Pros picks their favorite places to shoot
Including the Los Angeles area, the San Francisco Bay area, San Diego and locations throughout the state
The sheen may be off the Golden State as it struggles to cope with an ailing economy and continued runaway production, but Hollywood — with its huge infrastructure and crew base — is still the center of the global film and TV production industry, employing about 250,000 direct workers.
And after years of seeing other states and Canada siphon off production via aggressive tax incentives, California is fighting back with incentives of its own. With an annual commitment of $100 million, the state now has two programs: a 25% transferable tax credit program for indies with a California qualified spend up to $10 million and a 20% nontransferable tax credit for studio films shooting 75% or more of their production days in the state.
The programs have helped California keep many “at risk” projects from leaving, including Sony’s “The Social Network,” Paramount’s “Dinner for Schmucks” and Disney’s “You Again.”
“We’ve accommodated over 100 projects during these first two fiscal years of the program, and most of those would not have been filming here without the incentives,” says Amy Lemisch, director of the California Film Commission.
Plus, the major studios’ facilities and backlots are a California resource no other place can match. Universal recently updated and reopened its New York Street on four acres that were destroyed by fire in 2008.
Outside of L.A., production continues apace throughout the state: Fox’s TV series “Terriers” was shot in San Diego, and the feature “Moneyball” shot for several weeks in the San Francisco Bay area. Film offices throughout the state facilitate production.
- NEW YORK
New York City, Long Island and Upstate New York
A restless 24/7 dynamo, New York City has it all — iconic landmarks, world-renowned locations, a huge crew base and facilities such as Silvercup Studios, Kaufman-Astoria, Steiner, EUE Screen Gems, the studios of the major TV networks and the under-construction Stage K film and TV facility in Queens.
Add the state’s 30% fully refundable below-the-line tax credit on qualified expenses, with $420 million newly in the kitty (although the 5% New York City program has not been funded in a year), and it’s easy to see why production’s booming. Every year, some 250 films shoot in the state; recent ones include “Platinum Rush,” “Fair Game,” “The Other Guys,” “Salt,” “The Tempest” and “Sex and the City 2.”
New York is also home to such TV shows as “30 Rock,” the “Law and Order” franchise, “Damages” and a slew of cable programming, talk and variety shows. But while Manhattan and its environs exert a strong gravitational force, films and commercials have also long used locations and settings from Long Island and the Hudson Valley all the way to the Canadian border.
Filmmakers turn to the other LA
New Orleans’ let-the-good-times-roll vibe has spread throughout the state thanks to a boom in production sparked by Louisiana’s aggressive 30% transferable tax incentive. This in turn has created demand for experienced crews, with many Angelenos relocating to the Pelican State, as well as for more production space. Stages include Raleigh Studios Baton Rouge, StageWorks in Shreveport and Louisiana Film Studios in Elmwood.
Shreveport, which has positioned itself as a major film and TV production center (“True Blood”), is also the site of a new $12 million studio built by Nu Image skedded to open in January.
Sometimes the state seems like a production machine. Recent features include Randall Wallace’s “Secretariat,” Simon West’s “The Mechanic” and Sylvester Stallone’s “The Expendables” — not to mention “Drive Angry,” which stars Nicolas Cage, who also happens to star with Nicole Kidman in “Trespass,” which shot in Shreveport.
The Midwest is home to the national incentives champion
Michigan may be freezing in winter, but when it comes to filming, it’s now hot year-round in the Wolverine State, thanks to its 3,000 miles of coastline that can double even for the Caribbean, gritty urban locations, deep crew base, film-friendly communities and — most of all — incentives on steroids.
The state’s 40% refundable, assignable credit gets bumped up to 42% if filming is in one of 136 designated “core” communities. And the required minimum in-state spend is only $50,000 — which explains why more than two dozen features, including “Transformers 3,” “Hostel 3,” “Harold and Kumar 3,” “Real Steel” and “Salvation Boulevard” all headed to Michigan, following in the footsteps of “Up in the Air” and “Gran Torino.”
New release “Stone,” starring Robert De Niro and Edward Norton, shot in Ann Arbor and Dexter, and “Conviction,” starring Hilary Swank, shot in Dearborn and Detroit. The state also attracts TV work, including HBO’s “Hung,” shot in Detroit and West Bloomfield, and ABC’s one-hour drama “Detroit 1-8-7,” shot entirely in Detroit.
