Country seeks to reverse lawless image

Improved security, new facilities to lure crews

When recently launched production services company Shoot Colombia came up with the slogan “We won’t shoot you, you will shoot us,” it left no doubt that the country’s bad rap as a haven for drug lords and rogue militia groups was being taken very seriously by legislative and industry heavyweights.

In this regard, a new film commission is spearheading the government’s drive to reverse negative perceptions and lure international investors. A joint project of the national Culture Ministry and nonprofit org Proimagenes en Movimiento, the film commission staged its coming-out party at the AFCI Locations confab in April.

Shoot Colombia emblazoned its controversial slogan across a wall in red, provoking nervous titters along with appreciative reactions. “A lot of people asked us for more information, and some sent us their projects to assess their possibilities,” says Julian Giraldo, general manager of film unit RCN Cine, RCN Commercials and Shoot Colombia.

Additional support comes from Colombia es Pasion, whose “Zoom in Colombia” initiative extols the virtues of lensing in the topographically diverse country.

“We’ve selected six large regions that can provide the necessary infrastructure and pose minimum security risks for audiovisual productions,” film commissioner Silvia Echeverri says.

These regions — the Caribbean, Bogota, Central Andes, Cauca Valley, Eastern and Amazon — were also chosen for their racial, cultural and environmental identity. With the exception of the tropical Amazon territory, each offers a range of contrasting climates where frigid altitudes as high as 9,900 feet are just two to three hours from balmy sea-level locations. Being situated on the equator also provides a nonseasonal climate that enables shoots year-round.

“The only problem I’ve faced with my clients has been getting them on a plane to leave,” quips Warren “Zulu” Keuning of production service company Tribu.

A South African native, Keuning founded Tribu after seeing the potential of Colombia’s diverse locations. His international clientele include advertisers Coca Cola, Microsoft and Budweiser. “We work on 30 to 40 projects a year, including documentaries and musicvideos,” he adds.

And he points out that shooting costs in Colombia can be 40% lower than in South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina or the Czech Republic.

“Colombia offers a 16% tax rebate to both local and international productions, and more generous rebates are currently being debated in Congress,” Proimagenes head Claudia Triana says.

An ambitious $1.2 billion audiovisual complex scheduled to open in 2011 in Bogota’s free-trade zone is designed as an additional lure. Dubbed America’s Media Complex, the 10 million-square-foot facility will eventually include soundstages; post-production, animation and videogame centers; television studios; equipment rentals; and a film school.

Hotels, spas, gyms, restaurants, shopping centers and convention halls also are included in the blueprint.

“Among other benefits, producers working inside the complex will be exempt from paying value-added tax and receive 15% rebates on their income tax,” says Juan Pablo Rivera, president of developer Zonas Francas. Rented equipment taken outside the complex for location shoots also will enjoy tax discounts.

The only service it won’t provide is a film lab, which runs counter to its green objective.

Kodak plans on filling that void, however, with its Cinecolor lab finally ready to break ground after years of struggle with real estate issues and permits.

“It’s a good time to attract international productions,” says filmmaker Felipe Aljure, a director at Shoot Colombia. “Colombia has enjoyed six to seven years of relative calm, and local film production is booming.”

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