Few countries in Latin America, and indeed the world, can boast such positive results from health and safety decisions made in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic. In total, Uruguay has seen only 1,611 confirmed cases, plateauing at 200 active cases for several weeks now. As a result, travel restrictions are close to none.
In practical terms, that allowed Uruguay to be the first country in Latin America to resume shooting following COVID-19 shutdowns on May 11. Since then, productions both domestic and international, have resumed shooting.
“We’ve succeeded in finding the golden balance between economic activity and sanitary prudence,” Roberto Blatt, director of Uruguay’s Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual explained to Variety. “This is vital because very few countries, if any, have achieved that balance.”
“This makes traveling and applying shooting system protocols we’ve developed over the last few months much easier,” Cimarrón’s Hernán Musaluppi explained, adding that his company has already confirmed its first post-lockdown production service to be executed in Uruguay with principle photography set to kick off on Sept. 21. Cimarron will then launch production on two new original series and provide production service for a yet-to-be-announced major international platform.
Similarly, revenues from companies shooting commercials in Uruguay have already surpassed those from last year, according to Blatt.
While Uruguay’s more immediate future may benefit from the COVID-19 fallout, the country also has longer-term plans to grow and solidify its place through more traditional means.
In October 2019, Uruguay launched a new financing pilot program called the Uruguay Audiovisual Program (PUA) to encourage and support international productions and co-productions looking to shoot in Uruguay. The incentives have already attracted the likes of Keanu Reeves-produced Netflix series “Conquest,” set to shoot Montevideo.
At present, the rebate is 20%-25% for both international productions shooting in Uruguay and domestic productions with international co-producers, with a required minimum investment of $600,000. Through the program, ANDE can reimburse up to 25% of a project’s spend, capped at $400,000, transferred directly to the client’s account. In June it was announced that the amount will be increased again in 2021, after an ongoing evaluation of the program’s first year, and extended for five more years.
“This government is committed to supporting the audiovisual industry, which it believes is an ideal medium to promote the country’s culture, exports, image and other industries,” said Blatt.
Uruguay is also trending as a co-production destination within Latin America. While several nearby countries’ industries have faced funding cuts and freezes, censorship, currency fluctuation and volatile political situations, producers have looked outside their own borders for opportunities and found Uruguay ready and waiting with open arms.
“Many procedures here are simpler and less bureaucratic than elsewhere, and the same is true in regard to our technical unions,” explained Mutante Cine co-founder Agustina Chiarino. “In addition, there has been a strong presence in international film festivals where our cinematography is recognized, and that arouses curiosity. We are contacted frequently by producers who want to come here to shoot.”
“We’ve got mature talent and all the conditions producers look for. It’s concentrated in a small area in Montevideo, fast expanding to the whole, well connected country where there are excellent facilities for shooting, and we have a stable political situation,” Blatt promoted enthusiastically.
With strong traditions in documentary and fiction filmmaking and animation, Blatt says that one main area of focus going forward will be integrating talent from those industries into series production.
“Unfortunately, series production has, in the past, had fairly limited resources here, but we are going to multiply that going forward,” he pointed out. “There is so much potential here for series production.”