From Brazil to Mexico: Shooting Stars South of the Border for Films

7:15 AM 11/10/2019

by Ela Bittencourt

Versatile locales, experienced crews and generous incentives in these five regions offer an irresistible lure to Hollywood tentpoles, international art house titles and high-concept Netflix projects.

Netflix’s 'Sintonia'
Netflix’s 'Sintonia'
RAFAEL MORSE/NETFLIX

  • Brazil

    'Avengers: Infinity War'
    'Avengers: Infinity War'
    Courtesy of Marvel Studios

    Brazil cinema has had a great year, with high visibility at international festivals, including Cannes, Berlin, Toronto and Locarno. After the difficult 1990s, and thanks to the robust activity and funds injected by the federal agency ANCINE, the audiovisual sector witnessed fast growth in the past decade. ANCINE, which also operates as the regulatory authority for film investment as well as the body responsible for supporting and promoting the industry, oversees Brazil’s complex system of tax incentives for investment in production.

    The country’s film industry has recently seen some turbulence. The government’s attempts to control and censor ANCINE have given local producers understandable jitters. On the other hand, the presence of Netflix, which recently opened an office in São Paulo, has contributed to the expansion of local technical services, from animation and special effects to dubbing. "The data we’ve collected in the past four years at SPCine, which services movie productions in São Paulo, shows that the city is the second-biggest destination for international film productions in Latin America," says director Laís Bodanzky, who serves as the president of SPCine. "We think that this is due to the city’s urban, cultural and ethnic richness. Its architecture ranges from futuristic to historical, [and the country has] multicultural and immigrant populations from countries such as Japan and Lebanon. The city also makes up for 25 percent of the country’s audiovisual sector, with a large concentration of production companies, animation and video game studios, creatives and technicians."

    In August, Keanu Reeves was in São Paulo shooting the Netflix sci-fi series Conquest, and Bodanzky estimates that the shoot in the city’s historical center generated about 2,000 direct local jobs. Netflix also is behind two other original series: the crime drama Sintonia, co-created by Brazilian music producer KondZilla, and the live-action Invisible City, directed and produced by Carlos Saldanha, the Brazilian filmmaker behind the popular Fox animated releases Ice Age and the Rio franchise.

    On the production side, such homegrown producers as Rodrigo Teixeira are thriving internationally by backing acclaimed art house releases like Olivier Assayas’ Wasp Network and Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse while also supporting local independents, including this year’s Oscar submission for international film, The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmão, directed by Karim Aïnouz.

    Brazilian directors José Padilha and Fernando Meirelles, meanwhile, have recently made original content for Netflix — the political series Mechanism (Padilha) and The Two Popes, (Meirelles), which is generating Oscar buzz

    Elsewhere, Argentina's Telefilms, which has been the biggest distributor of independent and Hollywood movies in Latin America, also sees opportunities in Brazil. "It’s a fantastic market for a company like Telefilms, whose DNA is 100 percent Latin American," CEOs Tomás Darcyl and Ricardo Costianovsky said in a statement. "Some years ago we saw an opportunity and a great need to also produce original local content. We focused our attention on the two main territories, Mexico and Brazil. Our first movie produced in Mexico, Don’t Blame the Kid, was a big success, with 4.7 million admissions. Now we’re very active in Brazil through a new company, Galeria [launched in 2018], focusing on commercial potential and young audiences."

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    Brazil: Essential Information 

    Incentives:

    Incentive laws are currently under federal government review; SPCine discounts (in São Paulo): up to 95 percent on use of public spaces

    Facilities:

    O2 Filmes/O2Pós, São Paulo: 91,500 square feet; three studios, a casting house and state-of-the-art postproduction facilities, with specialization in motion graphics, color grading and visual effects; it’s one of the largest independent studios in Latin America.

    Estúdio Quanta, São Paulo: four studios ranging from 2,000 to 13,000 square feet, with complete operational and technical infrastructure

    Recent Shoots: 

    Netflix’s Conquest, produced by and starring Keanu Reeves.

    Avengers: Infinity War

    Black Panther

    A Menina Que Matou os Pais, produced by Galeria

    Local Facilitator: 

    Daniel Celli, head of São Paulo Film Commission, Department of SPCine (danielcelli.spcine@gmail.com) 

  • Chile

    COURTESY OF TRIGON-FILM.

    In addition to a thriving commercial industry with highly qualified technicians, Chile boasts diverse yet easily accessible geographic locations that have been a steady draw for international producers. The country has co-production agreements with Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Italy and Venezuela.

