It's time for 'Afriwood'
It seems the magic word is "Hollywood" and what it stands for - big bucks, the quality of movies and the number of zeros in the budget.
Hollywood stands for movies with budgets big enough to run a country. It represents exposure to world markets; whether you're in Dundee in KwaZulu-Natal or Dundee in Scotland, chances are you couldn't wait to see the latest Hollywood movie.
Tinseltown represents the opportunity to name-drop - and the networking and business opportunities and star-pull that come with being able to say, "I worked with Clint Eastwood in Invictus".
Hollywood movie-makers are the kind of client the world-class R322-million Cape Town Film Studios would like to have at its state-of-the-art complex all year round.
The studios, a partnership between the government and the private sector, offer "a unique opportunity for filmmakers to take advantage of a temperate climate, stunning variety of locations, superb expertise and state-of-the-art facilities at a fraction of what filmmaking traditionally costs", its website advertises.
Speaking to the Financial Mail for its cover story early this month, the film studios' head, Nico Dekker, said Hollywood executives are discovering that they can make "expensive-looking" movies at a lower price.
A co-producer of the yet-to-be-released Dredd, which was shot at the studios, is quoted in the FM as saying: "South Africa is in the business of making movies that cost half as much as they look."
The studios are not doing too badly. According to the same report, three major films, including Dredd, two TV series and a handful of documentaries, were produced in them.
In this month's Forbes Africa, Dekker said: "Even if all the studios are not always occupied, there hasn't been a day they stood without production."
Though the studios are getting a small but steady trickle of clients who make big-selling blockbuster movies, films made in South Africa are not doing well at the box office.
The Financial Mail reports that, of the 48million South Africans, only 1.7million watch movies regularly.
Contrast this with Nigeria, which the Sunday Independent reported makes 1000 to 2000 films a year, which is more than Hollywood and Bollywood combined . However, "the annual turnover of the entire Nigerian film industry is only about $250-million", the paper quoted the director-general of Nigeria's Film and Video Censors' Board, Emeka Mba, as saying. This is about what it costs to make a single instalment of a Harry Potter or Spider-Man movie .
Interestingly, though South Africa has a bit of luck in terms of government support in the form of tax breaks and funding, Nigeria's low-budget and low-quality movies thrive despite the lack of government funding.
Though the poor support given to local films, in terms of box office sales, discourages investment in producing more South African films, Nigerian filmmakers are creating a name for themselves even though that name is not synonymous with quality - or riches.
The Independent story said that Nigerian films regularly win continental competitions but they don't stand a chance internationally because of their production quality. They are often shot with only a simple digital camera.
Though the South Africans are crossing their fingers for more Hollywood clients to walk into their studios - and Nigerian creatives pray for a cash-injection from President Goodluck Jonathan's government to add a bit of Hollywood-ness to their movies - it wouldn't be a bad idea for the two countries to join hands and explore the possibility of "Afriwood".
Is it not possible to combine the best of both African countries to create a product that can compete head-on with the Hollywood blockbusters?
What stops South Africa, with its state-of-the-art studios, which are barely used, and which enjoys some support from the government, from teaming up with the "award-winning filmmakers" of Naija's popular shoestring-budget movies to create good-quality movies we can sell locally and internationally?
Nigerian movies are more successful than the good-quality ones we make in South Africa because they are popular with Africans and African immigrants the world over.
Instead of relying so much on the Hollywood connection, perhaps it is time Goliwood and Nollywood joined hands and used the best of each industry to create a product that will shine a spotlight on Africa, its unique stories and its production expertise and infrastructure.