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Foreign settings offer global allure

Films see boost from worldwide locations and incentives

Turkey has been front and center in an array of recent films — “Argo,” “Taken 2,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance,” to name a few — including “Skyfall,” which features Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, the beach at Fethiye, and the city of Adana in the country’s southeast with its historical bridges and train station.

It’s not that Hollywood is suddenly obsessed with Turkey. But it is obsessed with making money, and producers are increasing efforts to infuse films with international settings and a global “feel,” with an eye not only toward maximizing box office in global markets, but also toward taking advantage of co-production inducements that can, in some territories, even translate to a larger cut of the local gross.

Endgame Entertainment, producer of “Looper,” filmed a portion of the sci-fi pic in Shanghai, and wound up collecting 45% of its roughly $20 million China box office, instead of the recently increased 25%. Lionsgate’s “The Expendables 2” shot in locations that included Bulgaria and Hong Kong, and has minted nearly three-quarters of its worldwide gross overseas. Even animation has gotten into the act; Paramount/DWA’s “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” parlayed an international theme into the franchise’s best global box office — $740 million, including $524 million internationally.

International production is nothing new for the 23-film Bond franchise, of course; “Skyfall” is the third Bond to be shot in Turkey, following 1963’s “From Russia With Love” and 1999’s “The World Is Not Enough.”

“You expect that in Bond movie,” notes Jere Hausfater, of year-old sales-production banner Aldamisa. “Exotic locations are a real trademark. I thought the scene of (Daniel Craig) coming into the casino at Macau in ‘Skyfall’ was really memorable.”

Hausfater says that pure economics, including government incentives, are part of the forces driving producers to shoot outside the U.S. But he hastens to add that locations are not the determining factor of why particular movies succeed at the box office.

“If it doesn’t work, it’s not going to work any better just because it’s set in an exotic location,” he says.

Newly minted production company Solar Pictures — funded by Romanian billionaire Bobby Paunescu and the New York-based Shu family — is aiming to produce four to five movies a year with budgets up to $40 million, stressing “global viability” in its slate . Among these is action-thriller “Jet Black,” centering on a private jet pilot who risks his life to investigate the suspicious downing of his brother’s plane.

“We’ve consciously decided to set ‘Jet Black’ in Europe and Shanghai, not just because of the soft money, but because of the potential audiences,” says co-CEO Christopher Taylor. “It makes sense for the context of the story.”

Taylor and co-CEO Kearie Peake acknowledge that the growth of the audience in China has forced them to consider how to include that country in productions — but only if it fits the story.

“We’re (also) working on a project that really has to be set in Goa (India), and we’ve concluded that you can’t pick it up and set it in China,” Peake says.

Studiocanal saw solid sales at AFM of “Non-Stop,” starring Liam Neeson as an air marshal on a flight from New York to London. Just as filming started, sales were closed, with pricing notably elevated in China, Korea, Russia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Universal will release “Non-Stop” in the U.S.

“Having ‘Non-Stop’ set on a plane heading for London can help make the film resonate with an international audience — as did both ‘Taken’ films — and still be hugely commercial for a studio to release in the U.S.,” says Harold Van Lier, topper of international sales at Studiocanal.

Studiocanal sold Hossein Amini’s thriller “Two Faces of January” to Universal for Scandinavia and Spain. The film is shooting in Istanbul and stars Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac. “Two Faces,” a Working Title production, has also been shooting in Crete and Athens.

“Very cinematic and glamorous locations are the perfect setting for a sexy and very tense thriller,” Van Lier notes. “These are not places that an audience would know its way around as much as Paris, New York or Rome. So there is that enhanced sense of exoticism and also danger.”

For some of the same reasons, Istanbul was a perfect location for part of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” Van Lier says. “It is a very mysterious and thrilling city that feels instantly recognizable, but is also fresh and exciting.”

David Kosse, who’s overseen the outsized success of Brazil-set “Fast Five” as president of international at Universal Pictures, asserts that it’s the objectives of characters and conflicts that drive a story, and that shooting internationally is more about giving a film a particular flavor.

“I would say that iconic locations are often used as a scene-setter rather than to goose box office,” Kosse says. “Great locations add scale and scope to a story that has global consequences, (and) help make a film feel global.”

Exclusive Media co-chair Nigel Sinclair notes that Ron Howard’s racing drama “Rush” — shot mostly at tracks in the U.K. and Germany — has already benefitted from the combo of a global feel plus intense interest in Formula 1. “We had incredibly high international presales because it’s perceived as a big film,” he adds.

Exclusive’s Hammer label opted to shoot supernatural drama “The Quiet Ones,” starring Jared Harris, in Oxford rather the original Canadian setting because the story worked better — along with carrying more international appeal, Sinclair admits.

Solar’s Taylor notes that some films use an international setting to make themselves feel bigger. He points to Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” as a movie that can succeed at the box office on a worldwide basis because of its global attributes, despite a lack of stars.

The takeaway: Shooting in overseas locations not only can offer producers fiscal incentives, but also boost B.O. in foreign markets — and even open screen doors.

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