Most of us are familiar with the ins and outs of shooting in South Africa. Indeed this Film Commission processes requests for permits etc. on a daily basis. The availability of services and infrastructure catering to the film and television industry is well-known, with  South Africa seen as able to provide services of a standard found in most other developed countries.

Tai Krige
But what is it like shooting in countries north of us?  How do the facilities compare and is there an infrastructure that facilitates the making of commercials, programmes and movies in other African countries? In order to gain some insight for our readers on this,  In Focus spoke to two well known industry players, producer Richard Green and  director and DOP Tai Krige, who’ve both travelled extensively in Africa on film shoots.

“I’ve made around 20 short films in both Central and North Africa,” says Green, adding that he’s shot in most countries including Ethiopia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Kenya, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Burkina Fasso and Ghana.

“I’ve had both good and bad experiences but nothing majorly untoward. In Nigeria, I found that once you know and understand that you are probably going to ‘lose’ around 15% of your budget it’s pretty good filming there. They are film makers with a passion for what they do and have a certain level of business ethic.”

Krige agrees: “I have been to Nigeria around eight times.  I go mainly as a DOP or director, so I see things more from the creative side, and all my experience has been shooting commercials. On the first trip, I didn’t take much gear up apart from the camera as most of the other stuff is available there. They make a lot of movies there so they have a lot of gear.  The maintenance of the equipment, however, leaves a lot to be desired. I also found that during the shoot, things would go missing. Lights etc. would just disappear off set. They hadn’t been stolen - they were just required for another shoot, so off they went! The best way to work is to hook up with a good facilitation company in Nigeria, ie someone who knows the ropes there.

Green says he had severe problems in Senegal. “For example, I asked an editor to cut five films for me. He cut two and then demanded that I pay for all the cuts before giving me the material back. The next chap did the same thing, he cut one and then demanded payment for all three and this went on. My ‘fixer’ shot his own film with my equipment and stock. I actually had to ‘steal’ my own camera back from his room and leave!

“Ethiopia was not bad while Kenya is expensive because they have had Hollywood films shot there, and know how to charge. The crew and facilities back up is poor, but they are honest people. Ghana was also pretty good but Zanzibar was a nightmare tourist trap, with tourist prices - I was charged US$50 to hire a Coke crate!”

Krige says he’s been to the Democratic Republic of Congo twice to do various Vodacom commercials. “The campaign was called Closer and it tells the story about how cell phones can bring people closer together.

“The DRC is the second largest country in Africa and has nine borders. While there is very little left of colonial Belgium, most people speak French and various local dialects which means language can be a problem, unlike Nigeria where most people speak English.

“There are potholes everywhere and I do mean potholes. You drive into it and then seconds later you drive out - they are huge. Cars and trucks that break down on the roads are just left there, so the roads are also littered with wrecks. Travel is very difficult.
There is also little maintenance, for example, we hired a crane for one of the shoots and it snapped.

Krige says that overall, the experience in DRC was generally good.  We spent six weeks travelling around and the people were friendly and helpful.  However we took almost all our own crew, including gaffer/grips and art department. You also couldn’t rely on domestic air travel, so we ended up chartering a plane and we took all the equipment we needed with us.

“In my opinion, with shoots in these regions pre-production is king. All the recces must be done in advance, the preliminary casting must be done so that when you arrive you are three quarters of the way there. You should also take back ups on your backups and if you do this, you will probably have a trouble free experience.”

Green says, evaluating his work travels in Africa, “the best experience was in Ethiopia, and the worst Senegal.”

It is clear that one must assume that the services, facilities and crews in these regions may not be the same as those we have come to expect in South Africa.  However it would also seem that with careful planning, a comprehensive backup plan and a good local facilitating company, African shoots can be a reasonably trouble free experience.