Productions find plenty of incentive to book passage to Puerto Rico

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It's not the humidity but the heat that Puerto Rico is feeling this summer as the small Caribbean island grouping suddenly finds itself a hot spot in the filming world.

"The Losers," Dark Castle's adaptation of a DC/Vertigo comic that stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Zoe Saldana, is shooting in the U.S. territory, as is the Italian miniseries "Angels and Diamonds." Those come on the heels of "The Rum Diary," an adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's novel starring Johnny Depp and Aaron Eckhart, and "The Men Who Stare at Goats," starring George Clooney and Ewan McGregor.

Other productions this year include episodes of Disney Channel's "Wizards of Waverly Place," starring Selena Gomez; Todd Solondz's ensemble drama "Life During Wartime"; Lifetime's "One Hot Summer"; and the romantic indie "Meant to Be."

One reason for Puerto Rico's popularity is the islands' whopping 40% transferable tax credit on local expenditures. No other state in the continental U.S. can match that amount save Michigan, which offers a 40% refundable tax credit plus an additional 2% if a shoot is in designated core community.

An interesting wrinkle to this scheme is that Puerto Rico's plan has been in existence since 1999 but it's only recently that the territory has begun aggressively promoting its incentives.

Filmmakers and producers said the incentives were the reason they landed in Puerto Rico. Another benefit is its classification as a U.S. territory, which makes customs and immigration issues nonexistent.

David Twohy used the island to substitute for Hawaii for the just-released "A Perfect Getaway," a thriller starring Mila Jovovich and Steve Zahn that had a budget of just less than $20 million. The production digitally enhanced shots to make the scenes more Hawaii-like, in the form of vegetation or rocky cliffs. In fact, a sweeping overhead shot featuring the actors hugging a cliffside trail actually took place far from the Pacific.

"The actors were eight feet off the ground in Puerto Rico," Twohy says.

Says Dark Castle's Andrew Rona, whose "Losers" is using the territory as a double for Miami, Houston and Bolivia: "It's a combination of tax incentives and the diversity of locales. Part of the movie shoots in the deep jungle, and they have a great rainforest that is 20 minutes outside of (capital city) San Juan."

The incentive was a relief for the makers of "Diary," which wrapped shooting recently because producers were desperate to use Puerto Rico for Puerto Rico.

"We didn't have to, nor did we want to, re-create the local flavor anywhere else," says Bahman Naraghi of GK Films, a producer on the movie.

The island offered more than cheap locations. Because "Diary" is a period piece -- the movie is set in 1960 -- the production needed locations that matched the era. The main characters are reporters, and in San Juan, the production found a newspaper office that had gone belly up months earlier, leaving behind not only empty old newsrooms but also period printing presses.

The production also shot in Old San Juan, a part of the city filled with narrow cobblestone streets and plenty of tourists. Tourists and the paparazzi -- this is a Depp movie, after all -- presented certain challenges, but so did the logistical hurdles of shooting in confined spaces. One couldn't, for example, use normal equipment trucks but had to spread out gear among smaller vehicles, which meant hiring more drivers.

"You have to be prepared," Naraghi says of shooting in Old San Juan.

Many open hands were extended to the production. The governor even allowed shooting on the grounds of one of his mansions, where carpenters constructed the shell of a house moderne overlooking the beach.

"They want to encourage filmmaking on the island," Naraghi says.

As the Caribbean heats up, Puerto Rico is starting to face competition: Cayman Islands last year introduced a 30% rebate. But the territory's governor is close to signing a bill that would extend the tax incentive another 10 years.

"I hope that our film will be a great showcase for them, as a tourist attraction and for filming," Naraghi says. "The island deserves to be on people's minds."
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