A generous new cash rebate and the end of its devastating drug wars have opened up Colombia to international productions. The creation of Colombia Film Fund in 2012 launched an enticing 40% rebate for international productions shooting in the country.
The growing list of features to have shot in Colombia in recent years, and accessed the rebate, speaks for itself. It includes Amazon-set survival thriller Jungle starring Daniel Radcliffe, James Gray’s The Lost City Of Z, Doug Liman’s American Made (previously Mena) starring Tom Cruise, Blunt Force Trauma with Mickey Rourke and Freida Pinto, and Phoenix Pictures’ The 33 with Antonio Banderas and Juliette Binoche.
The 2016 line-up included productions from the US, Europe and elsewhere in South America, including Arild Andresen’s Norway-Netherlands-Colombia co-production Handle With Care, Spanish title Orbita 9 and US-Colombia-Argentina co-production Expatriada.
When it comes to locations, Colombia has it all: modern and colonial cities, villages and towns, jungles, mountains and coasts. Bogota, Medellin and Cali are key urban locations. It is easy to plan around the year-round seasons and equal-length days in this equatorial country.
Colombia offers a 40% cash rebate or cash reimbursement for films partially or totally produced in Colombia that hire at least one local services company. There is also a 20% rebate for local film logistics services, including flights from overseas bought through a Colombian travel agent. There is a minimum spend of about $400,000 and no cap per project, but the film fund has a limited annual budget. The city of Medellin also has its own film commission, with local incentives.
Full details on financial incentives in Colombia: Comisión Fílmica Colombiana
Infrastructure and crews
Colombia’s own industry is healthy, particularly in TV production, so the infrastructure is quite good. Crews and services are relatively low cost, there are no unions or fixed rates for services or labour, and 12-hour workdays are normal. Some specialised equipment and crew may need to be brought in, such as the drones used on Jungle.
“The single most important decision to make is who your service producer is going to be,” says Jungle producer Mike Gabrawy of Arclight Films. “The right service producer is able to translate their subsidies programme and their production infrastructure into an American or an international sensibility.”
Norwegian producer Hans-Jorgen Osnes says enough people on the crew of Handle With Care spoke English so hiring a translator was not necessary, but key crew did need to relay instructions.
“The crews were terrific; they worked incredibly hard,” says ETA Films’ Gary Preisler, producer of Blunt Force Trauma. “The equipment was very good.”
Colombia is a big country — South America’s fourth largest — but most of the territory, besides the deepest Amazon, can be reached comfortably by land or air. Traffic in sprawling urban areas such as Bogota is notoriously bad. “The main challenge is traffic,” says Osnes. “Try and stay close to where you’re shooting.”
Mike Gabrawy, producer, Jungle
“Every concern or stereotype about dealing with Latin America or remote locations was dispelled because of the people on the ground. It was an amazing experience. I would have shot the entire film there if it weren’t for the concerns for talent about security issues on the amount of time spent there.”
First person to call
Silvia Echeverri, director, Colombian Film Commission
Tel: +57 1 287 0103
Need to know
- DO watch out for currency fluctuations, which can affect your rebate.
- DO start early. “Things tend to take longer there,” says ETA Films’ Gary Preisler. “They’re so concerned about corruption that there’s a tremendous amount of paperwork.”
- DO make a dinner reservation at the popular Andres de Carne de Res restaurant.
- DO leave your bodyguards at home. “We felt very safe,” says Preisler.
- DON’T miss out on Bogota’s nightlife. Make sure to hit the popular T Zone district (Zona T).
- DON’T go it alone. Work with a local services company.