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Cannes: Chile Hosts Diverse Productions, Incentives or No

Chile is gearing up to launch itself as a premier go-to filming location, with plans under way to offer incentives on par with its neighbors in the region.

“We are currently working on incentives that will attract more foreign productions and investments in infrastructure,” says Chilean film commissioner Joyce Zylberberg Serman.

Yet the dearth of incentives hasn’t prevented a number of filmmakers and companies from rolling cameras in the country. Ad companies in particular have flocked to Chile, which boasts a diversity of contrasting landscapes within a two-hour radius from the capital of Santiago. Robust ad production has spurred the ready availability of first-rate equipment, experienced crew and a cost-efficient approach to filming. The Chilean film commission estimates production services rendered to international productions amount to $55 million annually, of which 75% represents ad production.

“Our peak season is usually between November and March when it’s winter in the north, but we now have clients all year round,” says Carlos Congote, CEO of leading Latin American equipment rental company Congo Films, currently the only provider of Russian Arms (vehicle-attached cranes) and Milo Mission Controls (SFX cranes) in the region.

A surge in local cinema and notable talent has also improved crew competence and depth, with a capacity to absorb two to three large foreign shoots a year. The currency devaluation this year has made Chile even more affordable, says Zylberberg Serman.

Meanwhile, genre maven Eli Roth and his Santiago-based partner Nicolas Lopez of Sobras Intl. Prods. have already made four English-language pics back-to-back in Chile, starting with earthquake horror thriller “Aftershock” in 2012, in their quest to establish a “Chilewood.”

“We wrote ‘Aftershock’ almost as a test to see if we could make an American-style indie movie for the world, shooting in English in Chile with an entirely Chilean crew,” says Roth, who so liked the experience that he directed his latest pics “The Green Inferno” and “Knock, Knock” in Chile, as well as the Peruvian Amazon in the former.

“Chile is not necessarily less expensive, but here at Sobras, we operate like an old Hollywood studio, with a steady crew and staff working on a slate of projects,” says Lopez, whose shingle continues to churn out popular comedy franchises for the local market, in partnership with Netflix. These include the “Que pena …” trilogy, sequels to hits “Promedio Rojo” and “Fuerzas Especiales,” and TV spinoffs in the works.

The Sobras mini-studio is set in a tony mansion in Santiago, which houses all the equipment and staff needed to shepherd a project from start to finish, including animation, post production, videogames and apps.

“In Chile they do a lot more with less. They don’t say, ‘We can’t do this, we don’t have enough people,’ they just have everyone do 10 different jobs,” says Roth, who enthuses about the diverse range of bilingual casting options available in Chile.

Lopez is next venturing out to the mystical and remote Easter Island where shooting permits require approval from various municipalities as well as a council of elders. Partnering with local producer Leo Pakarati of Mahatua Prods. has streamlined the process for Lopez’s upcoming $5 million epic drama “Rapu.”

Pakarati, who worked on the “making of” video of the last major pic made there, the 1994 Kevin Costner-produced “Rapa Nui,” also co-produced Sobras’ docu “El espiritu de los ancestros,” which gave Lopez the idea to make “Rapu.” “The island is like a virtual movie set; it looks production-designed,” he says.

However, “Rapu,” which centers on the academic Alfonso Rapu who led a native revolt against the Chilean government in the ’60s, isn’t the only local hero being put on the bigscreen.

Chilean ad execs Eduardo Novion and Juan Pablo Andreani have teamed up with Ted Field’s Radar Pictures to produce “Leftraro,” an epic drama about the native Mapuche leader Leftraro who led a revolt against Spanish invaders. Budgeted up to $50 million, with “300” scribe Michael B. Gordon penning the screenplay, “Leftraro” is likely to be the most ambitious Chilean-U.S. production in recent times.

“We hope to shoot on the very sites where events occurred by early next year,” says Radar Pictures production chief Mike Weber, who points to Radar’s experience in other large-scale epic productions such as “The Last Samurai.”

Centering on the 1553 battle in which the Mapuches trounced the Spanish conquistadors, “ ‘Leftraro’ is a story of national pride,” says Novion, who is enlisting the tourism board, the military and private entities for support, as well as co-leading the drive for an incentive program.

Indeed, Chile would not want to lose out to its neighbors again as it did with Patricia Riggen’s “The 33,” the drama based on the 2010 Copiapo mining disaster in Chile where a group of 33 miners were trapped underground for 69 days. “The 33” was the first pic to tap Colombia’s new international production incentives. While most of the Phoenix Pictures production was produced in Colombia, it shot outside the actual mine in the Atacama desert for about a month.

“While it has yet no meaningful incentives, Chile has extraordinary locations,” says Phoenix Pictures production VP Edward McGurn, who stresses that the accessibility of a mine not far from their base in Bogota was what clinched the decision to mainly shoot in Colombia.

“The vistas we got (at Atacama) were mind-blowing; there were sand dunes as far as the eye could see.”

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