With 22 years in the service industry and eight operating Maximum Films out of Cape Town, company owner and managing director Pendra Dissell has developed a knack for adjusting to advertising's ever-changing business and creative climates and the demands of domestic and foreign spot producers.
Certainly Dissell's company has had to make its share of adjustments since its start in 1996. This past year, the strengthening South African Rand has leveled a playing field that once favored Maximum and companies like it. And although she insists her company's prices are still competitive, these days Maximum's pitch to European and American production companies is based more on merit and less on price. "Over the last 12 months, the Rand has strengthened by 55 percent, which is causing clients to start looking at other opportunities like Argentina," she explains. "Our biggest challenge is to pitch relevantly and tactically- from a monetary, creative and logistical point of view. So rather than being just a service company where we book and bill, we try to bring in a creative solution from the start. We have an established research department with a location database of over 16,000 images. We're able to instantly put clients in touch with the creative aspects-the pictures, the talent, the crew, the locations-and that gives us more weight in terms of the impression it has on clients."
Recently, Maximum acted as the service company for an Irish National Lottery spot out of McConnell's Agency, Dublin, directed by Declan Lowney of Dublin's Rocket Productions. The company also recently finished a collaboration with Russian production company DTV-MA and South African director Jorge Rubia, who maintains an ongoing albeit noncontractual, relationship with Maximum.
But clients have started to request directors from Dissell, prompting her recently to launch the production arm of Maximum. Currently, her star director is London-based Kevin Molony, who's spent his fair share of time in South Africa. "We found international clients were asking us for directors," says Dissell, "so we started contracting from the South African market and arbitrarily attracting directors, but it was exactly that-arbitrary. Directors were not being matched up with the right projects. We were approached by Kevin Molony, who'd done some jobs with us in the past. He wanted to spend more time in South Africa and wanted us to start representing him in Italy and Poland, as well. At the same time, we decided it would be good to start looking at two or three other directors who have local representation but need penetration into the international markets." Molony, who is also repped by Gap Films Commercial Productions in Munich, and Partners' Film Company in Toronto, has directing credits on spots like "Football" for Nestle's Lion Bar, Nike's "Rugby" and BMW's "Ship."
Maximum also reps South African directors Stafford Robinson, Paul Miros and newcomer Greg Martin for overseas markets. "Up until a couple of years ago, the South African directing fraternity was very much a local one," explains Dissell. "About 10 years ago, the service industry began to grow and now the market is incredibly flooded. As of the last couple of years, visiting companies have started to understand that South African talent is here, and directors are being afforded more opportunities on a global level."
Dissell also continues to adapt by trying to attract longform projects; Maximum is currently pitching a Swedish gameshow called The Farm, as well as an Australian feature film. "We 're actively pursuing other projects outside of service and commercials, and I think it's becoming more and more of a necessity because of how strapped the commercials world is at the moment."
While the flood of service companies has made South Africa a viable production option for European and American commercials projects, according to Dissell, it's shifted the balance of supply and demand. "The number of players in the South African market has risen to 70 to 80 service companies, all vying for a piece of a very static pie," she says. "But of those companies, some are full facilities with permanent teams and in-house marketing, research and accounting. Others are individuals who dry-hire everything and work out of their homes. We feel we have an advantage by being very stable, with crews to handle anything that comes in here."