Latin America is scaling up its international production biz.
Shifting perceptions, new film commissions, tax incentives, robust local productions and keen government support have been driving more foreign location shoots to the region. High-profile pics — Bill Condon’s “Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1,” “Elysium” by Neill Blomkamp, Neil Burger’s “Limitless” starring Bradley Cooper, M. Night Shyamalan’s Will Smith-toplined “After Earth,” 1940s-set dramedy “Little Boy” — have filmed there in the past two years.
And security is not the concern it once was. “Most countries in the region are now pretty safe. Economies are booming. Some places have rebates, nearly all (have) local industries, which avoids flying in all your equipment,” says producer Juan Gordon of Spain’s Morena Films, which shot nine movies in Latin America, including Steven Soderbergh’s “Che.”
“Producers and screenwriters are rediscovering Latin America,” says Rio Film commissioner Steve Solot. Ironically, an animated film, the upbeat “Rio,” “woke up many people to Rio shoots’ potential.”
Mexico, Brazil and Argentina lead Latin America in infrastructure and seasoned local crew. But upstarts — including Colombia and the Dominican Republic — have sweetened their allure with incentive programs and lower pay scales. Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, is among the most aggressive, offering a 40% transferable film and TV tax credit, expanded last year to commercials, soundtracks and music videos.
Panama is also getting competitive, having just passed a film law that offers a 15% cash rebate to international pics, among other provisions, and its financial and banking setup “allows convenient cash flow,” says Mexican producer Matthias Ehrenberg, who produced the first Colombian-Panamanian co-production, 2009’s “Chance.”
Argentina is studying rebates for national/international shoots.
“Now that the sustainability of North American fiscal incentives are in question, Latin America’s growth environment is an exciting time for everyone,” says Jasbinder Singh Mann, chairman-CEO of the U.S./Dominican Republic-based Indomina Group.
The Dominican Republic (DR) recently introduced a tax credit of up to 25% for features and TV shows. DR will become even more attractive once the Pinewood Indomina Studios, partnering London’s Pinewood Studios and Indomina, opens its massive beachfront water tank later this year and its north lot in 2013.
“There’s an average of seven water-based studio films made per year,” says Singh Mann who’s already in talks with some majors.
Meanwhile, Indomina is backing crew-training workshops in preparation for the facility’s launch. “We’re projecting an average of 12 to 15 film shoots a year in DR, 60% foreign, 40% local,” says film commissioner Ellis Perez.
DR stood in for Ecuador in the first foreign pic to avail itself of its tax credit, “The Truth,” with Andy Garcia and Eva Longoria. “We especially got good value for the film’s military battles, with great cooperation from the local army,” says pic’s Canadian producer Bill Marks.
Fox Intl. Productions (FIP) has been co-producing or distributing Latin American pics since 2006, starting in Brazil. Last year, FIP co-produced Gerardo Naranjo’s “Miss Bala” with Canana Films, plus its first Colombian co-production, Andi Baiz’s “The Hidden Face.”
Advantages to producing local films include the possibility of remaking them for other markets and finding new directors, says FIP prexy Sanford Panitch. “We wouldn’t have discovered Naranjo otherwise.” Naranjo is now helming his first English-lingo pic, “The Mountain Between Us,” for Fox.
The issue of security, especially in Mexico, does crop up. “You just have to be more aware of your environs, like on any location shoot,” says Canana producer Pablo Cruz whose Diego Luna-helmed biopic “Chavez” rolled in Sonora in April.
“It all comes down to using your common sense, there’s always an element of risk in any location,” says seasoned Mexican producer/line producer Ricardo Del Rio.
Per Eduardo Carrillo, CEO of Mexico City-based Latin American insurance company LCI Corp., in five years only one shoot, “Guerreros de corazon,” was temporarily suspended — for one day — because of cartel violence.
According to IFG’s Michael Levine, Latin America does not set off a red light when considered as a location. However, “for any place where there’s a sense of danger, we require a separate hostage insurance policy and an approved security plan before providing a completion bond,” he says. IFG bonded “Love in the Time of Cholera” in Cartagena, Colombia, and, most recently, “Get the Gringo.”
Other concerns remain. Since 2008, inflation has hiked Argentine production costs at least 50%, says Rizoma’s Hernan Musaluppi. And since 2002, Brazil’s real has appreciated 54% against the dollar.
Also, the country’s bountiful tax breaks don’t extend to non-Brazilian productions. International movies only qualify as co-productions if they include local creative elements, not just spend in Brazil, says Conspiracao’s Leonardo M. Barros.
But Latin America’s economic surge is telling. “Some Latin American producers and investors are willing to make equity investments in films without their qualifying for subsidies,” says Matias Mosteirin of Argentina’s K&S Films.
“I used to be enthusiastic about shooting in Latin America,” says Gordon. “Now, I’m even more so.”
Many foreign Latin American specialists would share that sentiment.
Regional boom floats movie biz | On verge of rush in pic production | Local resources ready to help