South Africa’s international reputation for excellence in the film industry is fast extending beyond its scenic locations to now include the quality of its production crews. This is according to Chris Brancato, Executive Producer of “Of Kings and Prophets,” the first big-budget television series from American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Studios to be shot entirely in South Africa.

Brancato was speaking at a press conference on Thursday on the series set, located in Stellenbosch. “I have worked on film sets all over the world, and can honestly say that this is one of the best crews I have ever worked with,” Brancato said.

He described the attention to detail in every level of the production as “jaw-dropping.” Brancato also praised the work ethic and depth of talent available in the country and said he had received several unsolicited comments from seasoned Hollywood directors involved in the show who were “blown away” by the quality of the South African production team.  The ethnic diversity of the crew in senior positions and “not just as assistants”, was another strong feature that was rare in the industry, Brancato said.

“Of Kings and Prophets” tells the biblical story of the young shepherd David who wrestled with destiny and eventually rose to become Israel’s most famous king. It is set in the ancient Israelite city of Gibeah in 1,000 BC, before the establishment of Jerusalem. Filming began in February 2015 and the ninth and final episode of the first season is currently nearing completion.

Production designer Johnny Breedt said that this is “by far the largest production that ABC has ever staged in South Africa”.  “Every costume, every prop, was made here in South Africa” Breedt said. A distillery in Stellenbosch was converted into a fully functional sound stage, along with surrounding production offices, at a cost of around R7m. The biblical city of Gibeah was constructed on a farmer’s field in Durbanville, at a cost of around R11m. The direct spend has so far amounted to R490m of which R391m is Qualifying South African Production Expenditure. The total tax revenue estimated to have been generated by the series is R70m to date. The set created jobs for between 675 and 858 crew members for a total of 39 weeks. “There are also so many manufacturers who have benefitted” said Breedt. Timber, cement and polyurethane were three of the materials he listed that had been used prolifically in the creation of the set.

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Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies said that this was another success for the film incentive programme that the Department of Trade and Industry has been running since 2004. “What we offer now reaches way beyond scenic locations to a genuine depth of production capability. This comes from the experience that our crews have had as a direct result of the incentive programme”, Davies said. The DTI has spent R3.3bn in rebates since 2004 through which it has leveraged investment in the country of over R15.2bn.

Speaking to Cape Business News after the conference, Davies said that the exchange rate made the incentives to foreign film studios even more attractive. “Many countries have scenic locations, but not all have the kind of incentive programmes that we offer and if you don’t have the incentives, you can’t compete for the investment.”

“Of Kings and Prophets” premieres in the US on 8 March.