Film industry is rolling again, but without kissing & crowd scenes

Another era, a film shoot at the Grand Parade in Cape Town. Picture: KAREN WATKINS

The City of Cape Town has reopened the film-permitting process, which will allow local film-production companies to return to work under strict restrictions, but directors are unlikely to be calling “action” on big blockbusters anytime soon.

Beverley Wynn, of the Commercial Producers Association, welcomes the move, while Rudi Riek, of the SA Association of Stills Producers, says the easing of restrictions under level 4 has brought optimism but as yet not too much work. However, he says they are grateful for what he called the City’s pro active response and for working alongside the various associations to make it possible for productions employing local crew and cast to continue.

According to Premier Alan Winde, the industry is responsible for 7 380 direct and 6 180 indirect jobs in the province and annually contributes R3.6 billion.

Ms Wynn, who is also executive producer at Gatehouse Commercials in Sea Point, said the film industry had come to a grinding halt during the Covid-19 crisis. “Even from as early as February we saw effects of Covid as it swept across Europe and the States,” she said. “By mid-March productions had all but shut down. By lockdown it was all dead. Aside from small Covid messages, no one until now, has been able to shoot.” 

Mr Riek said hundreds of productions had either been cancelled or postponed, hurting all the associated businesses, including the industry’s most vulnerable – freelancers who don’t earn if they don’t work. And many of the relief options available for business did not apply to the film sector, he said.

The industry was far from being out of the woods as it relied heavily on overseas investors and global travel restrictions didn’t help either, he said. “If international travel for key foreign crew and cast is only possible again in 2021, we will potentially lose half of our summer filming season. This would have devastating implications for thousands who depend on this sector to earn a living, not to mention the risk of losing billions of rand in foreign investment.”

Kevin Kriedemann, a publicist for Triggerfish Animation Studios in Bergvliet, said they had started working remotely before lockdown and were continuing to do business because animation relied on computers and had no need for locations and permits.

While a window has been opened for the film industry, the National Disaster Management Act regulations won’t give film-makers much opportunity to film sweeping epics: only 50 people can be on set at a time; gear and props must be disinfected after use; the cast, crew and supporting staff must all be screened daily for Covid-19 symptoms and have their temperatures checked; sets and work spaces must be disinfected regularly before and after filming; cast and crew must wear cloth masks or face shields; notices about Covid-19 and workplace rules to stop its spread must be put up in common areas and given to all employees; and hand sanitiser that is 70% alcohol-based must be made available to all.

Ms Wynn said they would shoot eight hours a day if they needed to and they would start small. There would be no crowd scenes, no romances, no kissing and storylines for commercials would be adapted to account for Covid-19.

Mr Riek said the industry had committed to a standard operating procedure before being granted filming permits. “Our industry does not require public interaction, and because our crews are used to adjusting quickly to various environments, we are able to implement these protocols effectively and thereby ensure that we mitigate the possibility of spreading the virus,” he said. “It’s important that crews and suppliers get back to work as safely as possible. No-one has been eligible for any kind of government financial assistance.” 

The City of Cape Town said its film-permit office would work with law enforcement to monitor compliance and help production companies with health and safety measures.

Northern News asked for comment from Wesgro, the Cape Town Film Studios, Gambit Films in Gardens, UCT’s Centre for Media Studies, and the National Film & Video Foundation. They chose not to respond to questions.