In the film industry at least, it does not appear US president Donald Trump’s rhetoric about a border wall is affecting business. Mexico Film Commission representatives say the relationship between the two countries is as solid and professional as ever. US producers say they will continue to film in Mexico, drawn by the proximity, economical yet experienced crews and services, and wide variety of landscapes.
Most of the international productions that shoot in Mexico continue to be from the US and UK. Mexico averages about one big international film production per year, though the country — with a solid homegrown industry that put out as many as 160 features of its own last year — has the capacity to handle more.
Television series such as AMC’s Fear The Walking Dead, which has shot three seasons in Mexico, and Netflix’s Sense8 (two seasons), come with more frequency, as do high-end commercials. Feature shoots include Terrence Malick’s Song To Song, Denis Villenueve’s Sicario, Eon Productions’ Spectre and, most recently, Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, which finished shooting in March.
Roma shot in Tabasco and Mexico City, where one scene recreated a 1971 student protest, shutting down streets for two days and involving thousands of extras. “It was essential to film that scene in the place where these events happened,” the director told a press conference in March.
The ProAv Fund offers international producers a rebate of 7.5% on eligible expenses. All registered international productions can access a VAT exemption and when combined with the rebate is capped at 17.5% of expenses. This spans all goods and services including, but not limited to, wardrobe, make-up, location fees, props, set decoration, crew and equipment transportation, accommodation, film equipment and other rentals, and catering.
Co-production funds totalling around $2m are available for films co-produced with Mexico. Some cities and states also offer their own incentives and discounts for films shot locally. Mexico is one of only two Latin American countries to accept the ATA Carnet.
Full details on financial incentives in Mexico: COMEFILM – Comisión Mexicana de Filmaciones
Infrastructure and crews
“The devaluation of the Mexican peso has made filming in Mexico firmly competitive in terms of prices,” says Pimienta Films’ Nicolas Celis, the local producer on Roma and Desierto. Mexico’s unionised crews are experienced, and a database is available on the ComeFilm website. Much of the industry is headquartered in Mexico City, with Monterrey and Guadalajara as additional hubs. Mexico City houses Churubusco Studios. Baja Studios, known as the ‘Titanic studio’, is located just 30 minutes south of the US border. The facility, which houses 70,000 sq ft of enclosed stage space plus four massive indoor and outdoor tanks, is starting to outlive a fear of local drug-related violence that was reportedly scaring away productions for a few years.
Mexico has obvious advantages for US productions. It is nearby but, visually, it is incredibly diverse, with beaches, forests, deserts, traditional villages, colonial settings, cosmopolitan cities and archaeological ruins. ComeFilm helps co-ordinate permits and other paperwork with local authorities in every state to accommodate international shoots. A network of film commissions and offices across the country serves foreign productions. ComeFilm’s website also has a visual location guide. Flights to Mexico City from Los Angeles take just under four hours; from New York is around five hours. The capital is located centrally in a country that spans around 1,000km east to west and 3,200km north to south. Mexico has more than 50 international and 20 national airports as well as modern roads.
Ed McDonnell, producer, Sicario, says:
“The country is film-friendly, they love movies. They’re accommodating when you come and shoot. The people came out and supported us.”
Would he come back?
“Yes. A great film community, great crews, great film environment and a unique and authentic look.”
First person to call
Jose Miguel Alvarez, director of support for cinema production, Imcine
Need to know
- DO keep security in mind. Producers agree Mexico is safe, but every city has its tricky areas.
- DO enjoy Mexico City’s hipster Condesa and Roma zones.
- DON’T underestimate the effects of the altitude in Mexico City.
- DON’T go it alone. Hire local knowledge. “The most important thing is finding a local fixer, a local team that can help you navigate,” says Matthew Heineman, director of the Oscar-nominated documentary Cartel Land.