Iceland, quite simply, looks like no other place on earth — lava fields, black sand beaches, fjords, glaciers, icy mountains, waterfalls. That is one reason Disney went there to shoot parts of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Film commissioner Einar Hansen Tomasson recalls the old adage: “When God created the rest of the world he was practising in Iceland. There are so many different landscapes.”
It is not just the spectacular scenery that is a draw, there is a stable film tax rebate of 20%, a reputation for little red tape, experienced crews and a location smack in the middle between the US and Europe. Extra hours of daylight or darkness are also useful to some productions.
In the past decade Iceland has cemented its status as a film-friendly territory with projects ranging from Noah and Thor: The Dark World to The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty and Game Of Thrones. Over the past year, other productions have included Sky’s Fortitude (back for a second season), Fast & Furious 8, Netflix’s Sense8, Captain America: Civil War, The Last Witch Hunter, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Jackie Chan’s Kung Fu Yoga and Jodie Foster’s Money Monster.
In 2016, interest in Iceland has also seen a boost from the international popularity of the country’s most expensive TV production ever, Baltasar Kormakur’s international hit Trapped.
Producers can apply for reimbursements from the state treasury of 20% of the costs incurred in the production of films and TV programmes in Iceland.
Since the economic crash, shooting in Iceland has become more affordable. But the territory wants to ensure it stays competitive, and the signs are good that the government will increase the rebate to 25% from January 1, 2017 onwards.
Leifur Dagfinnsson, chairman and founding partner of production services company True North, which has worked on films including Flags Of Our Fathers and Oblivion, says the proposed new rebate level “can maintain this steady stream of films, and the films will shoot a larger proportion in Iceland”.
Full details on financial incentives in Iceland: Film in Iceland
Infrastructure and crews
Icelanders are known to be hard working and straight talking, and crews are non-unionised. “It’s a straightforward, cut-to-the-chase attitude that people love here,” says Dagfinnsson.
The infrastructure has improved, and it is notable that Baltasar Kormakur’s RVK Studios has a sister post-production facility RVX that more than proved its mettle with the effects on Everest. RVK has also created a production services division that will be led by Game Of Thrones veteran Petur Sigurdsson.
One thing still missing is a world-class studio in or near Reykjavik (there is only a 200 sq metre facility in Keflavik) but Kormakur is lobbying for such a base. “It’s a much needed facility that could benefit the whole industry. I’m hopeful it will happen,” says Dagfinnsson.
We don’t have unions; that means you’re able to use a smaller crew than they are used to using in the States,” adds film commissioner Einar Hansen Tomasson. He estimates there are two qualified crews at the moment with a third one “in training”. This small pond also means production service firms can talk to each other to maximise crew availability for various projects.
“The crew are great and their knowledge of the island is fundamental to execute our work,” says Marco Giacalone, supervising location manager on Sense8.
Iceland covers 103,000 sq km (40,000 sq miles). Reykjavik is a 45-minute drive from the international airport at Keflavik. Local flights from Reykjavik airport can reach a great diversity of nature within two hours.
Trevor Hopkins, series producer, Fortitude
“Working in Iceland provides us not only with spectacular locations and a variety of terrains — we also find people extraordinarily accommodating and interested in what we do. We’re supported at every turn by the Icelanders and are also allowed to get on with the business of filming without obstacle or delay. We would have no hesitation in recommending Iceland as a place to film.”
First person to call
Einar Hansen Tomasson, film commissioner
Need to know
- DO enjoy the vibrant nightlife in Reykjavik. Places to visit include bar Kaffibarinn (formerly owned by film-maker Baltasar Kormakur and rock star Damon Albarn), Boston and the bar at the Marina hotel, and restaurants Grill Market and seafood specialist Kopar.
- DO plan for the weather. Film crews can get great deals on outerwear from beloved local brand 66°North.
- DO enjoy some privacy. The paparazzi culture is not frantic in Iceland, and locals mostly leave stars alone.
- DON’T expect to import horses for your shoot. Iceland has strict laws to protect its famous Icelandic breeds.