US producer chooses SA crews and locations for upcoming features
screenafrica.com | February 13, 2015
American film producer Milan Selassie wrapped production on his debut feature film, Back to School Mom, in Cape Town a few months ago, and is set to make at least three more films on locations in and around the mother city and Johannesburg over the next few years.
TRAVELLING FILMMAKER: Milan Selassie (right) with director Christopher Erskin on the set of Back to School Mom in Cape Town
The independent producer, who made his first foray into feature filmmaking with the recently finished dramedy, has a four-film slate lined up, principal photography for all of which will take place in South Africa, although the movies are primarily intended for US distribution.
The line-up includes a romantic comedy – to be shot in Cape Town – as well as a political drama and a film based around hip hop culture, both of which are set to be filmed in Johannesburg. Aside from the director and DOP on these productions, the entire crew will be made up of South Africans.
An avid traveler, Selassie is a believer in Mark Twain’s dictum that ‘travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness’. He discovered the production possibilities of South Africa purely by coincidence during one of his many trips.
“Every New Year I go to a different country just to get a new experience,” he explains. “One year, after everyone telling me I needed to go to South Africa, I finally did. I was supposed to stay here for three weeks and I ended up staying for about four months. I would meet people in the industry and they would ask me why I’m planning to shoot in the States and that I should consider South Africa as an option. So I looked into it and liked what I discovered. There are a couple of factors that drew me here – outstanding crew, labour costs that are far lower than in the States and a very favourable rebate system.”
Selassie’s professional background is mostly in politics and investment banking. “I managed capital for high-net-worth individuals and then I worked in Washington on the International Relations Committee for the US Congress. But through all that I always had a strong interest in the cinema. I worked for the William Morris Agency [one of the world’s top talent agencies] for a while. That experience really provided a strong background for me. It gave me an insight into the film business, which has allowed me to make the best decisions in terms of the projects that I choose, and how to go about securing finance and distribution.”
Selassie will be among the delegates at the inaugural AFPRO Connect, to be held in Johannesburg’s Maboneng Precinct from 14 to 15 November. This expo is the first ever to promote South Africa’s production services, locations and incentives. “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to meet people from a cross-section of the industry, who have so many things to offer to people like myself. I’m hoping that it will introduce me to a wide network of professionals, make me a better producer and generally make my films much better.”
Back to School Mom, directed by Christopher Erskin and starring Kimberly Elise, Denzel Whitaker and Loretta Devine, is due for US release in 2015. This will be followed by distribution in South Africa and other territories across the continent.