The sky’s the limit for this trio of black industrialists

visionary trio The directors of Sky Rink Studios, Miles Britton-Masekela, Frank Mohapi and Marvin Mathibe, celebrate the near completion of their facility in the heart of JoburgPHOTO: tebogo letsie
visionary trio The directors of Sky Rink Studios, Miles Britton-Masekela, Frank Mohapi and Marvin Mathibe, celebrate the near completion of their facility in the heart of JoburgPHOTO: tebogo letsie

The ice has melted at the once-famous Sky Rink in the iconic Carlton Centre building, situated in Johannesburg’s central business district (CBD), but expect no dampened floors there – the skating rink has been transformed into a multimillion-rand, world-class film and television production facility that is almost ready to launch.

Described as a “high-technology, one-stop studio and production facility”, the refurbished structure is expected to make its mark as the first and largest black-owned, one-stop film and TV production hub of its kind in the country.

Inspired by the chronic shortage of studios and production facilities in South Africa, three black industrialists came together about four years ago to embark on this joint venture.

Soon, they will open the doors of Sky Rink Studios, where film and television production houses are expected to find everything under one roof. This is where producers will walk in with storylines and walk out seeing them given life in the form of quality TV dramas and talk shows, sports and music shows.

It all started after Frank Mohapi tried to use his considerable public relations and communications clout to help his producer friend, Marvin Mathibe, secure a studio for filming.

They tried everywhere, but all the good studios in town were fully booked.

Naturally, they spotted a gap in the market.

“I decided then and there to build our own studios,” Mohapi said.

“There was an opportunity in the market waiting to be exploited.”

Together with IT and media enthusiast Miles Britton-Masekela, the trio wasted no time in working on business plans and proposals.

When they approached Transnet, the owners of the Carlton Centre, Mohapi said they had planned to house the facility in the 2 000-seater ballroom, but were instead offered the disused ice rink.

Thanks to those who told them to “go big or go home”, Mohapi is not shy to say today that the three entrepreneurs were sent back to polish their proposal and expand on a number of things – including their budget, which ended up multiplying more than four times from the original R50 million envisaged.

Transnet offered the trio the floor as well as increased support.

Today, after receiving R180 million from the Industrial Development Corporation and a further R40 million from the National Empowerment Fund – along with other tranches from other partners – the three directors of Sky Rink will soon see their dream house being launched.

The 2 400m² facility offers six studios, ranging in size from a 240m² space to two studios, separated by an acoustic door divider, giving a combined space of 1 000m² when opened.

The studios are surrounded by several control and sound rooms.

Each studio has been kitted out with LED lighting, high-definition facilities and three cameras. There is also space for fully equipped production offices.

A long corridor is lined with 10 post-production suites. And completing these studios are, of course, make-up rooms as well as waiting rooms, both private and communal.

With all these structures conveniently located in one space, Mohapi said the establishment was well equipped to produce dramas, sitcoms, telenovelas, news features, talk shows, sports and advertising productions.

“We are a one-stop shop that will address producers’ needs. We are able to live schedule, host channels and stream live right from here.”

Mohapi added that the directors of Sky Rink did not plan to go out fighting for business against other production houses once the establishment was operational.

“We do not want to be referee and player, but are offering a platform where production houses can do it all under one roof. Whatever we had in mind was for the production houses,” he said.

Why locate the business in Joburg’s CBD?

Mohapi smiled at the question. “Apart from bringing life back to the city centre, the CBD will allow easy access for extras (additional people brought in on a temporary basis for crowd scenes). There will be no need to bus in extras.”

The directors also have job creation in mind. Sky Rink is expected to create about 150 direct jobs, while production houses using facilities here will bring in their own staff.

“We normally see five to eight actors on television, but behind the scenes there are about 30 to 50 people making it all possible,” Mohapi explained.

“This is one great industry that can employ everyone from an accountant to a security guard and cleaner.”

Mohapi said the directors were also looking at creating a platform to empower black people to become managers in the film and television production industry.

“We have very experienced black people who know the ins and outs of the industry and production, but no one in this country will expose them to management positions.”

Mohapi and his partners may have succeeded in realising their dreams in just a few years by working hard and overcoming challenges, but they are all too aware of other entrepreneurs in different disciplines who have failed because of the funding committee set-up.

“You find a committee with accountants who only think of the money and less of the business. There should be entrepreneurs there who think along the same lines [as the producers] when security is needed.”

Asked where he saw Sky Rink over the next decade, Mohapi said there would be many other establishments like theirs, adding that while he and his partners were setting a trend, they were also addressing the desperate shortage of facilities while staying on par with technology.

“We are expecting to hit the ground running when we open our doors. Already, we are about to finalise contracts for long- and short-term productions. I believe we will be fully booked in our first year of production and will look into expanding soon,” he said.

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