by Bobby Amm. Cape Town’s drought is a reminder of how the unexpected events of nature and humanity may shape the production environment. For an industry that relies on a vast number of diverse and expensive elements coming together successfully on any given day, the unforeseen or the unknown is often our biggest challenge.

Day Zero

This came sharply into focus recently when negative press reports about Cape Town’s “Day Zero”, intended mainly to encourage Cape Town’s residents to conserve water, hit the international press and created an impression which was far worse than reality. The unintended consequence was that some international commercial clients (and undoubtedly other potential investors in South Africa) were put off from coming to Cape Town by images of hundreds of people queuing for water in the city’s townships and reports that civil unrest was almost certain to occur when the water eventually ran out.

Commercial producers, who have a knack of rising to any challenge they come across, had already started to make plans. Grey water had been sourced for wet downs; discussions had been held with SFX and catering companies to find out what would be possible in line with water restrictions; locations that were compromised by the drought had been red-flagged in advance; and hotels had been contacted to establish what sort of arrangements could be made to ensure clients would enjoy a comfortable stay. These efforts enabled many clients to complete their shoots in Cape Town; however, some stayed away as they deemed the risks too great.

This isn’t the first time a natural disaster has played havoc with production schedules. In 2014, ebola broke out in a number of African countries, some of which are favoured locations for the South African advertising sector. Schedules had to be revised and recces and shoots postponed when outbreaks were reported in Kenya and Nigeria, and key personnel were advised not to travel to high-risk areas. Discussion ensued between agencies, production companies and their brokers to establish what would be covered by their policies and what would not under the unusual circumstances. The outbreak also had a knock-on effect for the international service industry when clients were anxious about travelling to South Africa, despite there being no cases of ebola reported here.

Over 11 000km away

In May 2011, the eruption of Grimsvotn, Iceland’s most-active volcano, caused an ash cloud that grounded over 900 flights across Europe and caused delays to a number of commercials due to be shot in SA towards the end of the season. This was a good example of how a natural disaster that occurred over 11 000km away could impact the SA production industry.

Aside from such force majeures which, in most instances, are insurable, there are also the circumstances created by the actions of people which add significantly to the risks and may deter production. The threat of terrorism creates a reluctance to travel and negative perceptions about SA and political developments in the country may also influence decision makers. The dip in the economy is an ongoing concern for the industry, as the number of commercials commissioned has dropped off over the last year.

Despite the occurrences that are beyond the control of the production community, the emphasis remains on being positive and proactive and working collectively to alter that which it is possible to change. To focus attention on what is currently required, particularly in Cape Town which has been through a tough time lately, the CPA has initiated the “Film Friendly Cape Town” campaign, which seeks to unite the industry behind the common goal of making Cape Town as film-friendly as possible in an effort to increase the breadth of its offering to both local and international clients.

For more information on Film Friendly Cape Town, please go to


Bobby AmmBobby Amm is chief executive of the Commercial Producers Association of South Africa (CPA), the trade association of production companies that produce television, cinema and internet commercials for the local and international market. After a brief stint in journalism, she began her career in the industry at the Consultative Committee for the Entertainment Industry in the early 1990s. She first joined the CPA in 1997 but left three years later to join a production company. After finding that she missed the big-picture perspective of the CPA and the interesting issues which continuously perplex the production industry, Bobby returned to the CPA in 2003. She contributes “The Martini Shot” column monthly, covering developments, trends and insights into the commercial production and film services industries in South Africa, to MarkLives.

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