Incentives, TV’s golden age, driving more productions
Zombies have overrun the Baja Studios in Baja California, Mexico, ever since the second season of AMC’s “Fear the Walking Dead” made use of the four-water tank facility, once known as Fox Baja Studios. The third season of the hit series is now in production at the 51-acre oceanfront studio purpose-built by Twentieth Century Fox for James Cameron’s “Titanic.”
“It’s been an amazing experience,” said Pablo Cruz who, along with his partner Arturo Sampson, has been providing production services to the dystopian series, independently of his duties as co-head of Canana Films.
“A whole team of divers live in the town of Ensenada who know every corner of the diving tank,” said Cruz. “The town is home to trained bilingual pros in makeup, wardrobe, electrical etc., and they mainly do U.S. movies,” said Cruz, who’s also handling production services for Mediaset miniseries “Ultimo 5.”
Furthermore, the nearby border town of Tijuana has shed its reputation as the epicenter of a drug war to become a leading gastronomic capital replete with world class restaurants.
“Fear the Walking Dead” is one of the growing number of TV productions shooting in Mexico as the global “platinum” age of television continues apace. Both linear and streaming TV services, led by Netflix, Televisa’s Blim and Carlos Slim’s ClaroVideo, are investing heavily in premium TV fiction.
This year, in a nod to the upsurge in television production, Mexico has opened up its Foprocine fund, mainly aimed at backing auteur films, to the production of series in all genres: fiction, documentary and animation.
Moreover, the Mexican film institute Imcine kicked off a project development call last December, open to international co-productions and foreign directors, whereby IMCINE will grant about $20,000 per project.
“There’s definitely been an uptick in international location shoots in Mexico over the past two years,” said Cristina Velasco, director of film production support at IMCINE, who also credits the new co-production pacts formed with various countries. “Last year, the Mexican Film Commission provided services to more than 130 international productions, which includes TV series, documentaries, feature films, commercials etc.,” said Velasco.
“We’ve had a steady stream of work but it’s not quite at the same level it used to be when two large studio films would be shooting simultaneously in the country,” said seasoned Mexican producer Stacy Perskie, whose first paying job was on “Titanic.” “Back then in 1976 – ‘77, ‘Zorro’ was shooting at the same time as ‘Titanic’; in 2003, ‘Man on Fire’ and ‘Troy’ coincided in Mexico,” he said, adding: “Entire films used to shoot here, now most of them shoot only some portions in Mexico,” said Perskie whose credits include “Elysium,” “Spectre,” “Sicario,” and its upcoming sequel, “Soldado.”
He is now prepping the week-long location shoot of Paul Weitz’s “Bel Canto,” starring Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe, where Mexico City will stand in for Lima. He’s also worked on Amazon Studios’ upcoming feature film, an untitled Nash Edgerton project starring Charlize Theron and Joel Edgerton which shot mostly in Mexico City and Veracruz.
Spurred by incentives Fidecine, Foprocine and fiscal tax break Eficine, local film production has exploded, with 162 pics made last year. Asked whether the upsurge in production in Mexico has resulted in a dearth of available crew, Velasco replied: “Mexico’s audiovisual industry is so dynamic that new teams are constantly being formed.”
Foreign productions can tap these incentives provided they have a Mexican co-producer.
Since 2010, the ProAV incentive, aimed specifically at foreign productions, has offered up to 17.5% of production expenditures in Mexico, comprised of a cash reimbursement of documented expenses and the refund of Value Added Tax (VAT) levied on local expenditures.
With more competition from the likes of Colombia, New Mexico, Puerto Rico and Canada, local authorities are looking to improve on the ProAV incentive.
“Whatever the government is doing to re-design and enhance our incentives is important,” said Perskie. “If you paired a good incentive with all the perks of Mexico: experienced crew, inexpensive labor, a favorable exchange rate, diverse locations and proximity to L.A., it would be a no- brainer for the studios to shoot here all the time.”