Casting in Africa - Useful Information
Africa is Big and Diverse
give a misleading impression of the sheer size of the Continent of
Africa because of difficulties associated with representing the globe
of Earth on a flat surface. Africa comprises 54 recognised
countries and has a land area bigger than the USA, China, India, Japan
and all of Europe combined. There are 1,250 to 2,100 different
languages spoken across the continent by almost as many ethnic groups.
At least 75 languages in Africa are spoken by populations of more a
million. The demographics and politics of Africa are complicated by the
fact that Colonialism resulted in national boundaries which bear
no relation at all to ethnic or language distribiution.
Although the majority of Africans are Muslim or Christian, traditional religions survive and still play a big role,
often in paradoxical combination with Christianity and Islam. Religious
practice in some form is an important part of daily life, with the
result that African society is essentially conservative.
at the Southern tip of the continent, South Africa will feel like a big
country if you come from Europe. A flight between the two major Film
centres - Cape Town and Johannesburg - will take two hours and is the
equivalent of flying from London to Helsinki. On the other hand, the
country is about twice the size of the State of Texas. Within its
borders though, you will find a politically stable country with a
diversity of geography and ethnic appearance coupled with First World
infrastructure and favourable exchange rate that has made South Africa
a favoured film destination for over twenty years.
been involved with casting for a wide variety of ethnic
"ALI" we needed French-speaking Zairians, for "I Dreamed of Africa"
Kenyans and Somalians, for "Beyond Borders" we searched for
Ethiopians. I have had to find people
genuinely Chinese, Tibetan, Arabian, Egyptian and the full spectrum of
European looks from Scandinavian to Mediterranean.
The reality is that whilst South Africans do encompass a wide variety
ethnic backgrounds, the pool of experienced, competent actors is fairly
limited. You may well find reasonable numbers of exotic ethnic groups
to participate in your film, but you are being optimistic if you are
to find "exotic" people capable of playing supporting roles. Let me
what leeway we have - could a South Afrian actor with Portuguese,
or Spanish ancestry acceptably play a Mexican in your particular
South African Constitution recognises eleven official languages:
Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga,
Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. The most common language spoken as a
first language by South Africans is Zulu (23 %), followed by Xhosa
(16 %), and Afrikaans (14 %).
English is the fourth most common first language in the country (9.6%),
but is understood in most urban areas. While Zulu, Xhosa, English and
Afrikaans are geographically relatively widely spoken, the other seven indigenous languages are fairly clearly regional.
South Africans can speak more than one language, with English
increasingly being the most common second language. Understand,
however, that English may well have been acquired as a
or third language, probably from a teacher who only speaks English as a
second or third language. Be patient. Also be humbled by the knowledge
that many of the people who are trying to communicate with you in
are able to speak as many as SEVEN other languages!
The Constitution also acknowledges "all
languages commonly used by communities in South Africa, including
German, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Portuguese, Tamil, Telegu and Urdu;
and Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit and other languages used for religious purposes in South Africa."
French is spoken by a fairly small and dispersed community of migrants from Francophone African countries.
of Talent :
African English accents vary enormously from one end of the country to
the other as well as obviously from one social and economic group to
If you have a particular accent requirement, please let me know well
Not all actors will be able to "turn on" an accent easily. A specific
may restrict your choices. If actors need to portray characters from outside of South Africa, allow time and budget for
/ accent coaching! It is grossly unfair to expect
an actor, however talented, who does not have access to LA training to
be able to acquire an accent unaided. I have access to a limited number
of very good English and American language Dialogue Coaches based here.
I could also arrange South African accent coaches, should your imported
actors require it....
There are two main centres, at opposite ends of the country,
from which to source professional actors - Johannesburg and Cape Town,
with Durban as a much smaller additional source, particularly for a
number of Indian / Asian actors.
training is available at Universities and Technikons and other smaller
facilities for example the Market Laboratory and the SA Schools of Film,
TV & Dramatic Art in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Generally speaking, emphasis
on theatre training and is of inconsistent standard.
and Contacts :
of the working professional actors are represented by about a dozen
talent agencies, the majority of whom are members of the Personal
Association. A number of Model Agencies also represent a wide
of performers. There are also other informal Agencies who have access
a broad range of entertainers, dancers, musicians, singers etc.
number of competent actors either work independently or move from one
to another and are somewhat more difficult to contact. This is a
of keeping myself informed about current projects across the country,
so-called "industrial theatre", one man shows, festivals, cabaret etc.
beyond the above sources in search of "raw talent" can be a
and expensive exercise. Reaching into outlying community theatre groups
for example, presupposes that you are clear about what you are hoping
find, have an understanding of the potential language and cultural
that you may encounter and can allocate a sensible amount of time and
to any such talent searches. Given that at this level not everybody has
/ fax or paid-up mobile, relaying a message via relatives or neighbours
can be a three-day process!
Africa's "Prohibition of Child Labour Act" is a very determined piece
legislation which has successfully been applied in Court.
Legislation for the
protection of children was enacted during 2004
Among common-sense limitations on working hours
according to the child's age. it is a REQUIREMENT
THAT A PERMIT IS OBTAINED FOR EACH CHILD EMPLOYED.
While the relevant Government Department is sympathetic to the
requirements of film production, you are strongly advised not to test
the limits in terms of the time required to obtain permits!
Common sense should prevail when using
minors in order to
possible problems. It seems obvious that there should be a
chaperone, an approved tutor who will liaise with the school,
rest time on set and a sensible turn-around period. Drama, accent and
coaching should be available if necessary. Reliable transport
and safety are priorities.There are a few specialist Agents who handle
children and teenagers, but generally, looking for talented youngsters
falls into the "talent search" category.
