Latin America and the Caribbean

(Mile 22 image: Nelson Cardenas)

Jaw-dropping natural locations, eye-catching cities and a relative proximity to North America puts Latin America and selected islands of the Caribbean on the map.

Colombia is emerging as a major Latin American production hub with plenty of international appeal due to its generous 40% filming incentive support. US features in particular are coming to the country, no longer nervous of Colombia’s drug wars, which have been declared officially over.

STX Entertainment’s action drama Mile 22, directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg, shot on location in Bogota for a couple of weeks, using the city as a stand-in for a fictional south-east Asian country. Berg and his team worked with service company Dynamo and the action shoot was organised within a few short months. Running With The Devil is understood to be filming in the country later this year. Produced by Michael Mendelsohn’s Patriot Pictures, the drug-trade thriller stars Nicolas Cage and Laurence Fishburne, and is the directorial debut of former Navy SEAL Jason Cabell.

Netflix is also eyeing up a return to Colombia for several shows following a positive experience shooting three seasons of Narcos in the country.

Australian director Greg McLean has shot two independent features in Colombia: horror story The Belko Experiment in 2015, followed by the survival thriller Jungle in 2016. Daniel Radcliffe starred in the latter, which filmed scenes on Colombia’s Rio Grande. The film follows lost backpackers as they try to escape the Amazon wilderness by riding a hastily built raft. The production team used local Colombian stunt experts and a local white-water rafting team who helped keep as much of the action in-camera as could be safely allowed.

On the western side of the continent, Chile has a thriving commercials industry on the Pacific coast, with the country’s long highways and the wilderness visuals of the Atacama desert regularly attracting international producers. The country launched a two-year pilot filming incentive in May 2017 whereby features could access a 30% tax rebate and qualifying TV series could receive a 25% rebate. (Note: the 2018 application window closed in October.)

Dominican Republic’s historic locations in the capital Santo Domingo are one of its biggest draws, along with the water tank facilities at Pinewood Dominican Republic Studios. Producers have access to a horizon water tank that is part of an eight-acre water-effects facility. In the past few years it has housed The Fyzz Facility’s shark survival movie 47 Meters Down and Paramount’s action sequel xXx: Return Of Xander Cage. Recent shows shot locally include BBC drama The Long Song, about a slave working on a Jamaican plantation in the 19th century. Heyday Television produced the adaptation of the novel of the same name by Andrea Levy.

Panama has a growing reputation for its easy access and eye-catching coastal and metropolitan locations, as well as its 15% filming incentive. Production support is available from Panama Film Commission, which offers assistance with everything from permits and customs to location scouting and the hiring of local crew and equipment. The country has direct flights to the US and uses the US dollar, making production even easier for US producers.

Mexico has much to offer the international production industry. Netflix has been among the international platforms to show recent interest in the country, having backed political drama Ingobernable, which was produced by Argos of Mexico City, and Manolo Caro’s social drama The House Of Flowers.

Netflix has also filmed Narcos: Mexico in the country, relocating the drama of the streaming company’s established drug drama hit Narcos from Colombia to Mexico for a story that charts the rise of the country’s Guadalajara cartel during the 1980s.

Drug gangs also power the story of thriller sequel Sicario: Day Of The Soldado, which spent a couple of weeks filming in Mexico City for scenes involving the kidnap of a cartel boss’s teenage daughter. Location manager S Todd Christensen praised government personnel in the city for their assistance during the shoot, especially when the production schedule overran at US locations, requiring a shift in Mexico filming dates.

Baja Studios, situated on the Pacific coast of Baja California south of the US border, is one of the better known production facilities in Mexico. Here producers will find stage space and water tank facilities originally developed for James Cameron’s Titanic back in the late 1990s. More recently the tanks have been used for the survival film All Is Lost, starring Robert Redford, and ocean-set scenes for TV horror Fear The Walking Dead.

Production support is available from the Mexican Film Commission in Mexico City, and from a network of regional commissions throughout the country. Studio facilities are available in Mexico City but are mostly used by local producers and occasionally for foreign newscasts.

Argentina is long established as an international hub for filming commercials, but broader international productions have been hampered by the lack of a national filming incentive. Buenos Aires is a hugely popular double for European cities and the country’s warm weather is conveniently reliable during the northern hemisphere’s winter months.

The Republic of Trinidad & Tobago is part of the West Indies, fewer than seven miles off the coast of Venezuela. The country has a tropical climate, with a dry season running for the first half of the year and a wet season dominating the second.

Local production support is on offer from the Trinidad & Tobago Film Company, known as FilmTT. The state agency was set up in 2006 and helps producers scout locations and liaise with the regional industry. FilmTT promotes Trinidad & Tobago as a country with a variety of Caribbean locations that are easily accessible to filmmakers.

