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Dominican Republic Feels Surge in Production as Tax Is Reduced

Mention the Dominican Republic, and most people will conjure visions of baseball players or luxury resorts on a tropical island. Fashionistas will flash to the Caribbean nation’s most famous son, Oscar de la Renta. 

And folks in the film community will see a state-of-the-art production complex that includes one of the world’s most advanced water-filming facilities — as well as the nation’s coveted financial incentives. That complex would be the Pinewood Dominican Republic Studios, which is operated by Lantica Media as part of a partnership with the Pinewood Studios Group. And those incentives would include the recent reduction of the withholding tax levied on foreigners working in the DR from 27% to just 1.5%. 

Ever since the decrease in tax, the studios and the country itself have experienced a dramatic uptick in filming. “We’ve seen the number of foreign productions rise to six this year, compared with an average of one between 2011 and 2015, two in 2016 and four in 2017,” says Albert Martínez, chief operating officer of Lantica Media.

The DR’s 2010 film law offered a freely transferable tax credit of 25% on qualified expenditure for international productions shooting in the country, but the high withholding tax had been off-putting to foreign filmmakers, says Martínez. “After much lobbying, we convinced the government to reduce it, and we’ve had more projects now than in the prior six years,” he notes.

Recent TV shoots at the facility and in the DR in the summer include BBC-NBC three-part series “The Long Song,” about a black woman living in slavery in British-ruled Jamaica in the 1800s, and Adult Swim movie “Tropical Cop Tales,” a made-for-TV comedy that revolves around a pair of jaded policemen whose latest posting is not quite the peaceful tropical paradise they expected.

Earlier in the year, helmer-scribe Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of the eponymous James Baldwin novel “If Beale Street Could Talk” shot in both New York and the DR. Jenkins’ follow-up to his Oscar-winning “Moonlight” revolves around a pregnant woman in Harlem who struggles to prove her fiancé innocent of a crime.

Chris Morris, renowned for his irreverent movie “Four Lions,” filmed his equally provocative dark comedy “The Day Shall Come” in the DR in the summer of 2017 and early 2018. The film is produced by See-Saw Films and stars Anna Kendrick.

Netflix sci-fi adventure series “The I-Land,” created by Neil LaBute, shot at Pinewood and elsewhere in the DR with a cast led by producer-thesp Kate Bosworth, Natalie Martinez and Alex Pettyfer. The series revolves around 10 people who wake up on a perilous island with no recollection of who they are or how they got there.

A little more than a year ago, Lantica Media opted to focus on providing production services and studio facility services, becoming a one-stop shop for filming in the DR — one that could include budgeting and scheduling, location scouting, production coordination and management, customs, hotel and travel arrangements, equipment sourcing, transportation, catering, casting and security.

Thanks to a provision in the film law that allows investors in Dominican features to deduct 100% of their investment — subject to a cap of 25% of the income tax otherwise payable — homegrown cinema also has blossomed, to some 20 to 30 movies a year, compared with an average of two to three local films annually in the nearly three decades prior to the film law.

As a result, local talent and crew have grown exponentially not only in numbers but also in experience and skills. Pinewood DR continues to train crew, especially for its water tanks. At least six film schools have emerged, and state-backed film entity DGCine has invested in audiovisual-themed workshops, seminars and courses.

News broke in November that Netflix was mulling the creation of a production hub at the London Pinewood Studios. Whether that will extend to the DR facility is unclear, though word is that the streaming giant has been looking to set a base in Latin America, with Mexico, Colombia or Brazil mentioned as potential sites. 

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