- NEW MEXICO
Sand, scenery and stages
Long famous for stunning scenery — white sands, snow-capped mountains, colorful mesas — the state offers a 25% tax rebate on all production costs and local labor — and there’s no state sales tax. The result? New Mexico has positioned itself as a filmmaking magnet that’s attracted over $2 billion in production since 2003 — including such high-profile films as “Transformers 2,” “Terminator Salvation” and the upcoming “Cowboys and Aliens,” “Due Date,” “Passion Play,” “Thor” and the Coen brothers’ “True Grit” remake.
Recent TV production includes USA’s “In Plain Sight,” ABC’s “Scoundrels” and AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” To keep up with demand, stage space has also ramped up, with the Albuquerque Studios complex and Albuquerque-based Rio Grande Studios soon to be joined by a new complex in Santa Fe. Leading the way, the state has also aggressively pursued a green filmmaking program promoting everything from recycling sets to the use of nontoxic paints and hybrid/electric vehicles.
History meets the present
Romance, intrigue, history and mystery seem to ooze from the very cobblestones of Prague’s narrow, atmospheric streets, and every sight and neighborhood — the Charles bridge, the castle, the old town, the Jewish quarter — seems tailor-made for filming.
Significantly, the capital of the Czech Republic just approved a 10% rebate on qualifying international expenditures.
Prague has been a filmmaking center since the silent era, anchored by the Barrandov studio complex, built in the ’30s and featuring some of the largest stages in Europe. The city’s varied architecture has made it a versatile stand-in for Vienna, Paris, Rome and London, but it has more famously starred as itself in such films as “Amadeus,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Casino Royale” and “Hannibal Rising.”
Johnny Depp went there to chase Jack the Ripper in “From Hell,” Wesley Snipes to pursue vampires in “Blade II” and Barbara Streisand to shoot “Yentl.” Disney’s “Narnia” sequel and “The Illusionist” also shot in Prague, and Tom Cruise recently returned there to shoot “Mission: Impossible 4,” directed by Brad Bird. The city also has a wealth of support services, including Cabiria Films Ltd., which offers casting, location, pre- and post-production, and visual effects/post house Universal Production Partners.
Experience and know-how
While Morocco currently has no tax incentives and, like the rest of North Africa, no active film commission, it does offer filmmakers plenty of other advantages – exotic landscapes, cheap labor, seasoned crews, locations that can double for anywhere in the Middle East and a strong filming infrastructure.
Ridley Scott, who calls it “great value for money,” keeps going back — for “Gladiator,” “Black Hawk Down,” “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Body of Lies.” “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” “Memoirs of Hadrian,” “Green Zone,” “Baghdad 4.13 p.m.” and “Red Sands” all shot in Morocco recently — as did the earlier “Alexander,” “Babel,” “Troy” and “The Mummy” franchise.
Highly cinematic locations range from the rocky Mediterranean coastline to the high Atlas mountains and desert dunes, plus such cities as Casablanca, Tangiers, Marrakech, Fez and Rabat. Thanks to its long history of filmmaking, stretching back to such Hollywood visitors as Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston and David Lean, Morocco’s experienced film companies can handle production services from location scouting to shooting permits and gear rental.
Where the good life is an incentive
The Eiffel Tower, the Alps, the Cote d’Azur, Provence — France boasts so many iconic locations, plus great restaurants and an attractive lifestyle, that it’s easy to overlook more mundane attractions.
Since 2009 the country has offered a 20% rebate for qualifying foreign films, and there are no fees to shoot at major landmarks or on the streets of Paris — which is partly why Woody Allen, Christopher Nolan and Clint Eastwood recently shot there.
Plus, there are no union quotas in Gaul, and a network of 40 film offices — such as the Ile de France Film Commission — helps coordinate casting, extras, permits and crew. Other resources include a wide range of studios, post houses, digital labs and vfx/animation facilities, including Eclair, Duran Duboi, BUF and Mac Guff Ligne, which did much of the vfx work on “Despicable Me.”
- BUENOS AIRES
It takes more than two to tango
The so-called Paris of South America has long attracted filmmakers from around the world with its photogenic plazas, avenues, historic buildings and monuments, cosmopolitan ambiance, good infrastructure and film-friendly attitude.
Alan Parker came for “Evita,” Francis Ford Coppola for “Tetro,” Robert Duvall came to make “Assassination Tango,” and James Ivory shot his recent “The City of Your Final Destination” in and around B.A. even though the story is set in Uruguay.