Competitive exchange rates mean local production costs are generally lower than in many of the world’s established film hubs, but producers can also access a formal rebate through a filming incentive support programme that can reach as high as 55% of qualifying local expenditure for shoots spending at least $1m in the country. Lower-spending productions can access rebate figures of 12.5% and 15%.

Small-scale studios are available for digital and green-screen work, but producers generally come to the country for the exotic locations. Among the higher-profile international shoots to visit Trinidad & Tobago was a short promo to accompany Corin Hardy’s horror movie hit The Nun. While the movie itself shot in Romania, the promo was filmed on Chacachacare Island off Trinidad’s north-west coast.

The Lowdown – Colombia

Financial incentives

International productions can access a cash rebate worth up to 40% for films that spend the equivalent of around $470,000 locally and hire at least one local services company. The rebate is capped at $1.2m per production. 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 around $400,000 and no cap per project, but the film fund has a limited annual budget. Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city, has its own film commission and offers modest incentives for productions shooting in town.

Full details on financial incentives in Colombia: Comisión Fílmica Colombiana

Infrastructure and crews

Colombia has a robust TV industry and is able to offer relatively low-cost crews and services without unions or fixed rates. Twelve-hour days are not uncommon. Production professionals generally speak English but interpreters can be useful and working with a local service company or fixer is essential in order to get the most out of a Colombian shoot.

Size matters

Colombia’s equatorial positioning means usefully predictable weather conditions. The country is the fourth largest in South America but most areas are easily accessible by land or air, aside from the deepest Amazon. Traffic in Bogota and other cities is challenging and likely to impact any city-based shoots.

First person to contact

Silvia Echeverri, director, Colombian Film Commission
Tel: +57 1 287 0103 or silviaecheverri@proimagenescolombia.com

The Lowdown – Panama

Financial incentives

Panama offers a 15% cash rebate on the local spend of international films, TV shows and commercials that spend between $3m-$40m in the country. The full rebate can be escrowed up front with the bond company to cashflow the production. Conditional approval is based on an audit and certification of expenses by a locally based public accountant. Panama uses the US dollar.

Full details on financial incentives in Panama: Panama Film Commission

Infrastructure and crews

Panama has a limited pool of multilingual, experienced crew and offers easy access to filming equipment. There are no unions and crew rates are comparable with the US and European markets, even if they seem high regionally. International producers generally fly in their own heads of department and supplement their core team with local hires. There are no taxes on importing equipment from overseas. Foreign crews must register with the commission and pay $150 per week of filming for services including a one-stop shop for permits, no taxes on bringing in registered equipment, and assistance with customs by land or air.

Size matters

Panama is home to rainforests, jungles, villages, cities, towns and pristine beaches that line its coasts and many islands. Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport has direct flights to and from Los Angeles, Miami and points in Europe, and serves as a hub for the rest of Latin America. Panama City, home to just under a quarter of the country’s 3.9 million residents, encompasses an unusual combination of a colonial Old Town just minutes from a modern downtown crowded with skyscrapers. The city is also considered very safe at day and night, and has an underground metro system. Panama’s slender shape means the travel time between the Caribbean and Pacific coastlines is only about an hour by road and it is about an eight-hour drive from Panama City to the Costa Rican border to the north.

First person to contact

Gabriel Padilla, international project manager
Tel: +507 560 0638
gpadilla@mici.gob.pa

The Lowdown – Mexico

Financial incentives

Mexico offers a 17.5% rebate through its ProAV Fund, and also offers reductions on VAT expenditures.

Infrastructure and crews

International producers will find a network of studios in Mexico City that are used largely for local productions, while Baja Studios near the US border is more regularly employed by Hollywood shoots. Local crews are experienced and available for hire.

Size matters

Mexico is well connected to the international community by way of Mexico City International Airport, and has a well-developed network of railways and highways.

First person to contact

Daniel Carranza of Cactus Film: d.carranza@cactusfilm-mexico.com

The Lowdown – Trinidad & Tobago

Financial incentives

Trinidad & Tobago offers a three-tiered filming incentive support programme. Productions spending at least $100,000 locally can get a rebate of 12.5%. The rebate figure climbs to 15% for productions spending at least $500,000, and 35% for $1m. An additional 20% is available for producers who hire specific types of labour, bringing the full rebate to a potential 55%.

Infrastructure and crews

Local crew are available for hire, while small-scale studios can cover digital and green-screen work.

Size matters

Trinidad & Tobago has international airports on both islands and has an expansive network of roads and highways.

First person to contact

Nneka Luke, general manager/film commissioner at the Trinidad & Tobago Film Company: nneka.luke@filmtt.co.tt or info@filmtt.co.tt