Rob Davies on the Of Kings and Prophets set in Durbanville on Thursday. Picture: JULIAN GOLDSWAIN
Rob Davies on the Of Kings and Prophets set in Durbanville on Thursday. Picture: JULIAN GOLDSWAIN

THE film industry had spent R15.2bn in SA since the 2004 introduction of the Department of Trade and Industry’s film incentive programme, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said on Thursday.

Davies was speaking at the Durbanville set of the largest American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Studios production yet to be filmed in SA. Of Kings and Prophets traces the biblical story of a shepherd called David to become the Israelites’ most famous king. Filming started in February 2015, with the ninth episode of season one nearing completion.

The Department of Trade and Industry incentive programme returns 20% of preproduction and production spending in SA, and "up to 25%" if postproduction work is also done in SA, the department’s film and TV incentive director, Nelly Morokane, said.

Direct production spend in SA was R490m, of which R391m was "qualifying South African production expenditure", according to a fact sheet. Estimated direct and indirect tax revenue was R70m.

Almost all the crew, including extras and some actors, are South African, with ABC and Walt Disney Company SA executives saying "99%" of the film crew is South African. Disney owns ABC.

Between 675 and 858 crew members were local, and had worked for an average of 39 weeks. The average level of hire of people from "previously disadvantaged" groups was 50%, Mr Davies said.

A large number of vendors — 829 — had provided, or were providing, services, and there were 26 South African trainees on the series, spanning 12 departments. The estimated cost of training was R7.1m, according to a fact sheet. Training is done by nonprofit company F.I.L.M. Also, 25 training graduates were crew members.

Executive producer Chris Brancato said he had been "blown away" by the ethnic diversity of South African crews, with people from various races fulfilling various high-skill roles. This was a rarity and "an issue" in Hollywood, he said.

Mr Brancato said while tax incentives were often "a distant concern" to film crews, with creative skill a larger requirement, SA had not disappointed. He had had numerous "unsolicited" comments from seasoned Hollywood film industry members about the work ethic and skills level South Africans had shown. "That is not a common response in Hollywood," he said.

ABC Studios co-head of production Gary French said Of Kings and Prophets was the studio’s "catch-up" to the high-spend television series being produced by Netflix and Home Box Office (HBO). "This is an example of what we are doing to step up our game," he said.

The set of Of Kings and Prophets was "by far" one if the biggest ever built in SA, said production designer Johnny Breedt, a South African who worked on the film adaptation of Long Walk To Freedom, former president Nelson Mandela’s autobiography.

Production trainee Fay Kahn said every day on the sets delivered another lesson. A masters graduate in film, Kahn said she had learnt more in seven months on set than at university. She enjoyed the increasing sense of accomplishment she was gaining.

Costume trainee Carl Johannes, who was brought in "as muscle, to move heavy boxes", said he had found his calling. "I can’t see myself anywhere else," he said. "I love the chaos when you have to dress 300 people... Costumes are flying, shoes, but once you get those guys on set the end result is amazing."

Nolwando Pumelo was a cleaner before she joined Johannes in the costume department.

Trade Minister Davies said a production of Of Kings and Prophets’ size was of "significant" benefit to SA’s economy. The rand-dollar exchange rate was also a boon to foreign film production. "It means they have a huge advantage, it just makes it much cheaper for them."

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