When Film District’s “The Rum Diary,” starring Johnny Depp, premiered in Los Angeles on Oct. 14, Mariella Perez, the film commissioner of Puerto Rico was among the guests. And no wonder. The film shot entirely on the island.
But Perez also had lots of other business in the film capital. She spent most of the week meeting with execs from Sony, Disney, Fox, Relativity and others studios to present Puerto Rico’s new film incentives program, which has been on the books since March. The island has long attracted Hollywood, having hosted projects ranging from Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” Universal’s “Fast 5,” Warner Bros’ “The Losers,” ABC’s “Off the Map” (for which Puerto Rico doubled for Hawaii), USA Network’s “Royal Pains,” and HBO’s “Eastbound and Down.” While making the studio rounds, Perez’s intent was to persuade decision-makers to ramp up their production on the Island even more. During her whirlwind tour she spoke to Variety:
Variety: How often do you travel to L.A.?
Perez: We come here more than once a year, but this time in particular we’re promoting our new incentives program. The law that was in place for the last 10 years was revamped on March 4, 2011, extending not only the number of eligible projects but eliminating the 50% principal photography requirement, (reducing) million-dollar spend requirements to $100,000, and including an above-the-line credit.
Variety: How big an improvement is the new law?
Perez: It’s more aggressive. The previous law included only a 40% incentive on payments to residents. This bill not only adds an infrastructure incentive, but also adds the above-the-line credit that we didn’t have before – a 20% credit on nonresident talent, including actors, stunts, extras – everything that’s on-screen.
Variety: How long will the law be in place?
Perez: As we explained to the studios, until 2019.
Variety: Typically, who do you meet with at the studios?
Perez: Finance executives – people from the budgeting and estimate departments. They want to know how to maximize the credit and how it will affect their budgets. It’s pretty informal. They ask us questions like how many crews do we have, what’s the turnaround time on credits, how is it different from Louisiana, Hawaii and other states. We did a lot of homework to revamp our program and make it more competitive.
Variety: To what extent does Puerto Rico also compete with other countries?
Perez: A lot. Another factor that has contributed to Puerto Rico being more in the spotlight is that because of safety concerns for the cast and crew you can no longer go shoot in Rio or Mexico City or Colombia the way you could a few years ago, so we double for Mexico and lots of Latin American countries.
Variety: In terms of crew base, how many large features can Puerto Rico accommodate simultaneously?
Variety: What about soundstages?
Perez: Unfortunately we don’t have soundstages yet. We have groups interested in building stages. But we do have several government-owned warehouse spaces that can be used for filming. “The Rum Diaries” did all their interiors in two warehouses in which they built sets.