    Despite recent street protests against inequality, the high cost of living and dissatisfaction with education, Chili’s film sector remains stable.

    Chilean cinema has been on the rise since the emergence of such auteurs as Pablo Larraín, who made the leap to Hollywood with 2016’s Jackie, starring Natalie Portman, and landed in competition in Venice this year with the domestic drama Ema, starring Gael Garcia Bernal. He’s also produced a number of features from fellow countryman Sebastián Lelio, including last year’s A Fantastic Woman, which took home the foreign language Oscar, and this year’s Gloria Bell — an English-language remake of the director’s 2013 hit Gloria — starring Julianne Moore.

    To boost film shoots, the Chile Film Friendly Program has been fundamental to the country’s overall success. It aims to improve conditions for audiovisual productions, with clear protocols for obtaining shooting permits, delivery of information and userfriendly rates for productions taking place in Chile. "Currently, we have nine agreements with 32 municipalities, which work in tandem with nine regional film commissions," says Nazelí Nazar, the coordinator for the Chile Film Commission. "Additionally, to support the High Profile Audiovisual Investments Program [which offers a 30 percent rebate on projects shot entirely or partly in Chile], there are agreements with treasury and customs, focused on providing tax benefits."

    The country’s sought-after locations include the desert San Pedro de Atacama, the volcanic region of Villarrica, Araucanía, and the mountains, including Torres del Paine in the south, and the sky resorts in Central Chile.

    Recently, the Netflix original movie Fever Dream, a supernatural drama directed by Peru’s Claudia Llosa and co-produced by Juan and Pablo Larraín’s Fabula Productions, was shot in Chile around the Villarrica and Llanquihue lakes, which double for the story’s setting in Argentina.

    "Chile has come a long way, not only in developing the national film, documentary, photography and advertisement industry but also in positioning our country as an excellent place for high-profile international productions," says Nazar. "We have large-production studios in Santiago, impressive natural settings and a growing industry of animation and postproduction of video and sound that provide services mainly to international production companies."

    ***

    Chile: Essential Information

    Incentives:

    igh Impact Audio Visual Investments Support Program: 30 percent rebate on qualified expenses for productions partly or entirely shot in Chile ($2M min and $3M max cap).

    Facilities: 

    Chilefilms, Santiago: One of Chile’s largest production facilities includes six television studios ranging from about 260 to 5,000 square feet, postproduction and lab services, including color correction, editing, transfers, development and print copying

    Recent Shoots:

    Claudia Llosa’s Fever Dream for Netflix

    Pablo Larraín’s Ema

    Sebastían Lelio’s A Fantstic Woman

    Local Facilitator: 

    Nazelí Nazar, Film Commission Coordinator (filmcommissionchile@cultura. gob.cl) 

  • Colombia

    Melinda Sue Gordon / Courtesy of Netflix

    Colombia’s generous tax incentives make it one of the most attractive countries in Latin America for international productions. The capital, Bogotá, has become a popular shooting destination, recently hosting projects like Patriot Pictures’ Running With the Devil, starring Nicolas Cage, which filmed in the city’s industrial and Chapinero districts, and STX Entertainment’s Mile 22, with Mark Wahlberg, shot in 16 locations throughout town.

    According to Colombia’s Ministry of Culture, 35 movie projects have been approved under the Ley Filmación Colombia, which was inaugurated in 2012 and offers 40 percent rebates on production and logistics and 20 percent on transportation, catering and lodging. Most projects have been completed, employing a total of more than 19,000 local technicians and creatives.

    "Ley Filmación Colombia has made shooting in Colombia more attractive in many ways," says Claudia Triana de Vargas, the executive director of Proimagenes Colombia, the country’s film commission. In addition to cash rebates, "the law also eases immigration and visa procedures for international talent and crew," she says. "Filming in public areas also has been made easier in several cities and locations, and other local municipalities are implementing fast procedures."

    The popular Netflix series Narcos, whose three seasons were shot in Colombia, highlighted a slew of the country’s diverse shooting locales, including the culturally rich and sophisticated Bogotá, plus Pablo Escobar’s sprawling luxury estate outside of Medellín in Puerto Triunfo; Antioquia, which also is home to Latin America’s largest theme park; and the beautiful Caribbean beaches. The latter continues to draw international productions,including high-profile Hollywood projects like Jonathan Levine’s romantic comedy Long Shot, starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen, and Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, with Will Smith ("only been here a few days. I’m loving it already!!" Smith wrote on his Instagram account at the start of shooting).

