American Film Market 2011: Territory Report

In FilmDistrict’s “The Rum Diary,” Puerto Rico gets a rare opportunity to play its (Eisenhower-era) self, showing off its pristine blue-water beaches, steamy tropical jungles, luxury hotels and rustic urban neighborhoods, all seeped in a burbling melting pot of Caribbean cultures.

“We’re hoping the film will put us on the map,” says Puerto Rico film commissioner Mariella Perez Serrano. “A lot of people know of Puerto Rico as a vacation destination, but few really know what can be done here.”

The irony is that film and TV viewers have seen a lot of Puerto Rico over the last three years as some 60 projects have hit the island to take advantage of its production incentive, a 40% tax credit on payments made to Puerto Rico residents. But most of the time the island has stood in for somewhere else, from Argentina in “Fast Five” to the Iraqi desert in 2009′s “The Men Who Stare at Goats.”

Serrano believes the incentive isn’t the only draw. She says producers like that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, where the currency is the American dollar, and U.S. citizens do not need a worker’s visa or a passport.

“Puerto Rico is very safe, and you’re not exposed to what you’d be exposed to in other Latin American countries,” Serrano says.

Nonetheless, in the wake of increased competition from nearby countries such as the Dominican Republic, which recently enacted a 25% tax credit, Puerto Rico sweetened its incentive package last March, adding a 20% tax credit for salaries paid to nonresident acting talent (including stand-ins), reducing the minimum in-state spend from $1 million to $100,000 and eliminating the requirement that 50% of principal photography be done in Puerto Rico. The law also expanded qualifying media projects to include TV productions, short films, documentaries, musicvideos, commercials, videogames and recorded live performances.

The changes are already bearing fruit. In addition to the just-wrapped BBC adaptation of “Treasure Island,” starring Eddie Izzard, Puerto Rico has also recently hosted shoots for live concert videos by Shakira and the Mexican rock band Mana and commercial spots for AT&T, and it’s currently hosting a big-budget TV commercial campaign for a pharmaceutical company filming through December.

“They’re hiring everyone and everything local,” says Serrano of the commercial shoot. That not only puts more money into the Puerto Rican economy, it also helps build the local crew base, which is currently about four shows deep. “So that’s good for us,” she says.

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“They’re hiring everyone and everything local,” says Serrano of the commercial shoot. That not only puts more money into the Puerto Rican economy, it also helps build the local crew base, which is currently about four shows deep. “So that’s good for us,” she says.

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