Known Associates to build studio

Known Associates Entertainment, the production company behind the South African adaptation of the Colombian telenovela that inspired “Ugly Betty,” is planning to break ground on a Hollywood-style film studio outside Johannesburg that will boost capacity in one of the world’s hottest shooting locations. Cradle Film Studios will be built across the road from the Cradle of Humankind, a sprawling archaeological site where traces of some of the earliest humans were discovered.

Comprising state-of-the-art studios and backlots, a data center, an innovation hub, and a housing development, the complex will be located 30 miles from Johannesburg and just 10 minutes from an international airport. It will also include a theme park that takes its inspiration from the world-renowned fossil site.

The project’s backers say the studios will help position South Africa’s commercial capital and the surrounding Gauteng province as a world-class destination for both local filmmakers and foreign productions.


“We are very excited about the Cradle Film Studios, which will create a symbiotic relationship with both the servicing and production side of our business,” said Tshepiso Chikapa Phiri, CEO of Known Associates Entertainment, which last year serviced Universal’s Idris Elba starrer “Beast” and is currently servicing TriStar Pictures’ “The Woman King,” starring Viola Davis and Thuso Mbedu.

“It will bring direct foreign investment and create jobs, especially for the youth, and so the potential to greatly increase these key economic factors is truly thrilling.”

Backed by a consortium of investors, Known Associates expects to break ground on the studios in mid-2023.

“The Cradle Film Studios project is a culmination of all our ventures in film and TV spanning over 30 years,” said the project leader, Joel Phiri. “This is our legacy project, and its realization will bring together under one roof all our film and TV ventures. For that to happen in Gauteng at the Cradle of Humankind, where it all began, is mind-boggling. We can’t wait to break ground.”

Co-founded by Tshepiso Chikapa Phiri and Dan Jawitz, Known Associates Entertainment is the Johannesburg-based boutique production company responsible for “uBettina Wethu” (pictured), the South African remake of “Betty La Fea,” the Colombian telenovela that inspired the ABC series “Ugly Betty.” The company is currently prepping season 2, in co-production with South African pubcaster SABC and streaming platform VIU.

Feature films on the Known Associates slate include “Wild is the Wind,” a Coen Brothers-style thriller set in a small town in the Eastern Cape, directed by newcomer Fabian Medea, in co-production with Netflix; and “The Umbrella Men,” a heist comedy set in the historic Bo Kaap section of Cape Town, directed by veteran helmer John Barker (“Wonder Boy for President,” “Bunny Chow”), in co-production with eTV.

Also in development is “Ambre,” an Afro-futuristic drama series co-produced with Ivory Coast public broadcaster RTI; and “Victoria Island,” an eight-part drama series set in the Beverly Hills of Lagos, and written by New York Times bestselling author Taiye Selasi.