The art of world building is pushing several international films to the forefront this awards season, and Hollywood has sweeping foreign visuals, borderless below-the-line talent and coveted tax breaks to thank for it.
From setting the period in “Belfast,” “Spencer” and “House of Gucci,” to high-action romps in “No Time to Die” and “The Matrix Resurrections,” and arid mastery in “Dune” and “The Power of the Dog,” these overseas productions are expected to be highly recognized at the Academy Awards.
“International contenders will only serve to enhance craft categories this year,” says Dana Salston, whose Intrinsic Agency specializes in below-the-line talent. “International head of departments have been in-demand for 20-plus years, and that is only increasing. The industry is truly a global marketplace now, and certainly this year has shown a massive increase in the need for international talent.”
When it came to filming “Spencer,” the crew knew they would never find one location that would encapsulate the architecture and style of England’s Sandringham House. Yet Chilean director Pablo Larraín wanted to avoid too much stage work. “It was a puzzle with parts of different locations,” says British producer Paul Webster, on behalf of himself and fellow producers Jonas Dornbach, from Germany, and Chile’s Juan Larraín. “That obviously posed a challenge in terms of moving the production several times and thinking about the transitions between rooms. But it also gave us the freedom to put something together that doesn’t exist yet, something entirely imagined.”
Shooting the U.K.-German production during COVID also challenged the crew from a financial perspective. However they were able to take advantage of more than $6.5 million in tax credits in the U.K. and Germany, while also capitalizing on a variety of locations in the two countries. Italy was the ideal place for production on “House of Gucci” from a storyline standpoint. The 40% tax rebate made it a no-brainer, merging creative and financial to bring the story of the sordid fashion house to life. Italian line producer Marco Valerio Pugini told Variety that Italy is no longer just a “location for a portion of the shoot, [but] the base for the entire movie.” He added that on “Gucci,” Rome stood in for New York.
In creating “Dune,” Australian cinematographer Greig Fraser wanted to recreate the desert as a vast ocean to make it both familiar yet foreign to viewers. In order to do that, he needed very specific locations in Jordan. “What Jordan has that doesn’t exist in other parts of the world is a certain aura,” he says. “Some people would call it spiritual, other people would call it otherworldly. There’s definitely something about that place, and we tried to capture it and hone in on what that was.”
From a physical standpoint, production flew roughly 300 crew members — the majority from its Budapest sound stages — to Jordan rather than re-hire locally. The rest of the film relied on lucrative tax credits (30% plus 7.5% in foreign spend) and Hungarian craftsmanship to recreate Frank Herbert’s fictionalized world.
“Hungary is particularly known for its construction,” says “Dune” line producer Adam Goodman. “We built some pretty significant backlot sets. Construction is generally 25% to 35% of the budget and it is much more cost effective in Hungary than North America or, let’s say the U.K., before rebates. Given what one can build for the money here, that makes it another reason why some of the big stage shows end up in Hungary,” he says.
“What the international film community has recognized is the balance between local expertize, the price point, and the tax incentive itself, which combined make for a pretty hard deal to beat on a financial level. You combine that with a local crew that has become better equipped to deal with the high-concept technical films, and that allows international producers and studios to travel even less foreign crew. That’s a critical commercial point in terms of executing a movie.”