×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Puerto Rico Overcomes Economic Woes With Generous Production Incentives

Some would say Puerto Rico is an economic basket case. The territory is weighed down by a debt of more than $70 billion, and it’s reeling from a decade-long recession. Unemployment remains sky-high.

More recently, publicity over the mosquito-borne Zika virus has cast another shadow over the tropical island.

Yet despite all obstacles, Puerto Rico’s generous film incentives are as robust and popular as ever. The Caribbean territory offers producers a 40% tax credit on local expenditures and a 20% tax credit on payments to non-resident talent, including producers, writers, actors and even stunt doubles.

A relatively recent perk: an additional 10% credit for projects with stories based in Puerto Rico that use the island backdrop. Adam Sandler’s upcoming Netflix comedy “The Do-Over” is the first to tap it.

“Puerto Rico has been in an economic recession for over 10 years now, and the reality is that film incentives have prevailed over every new administration because of their unquestionable impact on the overall economy, creating hundreds of jobs, and promoting related industries such as hospitality and food service,” says Nadia Barbarossa, film division director of Tax Credits Intl., headquartered in Puerto Rico.

Moreover, in May 2015, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla signed a new amendment to the Puerto Rico Film Industry Economic Incentives Act, providing up to a whopping 90% tax credit for projects that meet certain qualifications. “I can only think this is proof that, moving forward, the government will continue to support the film incentives for many decades to come,”  Barbarossa notes.

The island country saw an uptick in audiovisual production when its film law expanded the existing 40% tax credit in 2011 to encompass commercials, music videos, live performances and nonfiction TV programs in addition to film and TV projects. The number of shoots on the island jumped from nine in 2010 to 17 in 2011.

Overall budgets of the projects in 2012 were three times higher than those of the previous year. In 2015, about $100 million was spent on production in Puerto Rico.

“This fiscal year, we have already raised $86 million,” says Puerto Rico film commissioner Demetrio Fernandez, who has observed a surge in TV series production as well as commercials.

Former film commissioner Luis Riefkohl, now a producer, has three mid-budget co-productions with U.S. companies in the pipeline, the titles of which he declined to name. “The first feature, budgeted at $27 million, will shoot entirely in Puerto Rico and tap most of its department heads from here,” Riefkohl says. “The fact that I closed facilities with banks and investment funds in this ‘storm’ debunks the perception that the incentives are not available,” he says.

Among the recent high-profile TV series to shoot on the island was Amazon’s 10-episode drama series “Mad Dogs.” “We have seen fewer film projects coming to PR of late, but those coming here have grown in terms of quality,” says “Mad Dogs” co-producer Luillo Ruiz. Starring Ben Chaplin, Billy Zane, Michael Imperioli, Romany Malco and Steve Zahn, the series centers on a group of middle-aged friends who go to Belize for a celebration that rapidly spirals into a nightmare scenario of lies, betrayal and murder.

The sweat that went into the making of “Mad Dogs” has not gone unnoticed. In tweets announcing the decision not to do a second season, exec producer Shawn Ryan wrote: “I want to thank all our writers, directors and especially our ridiculously hard-working Puerto Rican crew.”

Another 10-episode TV series that shot in Puerto Rico, “Wrecked,” a comedy about plane-crash survivors marooned on a desert island, is set to air on TBS in June.

Of course, the Zika virus scare is a wild card that can throw off many well-laid plans. One project, starring Amy Schumer, has already pulled out. Other sectors are also affected. Baseball players from the Miami Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates expressed their trepidation about playing in a two-game series at the end of May on the island.

But many believe the threat is overblown. “The Health Dept. sent out precautionary measures to take, but I know absolutely no one who has contracted the virus,” says San Juan-based attorney Antonio J. Sifre, who focuses on entertainment matters. “There are far greater chances of catching the flu or a cold, just like in the U.S.”

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • First still from the set of

    How the 'Jojo Rabbit' Production Team Created a Child's View of Nazi Germany

    When picturing Nazi Germany during World War II, most people think of black-and-white or sepia-toned images of drab cities. For the cinematographer and production designer of “Jojo Rabbit,” a film set squarely in that time and place, it became clear that the color palette of the era was far more varied than they could have [...]

  • National Theatre Live Midsummer's Night Dream

    National Theatre Live Marks Decade of Stage-to-Screen With Immersive ‘Midsummer’

    National Theatre Live has filmed nearly eight dozen theatrical productions over the last decade, bringing theater to the cinema using top technologies and talents in the videography space. This month, on the eve of its 10th anniversary, its production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is challenging the technical producers and crew with an immersive stage [...]

  • 180423_A24_Day_03B_0897.jpg

    How Bright Bulbs Enabled 'The Lighthouse's' Tough Black-and-White Shoot

    Early in development on “The Lighthouse,” writer-director Robert Eggers asked cinematographer Jarin Blaschke if he thought they could capture the look they were going for digitally. Blaschke answered no: Digital wouldn’t let them achieve the texture they had in mind — “what we photography nerds would call ‘micro-contrast.’ [The look] was never going to be [...]

  • Advanced Imaging Society Honors 10 Women

    AIS Honors 10 Women in Tech

    Celebrating 10 years of achievement in entertainment technology, the Advanced Imaging Society today named 10 female industry innovators who will receive the organization’s 2019 Distinguished Leadership Awards at the its 10th annual Entertainment Technology Awards ceremony on October 28 in Beverly Hills. The individuals were selected by an awards committee for being significant “entertainment industry [...]

  • Will Smith Gemini Man Special Effects

    How the 'Gemini Man' VFX Team Digitally Created a Younger Version of Will Smith

    More human than human — yes, that’s a “Blade Runner” reference — yet it sounds like an unattainable standard when it comes to creating believable, photorealistic, digital human characters. But the visual effects team on Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man” set its sights on something even more difficult: creating a digital version of young Will Smith [...]

  • Jest to Impress Cartoon Network Virtual

    New In-House VR Program Helps Cartoon Network Artists Add a Virtual Dimension

    Teams of animators and artists from across Cartoon Network’s numerous properties are getting the chance to expand into virtual reality storytelling via the company’s pilot program, Journeys VR. The work of the first three teams — including experiences based on action, nature and comedy — was unveiled to global audiences Oct. 1 on Steam and [...]

  • Frozen 2

    How the 'Frozen II' Artists Created Believable Emotion Through Animation

    “The more believable you can make the character [look], the more people believe how [it’s] feeling,” says Tony Smeed, who, with Becky Bresee, shared the challenge of heading animation on Disney’s highly anticipated “Frozen II.” “Emotion comes from inside and manifests itself into actions and facial expressions. Anything beyond that is movement for the sake [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content