Greg talks about his life-long love of film

Greg Copeland

Cinematographer Greg Copeland loves shooting in Cape Town, because “everywhere is beautiful, especially outside”.

One such experience was his sleepover on Robben Island while shooting the Freedom Swim, an annual open water swimming event from the island to Big Bay.

What made it more exciting was the fact that Greg had been experimenting with drone filming, and could get open water shots, as well as aerial views of the island that few had seen before.

“When you are filming on the island, you get to see lots of the behind the scenes stuff you don’t get to see when you are on the tours. There is a shipwreck on one side of the island that people can only really see if they are on a boat on the side of the island. There are the most amazing views. If it wasn’t such a ghost town, Robben Island would be a good piece of real estate.”

Greg, who is from Kommetjie, was born in Cape Town, but moved to London to escape apartheid’s compulsory military service.

“I had applied for political asylum, and then got married and settled in London.”

He said as a child, he completed a film and drama course, and loved it, but more the film-making part of the course.

“I always made little films. There was a club in Cape Town I had joined as an aspiring film-maker where we could experiment, and there were competitions, and I was doing very well, despite my parents saying I couldn’t make a career out of filming. They wanted me to be an accountant.”

He said after he had moved to London, he was ahead with cinematography, as film school was more conservative there.

“In London, people would finish school then go to film school. No one there that I knew had spent their youth making films.”

He said he then started filming music videos at the peak of the MTV era.

“It was a wonderful time for music videos, and London was the place to be. At a young age, I had worked with many famous people including Sting, Elton John, Craig David, and various English pop groups.”

His career in music video filming started becoming less significant after the introduction of music streaming, downloads and media players, and the music scene became digital.

“People didn’t buy singles anymore at music stores and music videos could be streamed online. Also, people started buying editing software and had access to all types of video cameras, so high definition videos could be shot anywhere at a low budget. My only option was to do more commercials.”

Greg then moved back to Cape Town a few years ago and started commercial and event filming. He particularly enjoys extreme sport filming.

“Commercial filming in the city is quite mercenary. It’s not very involving so I wasn’t satisfied, and tried to explore some other avenues.

“The thing I love about extreme sports is that they are always done in the most epically beautiful places. And it’s inspiring, it takes a lot of strength for someone to compete in extreme sports.”

He said while he admires the many people he shoots doing the Freedom Swim and random swimming off the shore of Robben Island, he is unsure whether he will be able to complete the swim.

And while drone filming was something he dabbled in for a while, and which worked well with filming open water and extreme sports, the red tape that followed as drone filming became more popular was too much hassle.

“I don’t really use a drone anymore. Getting a licence alone is a long, tedious process. The accreditation, policies and red tape made it impossible for freelance cinematographers to film using a drone. You need more permissions to film with a drone than flying a helicopter, so it is mainly used by larger film companies who can afford to get all the permissions.”

Even so, he was glad to get the picturesque views of the island while he stayed there.

“If the seas were not so rough, it would be an amazing place to film – right there by the sea. It’s also a great holiday destination. It was amazing to sleep in a space that once may have belonged to a warder.

“Hopefully, the government would spend some more time making it a space for people to stay over. Because now it’s just seen as a piece of history, when there is so much more to explore.”