Ask any South African producer which crew they call first when a job is looking likely. Right up there with the Art Director, DP and other key crew are the chaperones – and that’s if the client hasn’t already called them. It’s not surprising when you consider that chaperones probably spend more time with the clients than anyone else on a shoot.
Chaperones play a crucial role in a client’s journey when they come to Cape Town. We decided to take a closer look at this South African production service phenomenon and spent some time with three of Cape Town’s finest: What makes them tick, what do they do, what are some of the million anecdotes they must be able to tell? That however was where they drew the line. Integrity is their middle name and therein lies one of the many secrets to their success.
What does a chaperone do? Let’s start with tour-guide, driver, friend, butler, production assistant, personal shopper, therapist, safe-space, production liaison, surf instructor, precision driver… slightly more than the oft-misconstrued assumption of being just a driver.
In the 18th century, chaperones would escort young ladies when they ventured out into society to ensure they were never alone with a gentleman. Fast forward a couple of hundred years and here they are in South African production, tasked with looking after our international clients. They are quite literally the first person they meet on arrival in Cape Town and the last person they see before they board the plane.
There’s the tangible, more obvious side of the role: as Marco Bacchetta says, “a client arrives here, they may not know anything about this country – and now they’ve been given someone who is here to help them with whatever they need. To make sure they get to wherever they are meant to be and do all the things they want to do.” Chaperones work together with production, from driving the clients around as per the production schedule, helping them with whatever they need, taking them sightseeing on a down-day to booking restaurants. They have the ability and contacts to secure & then cancel a table for 12 at Cape Town’s most sought-after restaurant and then book it again the following night, without upsetting the maître ‘d.
Then there’s the intangible, the magic. As Elmarie Raubenheimer puts it, “We create a secure environment for the clients in which they can work without worrying about lunch or sunscreen or did I bring my hat? They are out of their normal comfort zone. We’re a constant in a milieu that changes constantly.”
Discretion is non-negotiable. “Clients need a safe space” explains Andrew Raeburn. “The big part of chaperoning is the integrity.” Clients need to be able to have conversations while being driven around and be secure in the knowledge that they go no further. As Marco says, “My ears are blocked when I’m in the car.”
It takes a special kind of person to be a chaperone and service runs in their DNA – which explains why work for many of them doesn’t stop when they get home. During lockdown, Acghmat Van Der Schyff and Bash Kariel set up the NPO “Servants of Sustenance” and run a weekly soup kitchen in their local community; Andrew Raeburn set up the NPO “123Braai” when he came across a community living out in the bush near Atlantis Dunes. Elmarie Raubenheimer is the emergency liaison in her local community Neighbourhood Watch. Marco Bacchetta’s “Marco’s Kitchen” employs a team of ladies to makes his delicious aubergines based on an old family recipe that now sell in Spars and farmstalls around Cape Town.
Elmarie sums it up for us: “Cape Town is very lucky to have some of the best chaperones in the world and together we’re a great team and a force to be reckoned with.”
With thanks to all Cape Town chaperones, and to Elmarie Raubenheimer, Andrew Raeburn and Marco Bacchetta for giving us insight into their world.