South Africa is a great place to be a young director, and Johannesburg production company Terraplane is trading on that. Domestic agencies able to afford only local talent, as well as international agencies looking to save a buck, will often seek out up-and-coming directors in location-rich South Africa. Careers can skyrocket, and the projects, although not necessarily top-shelf, keep coming.
Dan and Ann Roberts, husband-and-wife co-owners of Terraplane as well as sister service company The Gatehouse in Cape Town, distinguish their operation by calling it a breeding ground for directors. Of the 10 helmers currently signed to the three-year-old Terraplane, seven never shot a professional commercial before joining the company. For the Robertses, the trick to their success is maintaining a steady flow of new talent-a feat not so easily accomplished. "Young hot talent is what agencies want-new, fresher, shinier, brighter-but to keep the clients and agency producers happy, you have to provide some sort of guarantee," says Ann Roberts. "Dan has shot hundreds of commercials, and he can help our directors realize their vision without mucking it up in the process."
Terraplane's highest-caliber young gun is Daniel Levi, who signed with Smuggler late last year for U.S. representation after receiving awards and accolades for his arresting visual imagery. Levi is also repped for spots in the U.K. and the Netherlands by Independent Films, London; and in Germany by Gap Films, Munich. Unfortunately for Terraplane, this leaves less and less of the world for it to conquer with its star talent. "You can only hope that your young creative stud will stay with you long enough to recoup your investment before hopping on a plane to London, Paris or New York," says Dan Roberts. "And that investment is all the freebie jobs for some advertising agency's mega-wealthy global client, who for some weird reason can't afford to make a commercial with you."
Rounding out Terraplane's talent roster is AK, Mikhael van Straaten, Adrian de sa Garces, Norman Maake, Tyron Van Vuuren, Jan Hendrick Beetge, Guy de Lancy, Trevor Clarence, and Lizelle Mes. Further separating themselves from the ever increasing landscape of South African service and production companies, Terraplane maintains its own online/offline edit suites. With editing in-house, Ann Roberts feels more of the budget ends up on the screen. "Terraplane was started with postproduction from the beginning," she says. "We had to establish what was going to be different about this company and that was new directors with technology."
Recent projects, which tend to be domestic, include a spot for South African cell phone provider Cell C, directed by de sa Garces. International service jobs coming through The Gatehouse tend to favor European projects and include "One Upmanship," for Toyota and Saatchi & Saatchi/London, produced by Another Film Company, London; and three spots for Kellogg's Frosties produced by Union Commercials for Leo Burnett, both also in London, among many others.
Ann Roberts feels that work for Terraplane will be coming from Eastern Europe, but with the South African currency on the upswing she also feels that region is her greatest competition. "We've lost some work to Argentina, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria," she explains. "A lot of these places are very cost effective and have good production just like us, so you have to give them a good reason to leave their homes."
As a result, Roberts feels selling Terraplane to her clients should be about South Africa's beautiful locations, directorial talent and world class crews-and the built-in vacation doesn't hurt either. "There's a holiday aspect to working in South Africa-particularly when everyone in the Northern Hemisphere is getting really cold. But I don't think South Africa should ever sell itself as cheap. I think we have some of the best production in the world. So it's about creature comforts and these guys being really good."