Iceland’s landscape brings big names

Island Locations: Iceland

“Flying in over the black sand beaches and lava fields, I could see that Iceland had the rugged and unusual look we needed. “

Clint Eastwood’s description of his first encounter with the location for “Flags of Our Fathers” and parts of “Letters From Iwo Jima” underscores how Iceland is making the most of its stark landscape, which appeals to productions seeking a dose of genuine unreality.

The tiny country has been the production site for hits well beyond the scale of its less-than-40,000 square miles, including “Batman Begins,” “Die Another Day,” “Hostel” and “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.”

The black volcanic sand of Iceland’s beaches sealed it as the site for “Flags,” says Kokayi Ampah, location manager for the production, which shot there in summer 2005. “The color and texture of the sand lent the location a lot of authenticity,” he says. “Clint remarked on how closely it resembled the sands on Iwo Jima itself.” Local production crews were tech-savvy and spoke excellent English, he adds.

The Film in Iceland agency has been aggressively pursuing U.S. and European productions since 2002. In January, it upped its previous 12% giveback of costs incurred by productions there to 14%, through 2011. Up to 20% of any unspent production funds also qualify for the 14% rebate if they are spent on services related to the production in other European Economic Area countries.

Iceland rebated $9.8 million to all productions over the last five years, with 60% of that going to foreign producers, who have spent nearly $50 million there during that period.

Like most Western locations, Iceland is not a cheap place to work. But given the U.S. dollar’s continuing slide, neither are a lot of other places these days. The agency emphasizes its proximity to other entertainment capitals — Reykjavik is a five-hour flight from the U.S.’ East Coast and 9½ hours from L.A.; any production equipment the country’s six major rental houses listed on Kemps can’t provide can be freighted from elsewhere in Europe usually within 24 hours.

FII asserts it can slash through red tape and access bureaucrats who can make things happen quickly for producers. FII project manager Einar Tomasson recalls that the poker-playing scene in “Flags” was shot in a warehouse made available on an hour’s notice after a call to the mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital.

State-of-the-art production and post facilities are sparse in Iceland. However, Reykjavik’s city council has approved a feasibility study to build a shooting stage in the city, Tomasson says.

“It’s a niche location,” says producer Rob Lorenz, who teamed with Eastwood on both WWII pics as well as “Million Dollar Baby” and “Mystic River.” “Films that can afford it will get a very unique backdrop.”

Kokayi Ampah enumerated a few challenges imposed by Iceland’s lofty latitude, including a short window for night scenes in summer and lack of daylight in winter. “But when you’re an actor working in full combat gear, you appreciate a 60-degree day in August,” he says.