“Argentina has a long history of filmmaking, it has wonderful crews who’re very experienced and hard-working, great locations, and while there’s no tax breaks it’s relatively cheap to shoot there,” says Ivory. “And the B.A. film commission were extremely helpful with everything from logistics to permits and scouting.”
The city and environs are known for their restaurants, hotels, museums, galleries, clubs — and, of course, places to watch the tango.
Top directors flock to Blighty
The U.K. offers a great combination of postcard-worthy locations (Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square), bucolic countryside, experienced crews and major studio facilities (Pinewood, Shepperton, Ealing, Twickenham) — not to mention one of the deepest pools of acting talent on the planet.
Plus, London’s Soho is the center of a thriving post and vfx industry, while vibrant regional cities like Glasgow, Edinburgh and Liverpool have also pulled shoots.
All that, along with a 25% tax credit for budgets under £20 million (20% for larger budgets), explains why Clint Eastwood (“Hereafter”) and Woody Allen (“You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger”) recently flocked there to join such homegrown productions as Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” Stephen Frears’ “Tamara Drewe” and Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” along with “Robin Hood,” “Green Zone” and the Harry Potter and Bond franchises.
- INFRASTRUCTURE AT THE READY
Chicago, Toronto, Paris
Chicago offers multiple soundstages (Chicago Production Center, Chicago Studio Center, NBC Studio), a five-deep crew base, post-production facilities, rental houses and the biggest U.S. acting pool outside L.A. and New York. Toronto offers 30 years of production experience with 25,000 crew, 10,000 ACTRA members, a million square feet of studio space and a full range of post-production, animation and visual/special effects services. Paris boasts one of the world’s longest filmmaking histories and has recently been the setting for a slew of foreign features, including “Inception,” “Hereafter” and “Julie and Julia.” Luc Besson’s ambitious Paris Studios at the Cite du Cinema (set to open in 2012) will put the city in competition with its stage-endowed rival across the English Channel.
- INCENTIVE IMPERATIVES
Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Georgia
Massachusetts offers an aggressive 25% tax credit for every dollar spent by qualifying productions, with no caps, limits or pre-certification. It’s the only state allowing filmmakers to take credits as a direct rebate at 90% or sell at market rate. Georgia provides an across-the-board flat tax credit of 20%, with a possible further 10% if a state promo logo is included in the finished production. Minimum spend is $500,000, and Georgia also exempts local sales-and-use tax. Pennsylvania offers a 25% tax credit to films spending at least 60% of their total production budget in the state.
- THE LURE OF VISUAL APPEAL
Utah, Washington DC, Texas
The red and pink rock formations of Utah have provided backdrops since the early Westerns and are starring again in “127 Hours,” Danny Boyle’s tale about trapped climber Aron Ralston.
The nation’s capital features stone of another kind: monuments and landmarks like the White House, Pentagon, U.S. Capitol, Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, which have symbolized power in myriad films. Texas has it all – white Gulf beaches, rolling hills, wide open cattle country, big skies — plus the urban skylines of Houston and Dallas.
- DOUBLING FOR ANOTHER LOCATION
British Columbia, Iceland, Hawaii
With diverse landscapes of wild coastline, deserted areas, green forests and snowy mountains encircling a sophisticated Vancouver skyline, British Columbia has happily doubled for everywhere, including the Middle East, Europe, Mexico (“The A-Team”) and ancient Greece (“Percy Jackson and the Olympians”). Iceland boasts black sand beaches, raging rivers and open, unspoiled vistas and has even doubled for the South Pacific island of Iwo Jima (“Flags of Our Fathers”). Thanks to its active volcanoes, expanses of hardened lava, lush flora and drop-dead-gorgeous beaches, Hawaii has doubled for alien planets, South American rain forests, Asian jungles, Texas ranchland, West Africa — and Earth millions of years ago.
- FILM OFFICE SUPPORT
Maryland, Australia, New Zealand
The Maryland Film Office has an online guide dealing with everything from location scouting and research to a photo gallery, government and community liaisons, as well as the mundane but vital matter of the weather. Screen Australia, established in ’08 to replace the Aussie film commish and other agencies, offers tax breaks, a large library of free archival footage, co-production help and a guide for filmmakers working with indigenous people and content. Film New Zealand has a tax incentive program and provides an extensive location gallery and a production guide covering finance, insurance, equipment resources and regional film offices.