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How a South African film studio is taking on Hollywood

Story highlights
  • The studio has attracted actors from Hollywood
  • A Universal or Disney for Africa?

(CNN) South Africa is emerging as a big player in the global film business.

Behind the country's blockbuster boom is Cape Town Film Studios (CTFS).

The CFTS -- nestled just out from town in charming, rural surroundings -- has become a sought-after destination for filmmakers around the world.

Their game plan is simple: aim to be a world-class facility.

"You must aim like a world-class once in a lifetime facility," Nico Dekker, CEO of Cape Town Film Studios, says. "Something that will make people from across the world say, 'Well, you won't believe when you get to Africa. You won't believe what you're going to see there.'"

Building Hollywood in South Africa

In 2016 to 2017 South Africa's film industry contributed R5.4 billion (approximately $464 million) to the country's GDP, according to a report commissioned by the country's National Film and Video Foundation.

Dekker took over the leadership of Cape Town Film Studios in 2008, and in 2010 opened its doors for business.

He said he was motivated by a long term view of what he wanted the studios to look like. Dekker wanted to attract business and contribute to the country's growth.

"You need to have a very long term view and also remember that the studio is only a catalyst," Dekker said in an interview with CNN.

"The studio itself, the physical high-end investment, is not going to make you money. But it's the ripple effect around it. The businesses you could attract."

Filmmaking is big business

Cape Town Film Studios has successfully attracted big names from Hollywood to South Africa.

It's hosted the production of "Safe House" (2012) starring Denzel Washington and "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" (2013) starring Idris Elba. The multi-million dollar complex continues to place South Africa on the map of global filmmaking.

Their most recent production, an American television series "Black Sails," involved creating island scenery and ships. Dekker described the experience as both daunting and defining for the team.

"To bring "Black Sails" to our country with the help of wonderful South African producers and people was the turning point. Because we realized if we take a show like Black Sails, it's the first high-end show to come to Africa for a long-term basis."

The facility is fully booked until 2020 and unfortunately has to turn work away, Dekker said in an interview with Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail.

For an industry known primarily for entertainment, Cape Town Film Studios boasts of doing much more in terms of creating employment and contributing to the economy's growth.

"Overall, I think investment to date of production that's used at the studio is over about R3 billion (about $250 million)," Dekker told CNN.

"Also, productions at work here and also outside the studio employed about 70,000 people to date."

Dekker is not resting on his oars. He hopes to build more workshops and sound stages, delve into new film markets and attract more partnerships.

"My dream would be, one day, if possible to create that kind of Universal or a Disney for Africa that finances, that produces and distributes."