2014 the Government began to tinker with Visa requirements for
travelling Minors and also for Work Visas. New procedures were
implemented overnight, resulting in some disruption and much outrage
within the film and other industries relying on a mobile work force. A
Moratorium was declared and implementation postponed until around
The most onerous of the new regulations concern Minors, including a requirement to produce UNABRIDGED Birth Certificates, IN ENGLISH, and Letters of Permission from BOTH PARENTS, IN ENGLISH, at the point of departure.
The best that can be said is that the Visa situation is in a state of flux, and that you are advised to check with your nearest South African Legation and to allow plenty of time!
Academic year and the Calander year :
Since South Africa is in the southern hemisphere, the
Academic year closely follows the Calendar year, with the long summer
holiday coinciding with the Christmas holiday season. Since the most
productions film over the summer months in the Cape, this can present
difficulties in terms of availability of young people faced with end of
year exams or committed to family holiday trips.
is important to take into account that the culture of movie-going in
country is not extensive beyond the major cities. While it is possible
to meet talented performers who have never set foot in a conventional
and who have watched very little if any television drama, you cannot
that there will be any conceptual understanding of working on film.
are usually videotaped. I have, over the years, evolved a procedure to
keep track of everyone who auditions by allocating each actor a number
which appears on the video throughout the Audition, on my forms, on all
my lists and on the stills that I we take throughout
audition process. (It is not a given that everyone will have a headshot
and international format résumé.) This system
at every step and has proved practical especially when Director,
and Casting Director are scattered across different continents and time
Detailed briefs including a synopis and character descriptions are sent
out by my office in advance. Sides are selected from the
included in the brief. Bearing in mind some of the language issues
above, it is advisable to send audition sides out as soon as possible.
Cold readings may well present the actor with difficulties that will
fairly reflect his or her performance capabilities.
technical aspect of the studio is described in more detail under Studio
artists work on films made by people from all over the world, which
them the advantage of being adaptable to various styles of performance.
However, remember that not all have had formal training, and all will
to direction! If you find that a first reading is a little "broad" for
film... SAY SO. The reason may simply be that the actor has just done
a broad German TV comedy, a commercial stage farce, or a rumbustious
Theatre educational play. A minute spent guiding the artist toward the
style or nuance you want will be rewarded.
While some progress has been made recently, we
do not yet have a SAG type standard contract, partly as a result of
with many different countries. The Facilitating Company could present
with a contract that is not acceptable to some Agents.
PLEASE arrive at a working draft contract as early as possible. I will
send the relevant documents through to the Agents concerned and get
from them. Don't leave this to the last minute! It is never advisable
allow an actor onto your set without a signed contract in your hands.
The Personal Managers Association, the South African Guild of Actors
and the Independent Film Producers' Organisation have recently made
good progress towards a generally accepted "Standard Terms &
document which I recommend you consider as your basic contract. Changes and additions are allowed for in a "Special
Conditions" section, Alternatively, you could use a separate
in which you can make changes or add sections that are relevant to your
South African Guild of Actors :
to a legal quirk - and insufficient numbers - it is impossible to form
an Actor's Union in South Africa. However, the South African Guild of
Actors was formed in 2009 and is affiliated to UASA, a moderate, non-political Trade
Union with a history dating back to 1894. It may be true to say that
the majority of SAGA's work arises from issues with the national TV
broadcaster, but a SAGA task team has also engaged positively with
the Personal Managers' Association and
the Independent Film Producers' Organisation to work towards an
equitable standard contract which is practical in the South African
and large negotiable. Since there is no standardised Contract, there is
also no standardised breakdown of fees for features and television
As can be expected anywhere, you will pay according to experience and
Experienced local actors will surprise you with the range of their
local stars may well be persuaded to work on a bona fide international
project in relatively small roles. However, you will be
to pay a fee that is commensurate with their status and level of
regardless of whether the role is substantial or not. Good actors will
certainly be interested in the script and in who they will be working
an interesting script, a talented Director, a serious Lead and a fair
will ensure that you will also have access to some of our top
Public Transport System is... different. Firstly, it isn't a System!
of independent minibus taxi operators provide unscheduled commuter
to the usual commuter-type destinations during normal business hours.
is of very little use to an actor or crew member needing to get to an
of the way Film Location at unsocial hours. Economic disparities mean
you cannot assume cast or crew have their own cars. Assistance with
to and from Set should be discussed in advance and preferably included
in the Artist's Agreement.
Word Processing / Script Formats:
Microsoft Windows is
the most common
computer operating system in South Africa, although Apple's market share within
the film industry has grown.
While Film production companies may have the very latest versions of
software, not everybody has fallen into the upgrade anxiety trap.
agents span both the socio-economic and technology spectrum, so "sides"
to be easily available for distribution by e-mail. Fax can be virtually ignored as a means of communication. Hard-copy
is used as a last resort because of the inevitable delay.
is the word
of choice, but not universally in the latest version. To help us make
your audition sides readily available to the widest range of talent,
scripts in a format readable by Microsoft Word.
Reader is at least
available, so the PDF
also accessible, although the files can be large and slow to distribute
While most Film companies have Final Draft or Final Draft
to Talent Agents in this format is pointless. Extracting
from Final Draft to
send to actors in a format they can use is cumbersome and
time consuming and
will therefore incur an extra charge. Final Draft is in any case able to save
scripts in more accessible formats, so please also send us a
version of the
script as a PDF, or saved in
Text Format (*.RTF)
at least. The
loss of scene numbers and pagination is irrelevant to the casting
process since we extract "sides" as required. With a reference copy in *.PDF we can regenerate scene numbers if required.
are a Producer or Director contemplating bringing your production to
e-mail outlining your requirements.