Physical Production Chiefs Face the Heat From Studios in Choosing Locations

One of the crucial decisions in how to keep a film on budget and on schedule is where to shoot it. Creatives can crave a look that only one location can deliver, while the money people may be salivating for incentives offered elsewhere.

Typically the studio’s physical production chief helps choose locations 12-18 months before shooting. “We’re always looking for stability, wherever we go,” says Disney’s Philip Steuer, referring to steady tax incentives, experienced crews and well-maintained facilities. Sometimes, though, especially on smaller films, all that flies out the window in favor of creative considerations. Steuer set up production for director Mira Nair’s upcoming Lupita Nyong’o starrer “Queen of Katwe” in Uganda, which has almost no infrastructure for Hollywood-style film production. Nair preferred the Ugandan exteriors for creative reasons, and the rest of the film was shot in South Africa, where there’s a tax incentive.

Physical production chiefs also know that the most generous incentives are often in place to make up for difficult shooting conditions. “You’re required to have everything on site at all times,” says Universal’s Jeff LaPlante, and that adds up quickly. Nor is it necessarily obvious what makes a location production friendly, say these execs. Big cities like New York and Chicago can be tough simply because of traffic. Dubai seems to be a relatively easy place to shoot, Abu Dhabi somewhat less so. Sony took Ang Lee’s latest pic, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” to Morocco, a proven locale for desert shooting — but local crews wilted in the 105-degree heat during their Ramadan dawn-to-sunset fast, and the Westerners who were supposed to pick up the slack were laid low by stomach miseries. LaPlante recalls that taking over the St. Regis resort on a small island off Bora Bora to shoot the comedy “Couples Retreat” as his most difficult location. “The hotel was beautiful,” he says, “but as far as making a movie, there was absolutely nothing there.” Just moving equipment around was a challenge. “You don’t have actual trucks or anything on those islands,” he says. “You have to use golf carts and Gators.”

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