South Pacific archipelago invites international productions with tax breaks
Fiji is far from unknown in Hollywood. Its tropical mix of palm trees, crystal blue waters, coral reefs and white sand beaches has been featured prominently in projects ranging from the 2000 Tom Hanks movie “Cast Away” to the 2007 season of CBS’ “Survivor.” So it seems strange that a community so obsessed with finding the latest and greatest production incentive has failed to notice that the South Pacific archipelago has lately been offering one of the sweetest deals in the world — a 47% rebate on film, TV and commercials.
“The incentive is easy to access, there’s minimal paperwork and the conditions are not stringent,” says Florence Swamy, acting CEO of Film Fiji, which provides all location approvals and permits. “It’s something that major filmmakers can easily meet.”
To qualify, productions need to spend as little as $140,000, and the rebate applies to both above- and below-the-line expenditures. On the downside, the per-project payout is capped at $6.7 million, which may be a deterrent to some larger productions, as is the lack of soundstages on Fiji. But people don’t come to the tropics to stay indoors.
Fiji consists of more than 330 islands, only 112 of which are inhabited, and Swamy says much of it is still virgin ground to filmmakers.
But that could change. In 2012, Fiji hosted 49 TV shows and documentaries and seven feature films — six from India and one from the U.K. titled “Bula Quo!” starring veteran British rock band Status Quo and Jon Lovitz. The lone U.S. production of note was TNT reality show “72 Hours.”
People tend to think of Fiji as a beach paradise, but it offers a variety of other looks, including mountain ranges and urban cityscapes. Its capital city of Suva has stood in for everything from Manhattan to the Indian city of Chennai. It also has a wealth of well-preserved colonial architecture, a remnant of a century of British rule, which ended in 1970. The Sigatoka Sand Dunes on the island of Viti Levu have been used to portray desert locations. The islands, most of which were formed by volcanic activity, also boast a number of spectacular black-sand beaches.
Fiji also appeals to the Hollywood community in other ways. In a bid to attract wealthy vacation-goers — and perhaps well-heeled actors, directors and producers looking to unwind after they’ve wrapped a shoot — Dietrich Mateschitz, co-founder of the Red Bull energy drink company, just launched the Laucala Island resort.
Located on a private island in the Fijian archipelago, the luxury destination boasts an assortment of lavish residences, sporting activities and even its own farm to raise the crops and animals that supply ingredients for the cuisine of its high-end restaurant.
To serve the growing traffic between the islands and Los Angeles, Fiji Airways is expanding its service to eight direct flights a week during peak travel season. “We’re just one easy 10-hour flight away,” Swamy says. “You get on at about 11 o’clock in the evening and you arrive at 5 in the morning the next day.”
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