instituted by the South African National Parks;
  • 'Off limits' locations;
  • JMPD staff turnover and capacity constraints; and
  • Lack of official support and recognition by the City of Johannesburg.

The GFC, in collaboration with the Gauteng Film Partnership (GFP), has however made progress in addressing some of these challenges while continuing to lobby for film friendly policies.

Initiatives undertaken since 2008 include

  • holding monthly meetings of the GFP where location related matters are raised and addressed;
  • improved communications between the GFC and producer organisations;
  • improved relations with permitting authorities;
  • the launch of a film friendly pilot project in partnership with the Newtown Management District;
  • publication of 2010 Crew & Media Guidelines;
  • the introduction of a monthly location feature as part of the GFC's In Focus newsletter;
  • compilation of a location professionals database;
  • awareness building and media campaigns; increased GFC capacity; as well as
  • the development of an on-line locations gallery, which will allow the industry to search for locations on the GFC website.

The GFC also continues to exert pressure on the City of Johannesburg and JMPD to reverse the R450 per hour permit fee.

In addition, the meeting was presented with draft guidelines for Gauteng location filming - a document prepared by the GFC in consultation with the GFP to provide greater clarity regarding processes and requirements for location filming at publicly owned locations in Gauteng.

The meeting and presentation was generally welcomed by the industry and a number of concerns were raised during the discussions. These included concerns regarding location fees being charged by City Improvement Districts in Johannesburg, the need for identity cards to assist location scouts in accessing locations, the need for uninhibited access to publicly owned locations and the need for fairness in permitting fees and conditions.

"While the meeting was possibly not as well attended as we had hoped, the feedback from participants show that, overall, we are pursuing the correct strategy in Gauteng", says Bobby Amm, CEO of the Commercial Producers Association.

In conclusion, the GFC thanked the participation of the industry and committed to facilitating bi-annual location forum meetings.