For most producers, it would be a dream come true to find an exotic island that not only doubles for a number of locations but also offers a 40% tax rebate.
That’s the reality on Puerto Rico. The only problem, though, is that few people know about it.
“It wasn’t promoted and was a big secret,” says Luis Riefkohl, executive director of the Puerto Rican Film Commission,
The rebate’s been available since 2000, but the main focus was on local productions for the first few years.
When he took over two years ago, Riefkohl says one of his main goals was to spread the word about the incentive in order to attract more feature and television production from outside Puerto Rico.
Producer Kip Konwiser discovered the rebate and has been instrumental in bringing a steady stream of productions to the island, including NBC’s now-canceled series “Kidnapped.”
The initial plan was to shoot in Mexico, where part of the storyline took place, but Konwiser says he called an executive at Sony Pictures TV, the show’s producer, and told the exec about Puerto Rico.
“I said, ‘Don’t take it (to Mexico), Puerto Rico’s the answer, and I can return 40% as well,’ ” Konwiser recalls. “The show was hemorrhaging, so it gave me an opportunity to wedge myself in.”
It wasn’t the first time Konwiser acted as a liaison between a U.S. production and the island. He was also hired as a producer by Grosso Jacobson Communications to work on “Kings of South Beach,” an A&E original film, also partly financed by Sony, and shot entirely in Puerto Rico last year.
“Shooting on Puerto Rico came about because it was a way for us to put as much money as possible on the screen,” says Grosso Jacobson’s Clay Kahler, executive producer of the film. “The 40% rebate was a big incentive.”
Kahler says there wasn’t a requirement to hire local crews, but he wanted to take advantage of spending local dollars toward the rebate and found the crews to be “amazing.”
“It’s just good business,” he adds. “The more you do locally, the more you save.”
Kahler warns that figuring out how the rebate works is not for the faint of heart.
He says local accounting firms match productions with Puerto Rican corporations or wealthy individuals who then buy the tax rebate, less a small percentage, so the actual savings comes out closer to 30%-35%, still one of the highest rebates in the world. He says being a lawyer helped him wade through the paperwork.
Writer-producer Matt Dorff met Konwiser at a cocktail party hosted by the Puerto Rican Film Commission at the American Film Market and also enlisted him to help get set up on the island. Dorff and his producing partner Bill O’Dowd made three Lifetime films back-to-back-to-back on Puerto Rico in 2006: “Stranded,” “Vanished” and “Break-In.”
“The real test of whether shooting on location on a faraway place was good or not is: Will the producers want to go back?” Dorff asked. “And we are.”
Lifetime has ordered two more projects from Dorff and O’Dowd for Puerto Rico: “Christmas in Paradise” and “Ghost Prison.”