Why Hollywood Loves Puerto Rico
Versatile locations, attractive rebates and experience crews have everyone from the "Fast Five" producers to HBO and Showtime headed to the Caribbean hotspot -- it's more than just the rum.
This story first appeared in the Sept. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
What do HBO's hit offbeat comedy Eastbound & Down, the Vin Diesel action extravaganza Fast Five and the Leonardo DiCaprio-produced thriller Runner, Runner have in common? Puerto Rico, one of Hollywood's new favorite shooting destinations. With about 70 percent of foreign shoots there employing the region as a convincing stand-in for other locations, the commonwealth has thrived lately thanks to a host of factors. Here are five reasons why Hollywood is increasingly heading to the "Island of Enchantment" for offshore shoots.
1. MORE BANG FOR YOUR BUCK
Puerto Rico boasts one of the most robust film incentive programs in all of Latin America and the Caribbean. In a nutshell, the region offers a 20 percent tax credit on payments made to above-the-line nonresidents, including producers, directors, writers and talent. Sweetening the deal is a 40 percent rebate on payments made to Puerto Rican residents for below-the-line services.
Since 2011, some 30 foreign productions in TV and film and advertising have reaped the benefits of the tax breaks, including Johnny Depp's The Rum Diary, which spent $20 million on location in Puerto Rico and received an $8 million credit in return (a good thing considering its tepid $13 million domestic box office).
2. NO FOREIGN EXCHANGE RATE
As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico is in the unique position of being able to offer many conveniences of the mainland.
Case in point: Puerto Rico uses the U.S. dollar as its currency, and its banking system operates under the same stateside protections. What's more, Puerto Rico abides by the same labor laws, and U.S. citizens need no passport to get there.
Says executive producer James Holt, who shot 2009's The Men Who Stare at Goats in Puerto Rico, "People don't necessarily register that this is a U.S. territory. It doesn't present the same headaches as filming in a foreign country."
3. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
As Puerto Rico's tax credits draw more productions, it's becoming more common for the region to double for other locations. Settings in and around the capital of San Juan were depicted as Rio de Janeiro in the action flick Fast Five. And for the current filming of the gambling drama Runner, Runner, starring Ben Affleck, Puerto Rico substitutes for Costa Rica.
Puerto Rico consists of a main island surrounded by a cluster of smaller ones. As one might expect, Puerto Rico appeals to tourists thanks to a number of stunning locations, but what it offers filmmakers is diversity: from lush mountains and white-sand beaches to colonial-era architecture and modern, urban settings.
Puerto Rico also benefits from its proximity to the U.S. With Miami just 2½ hours away by plane (a $450 flight), producers get to reap the benefits of rebates while saving money on travel.
4. EXPERIENCED, ENGLISH- SPEAKING CREWS
Puerto Rico has hosted about 90 foreign shoots since 1999, and local crews have become skilled at servicing a range of productions, including such effects-laden tentpoles as Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, action vehicles like the James Bond film GoldenEye and TV series such as the Showtime dramedy The Big C.
"We traveled in with our department heads and most of our camera crew but then staffed the remainder of crew locally," says Laura Benson, production manager on The Big C. "They were extremely helpful and hardworking."
Another benefit: English is an official language in Puerto Rico.
The only drawback, Benson notes, was that the location has become so popular that two other productions were filming at the same time as The Big C, making it a challenge to round up a crew.
5. A SAFE SHOOTING ENVIRONMENT
What Puerto Rico lacks in soundstages and full-service facilities, it makes up for in safety. Rival location Mexico offers the whole enchilada when it comes to industry infrastructure, but its ongoing drug war has spooked some producers.
The higher-ups at HBO were taking no chances on season two of Eastbound & Down. When the comedy's setting moved from North Carolina to a fictional Mexican town, producers opted to shoot in Puerto Rico because of security concerns about filming south of the border.
Puerto Rico also offers peace of mind in the form of free hurricane insurance coverage. According to Puerto Rico film commissioner Mariella Perez, the government will pay a premium for hurricane insurance when producers want to shoot during hurricane season. Since the studios usually have umbrella coverage, the insurance is geared toward independent productions. Says Perez: "They're the ones that really need an extra push."