Iceland Offers Otherworldly Landscapes, Incentives for Productions

These days, it seems every country on Earth is offering incentives to attract film productions. But those wanting to shoot on another planet think of Iceland, with its 20% refund and a staggering selection of otherworldly backdrops: black-sand beaches, lunar-looking cliffs and craters.

From “Game of Thrones” to “Star Wars: Episode VII,” when pics choose Iceland, incentives aren’t the foremost factor. “The locations are reasons No. 1, 2 and 3,” boasts Arni Bjorn Helgason, head of production services for Sagafilm, one of three firms — alongside Pegasus and True North — that frequently partner with overseas productions to coordinate local shoots.

Iceland also makes an exotic stand-in for earth, playing Iwo Jima in “Flags of Our Fathers,” as well as the antediluvian terrain seen in “Noah.” To benefit from the incentive, foreign productions must set up an Icelandic company and hire some Icelandic crew, with lower requirements for stories in which Iceland plays itself.

Christopher Nolan worked with Sagafilm on “Batman Begins” (Iceland doubled for Bhutan during Bruce Wayne’s Himalayan wanderings) and returned for scenes in “Interstellar,” even shooting at the same glacier. “Of course, it’s changed a lot in the past 10 years,” Helgason says.

Among its strengths, the country boasts a wide range of locations within a short distance, although unpredictable weather demands that crews always be ready to adapt on the fly.

“With ‘Game of Thrones,’ people think there’s a lot of CGI in there because the light is very strange, the clouds are very strange. But it’s all real,” Helgason says.

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