Moonlighting on the Job

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Production services may seem like the least creative element in the birth of a spot, but a creatively flexible business model is key to thriving in this competitive sector, especially in South Africa, as service company Moonlighting has demonstrated in recent years. Working on more than 60 commercial sets per year, the 15 year-old company has tackled the challenges of a stronger Rand and increased competition by developing streamlined production packages and products, and expanding it geographical reach.

"We started what we call Moonlighing Lite, which was designed specifically to take the fat out of the production process, and we were able to take things out by explaining that things aren't how they used to be," Key says. "So instead of having five PAs, you have two or three, and you negotiate with suppliers and you work harder. Basically we found that we were delivering the same product, and we were fitting in our margins. People need to come out from hiding behind a weak currency, but obviously it showed that we're providing a good value."

Beyond offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town, the company opened Eclipse Films, a production service company in Romania combining South African and Eastern European talent to serve agencies and production companies from diverse global locations. A photography division and tabletop studio complement Africa's gorgeous locations, which accommodate demand for bars and restaurants, deserts, beaches, buildings, gardens and jungles. "[Boards] come from everywhere," Key says. "Just today, if I think about it, we got a board from the Ukraine, one from Los Angeles, two from Poland, one from the UK, one from Germany and one from Saudi Arabia, and that's just in the last six hours."

One of last year's projects that Key is especially proud of is a sexy campaign for Martini out of McCann-Erickson/N.Y., shot over 19 days in Cape Town. Directed by Moshe Brakha of production company Commercial Head, the spots show beautiful and ethically-challenged people passionately entangled in heightened and campy situations that feel like print ads come to life. In one, a mob boss' food taster pretends to be poisoned so that he can be alone with the gorgeous moll. In another, a snubbed would-be heir seduces the benefactor's young widow, with the help of a certain drink, of course. All feature ample light and lush, dramatic settings. "This is a great example of how South Africa can completely recreate the look & feel of so many foreign destination, in this case, Europe," says Libbi Ball, line producer on the Martini shoot. "Some of the commercials were created on set; others were shot on location at different buildings in and around Cape Town. For example we used one of Cape Town's leading international hotels, the Mount Nelson, for its European style bedrooms, and Trovato House for its wooden paneled library."

According to Key, the production services field is level right now around the world, whether in South America, Eastern Europe or Australasia, but South Africa is "an easy place to work. There's a lot of depth in the crew base, in technology and in talent. There 's an enormous selection of locations that are closely located."

But among all of the expansion theories and creative ways around the economy's pitfalls, Moonlighting's overriding concept is to keep it simple. "What other companies have done is throw directors into the mix, and we decided categorically not to do that, because we feel that it's two very different businesses," says Key. "Attending to agencies and directors is very different than dealing with production companies. It's like we're the building contractors rather than the architects."

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