Paying attention

A new rebate hopes to provide a resource for marginalized local filmmakers.

After years of grousing about the lack of funds for homegrown filmmaking, there could be some good news in store for South African filmmakers.

Later this year, the government is expected to introduce a new rebate specifically targeting lower-budget films that is designed to increase indigenous product and not just lure foreign projects to the country.

In December, insiders say, the Department of Trade and Industry will introduce the Small Budget Film and Television Production Rebate, which will give a 35% rebate to films budgeted at 2 million rand ($293,000) or less.

The rebate -- given to local films and official co-productions -- is expected to unleash a flurry of activity among young black directors and producers.

Slightly higher-budget local films -- those costing up to 6 million rand ($878,000) -- will receive a 25% rebate.

By contrast, the bigger-budget films launched by Hollywood studios and others that have benefited from South Africa's generous subsidies will probably take a hit.

The threshold for those films is expected to be reduced to 12 million rand ($1.7 million), meaning films can receive the current 15% rebate up to 12 million rand of their South African spend, but no more.

Feature films, TV movies, drama series, mini-series, documentaries and animation are all eligible as long as 50% of their principal photography is done in South Africa.

All rebates will be capped at 10 million rand ($1.5 million).

But the rebate comes with a complicating clause: Local filmmakers need to have 25% of their budget in place, a signed distribution agreement and a detailed financial plan before applying for a DTI qualification.

"This requirement is an important quality-control mechanism," says Jeremy Nathan, co-founder of DV8, a local production company. "No bank will cash-flow the rebate. Young filmmakers will still need to demonstrate ingenuity in the fundraising department."

Additionally, many believe high-interest rates, an absence of competition between the country's five dominant commercial banks and a lack of history in funding film will continue to constrain the availability of financing for unproven talent.

But for those producers who can access the rebate, there's good news: They can count on the money being there.

Production service companies that facilitate Hollywood and European films shot in South Africa report that the DTI rebate scheme as it now exists operates like clockwork.

"A check arrives six weeks after submitting a copy of the completed film and the paperwork," says Genevieve Hofmeyr of Moonlighting Prods. "The predictability of this system is a definite competitive advantage. It helps us secure business over emerging locations markets like Eastern Europe."