    Meanwhile, Colombia’s Amazon forest has attracted diverse productions, from the Netflix movie Triple Frontier, starring Ben Affleck, to Memoria, a new project from auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul that stars Tilda Swinton and marks the first time the Thai director has worked outside his native country. In 2019, the local Fidelio Films also produced Rudio Capital, which follows two teens in ‘90s-era Bogotá and is the first original Latin American series for Telefónica Movistar.

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    Colombia: Essential Information 

    Incentives:

    Colombia Film Fund rebates: 40 percent cash rebate on production and logistics costs (must spend a minimum $600,000 in Colombia), 20 percent on lodging, catering and transportation; 0 percent VAT

    Facilities: 

    Fox Telecolombia: Eight studios with workshops totaling roughly 23,000 square feet, offering on-site postproduction services including color correction, VFX/graphics, sound mixing and 26 rooms equipped with AVID; plus mobile units and equipment rental

    Recent Shoots:

    Ang Lee’s Gemini Man

    Jonathan Levine’s Long Shot

    J.C. Chandor’s Triple Frontier

    Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria

    Local Facilitator: 

    Lilia Manolova, Film Commission and Promotion, Proimagenes Colombia (liliamanolova@proimagenescolombia.com) 

  • Mexico

    Richard Foreman, Jr.

    Mexico’s generous tax incentives, plus its proximity to the U.S., have been a boon to its locations industry. In additon to pacts with multiple countries in Latin America, the country has co-production agreements with the U.S., Canada, England, Spain, France and Switzerland

    Movie and television productions in Mexico have been steadily on the rise, despite some security concerns, including the recent wave of mass shootings and the escape of El Chapo’s son, described by a local security analyst as "a bad Netflix show." But Mexico’s filmmaking infrastructure remains a strong draw, including the oceanfront Baja Studios, which, thanks to its four water tanks, rose to prominence after hosting James Cameron’s Titanic in 1996.

    More recently, Mexico has attracted high-profile Hollywood productions like Fear the Walking Dead (seasons two and three); Stefano Solima’s sequel to 2015’s Sicario, Sicario: Day of the Soldado; and a number of Netflix series, including Narcos: Mexico, The House of Flowers, Selena and Monarca, about a family tequila empire that was actually shot in the town of Tequila in the western state of Jalisco.

    "Mexico has a long history and tradition of top-notch crews," says Francisco Ramo, Netflix vp international originals for Latin America and Spain. "We are continuing to expand our presence in Mexico with a local office and a growing slate of projects, including a second season of Monarca, that is set to launch in 2020." Netflix’s planned slate of 50 upcoming projects in Mexico is its largest in any country.

    Argentina’s Telefilms also is looking to Mexico to expand its original content production across Latin America. "There’s a tremendous amount of production going on in Mexico," says Bruce Boren, CEO of THR3 Group, Telefilms’ Mexico-based production company. "There’s obviously a lot of talent, and the quality is going up exponentially." THR3 aims to release five Spanish-speaking movies per year. Its latest undertaking is a partnership with Grupo Chespirito, the company run by Roberto Gómez Fernández, the son of the famous Mexican comedian Chespirito (Roberto Gómez Bolaños). It will deliver content around Chespirito’s legacy, including a live-action biopic and animated projects based on more than 100 characters from the Chespirito universe.

    ***

    Mexico: Essential Information

    Incentives:

    Up to 80 percent of production, postproduction and distribution (top limit $1 million); 0 percent VAT

    Facilities: 

    GGM Studios, Cinematic Media, Mexico City: Six spaces, roughly 4,500 to 11,000 square feet; postproduction services, fiber high-speed connectivity, dailies processing, editorial conforming, color grading, deliverables and quality control services.

    Baja Studios, in the Baja California region: 3,000 feet of Pacific oceanfront, with four water tanks of varying sizes and largest capacity of 17 million gallons; diving center and filtration plant; workshops, workshop tunnels and backlots, ADR studio and heliport

    Recent Shoots:

    Netflix series: Narcos: Mexico; The House of Flowers; Selena; Monarca

    National Geographic’s Sea of Shadows

    Stefano Solima’s Sicario: Day of the Soldado

    Local Facilitator: 

    Mario Hernández, Mexican Film Commission (mario.hernandez@imcine.gob.mx)

  • Uruguay

    'Don't Breathe'
    'Don't Breathe'
    Sony Pictures

    Uruguay, one of the smallest countries in the region, is relatively new to the international co-production scene, having announced its ambitious incentive program only last year. For a limited time, the country is offering a 25 percent rebate on eligible production expenses, with a minimum spend of $1 million. It also offers an exemption to the 22 percent VAT tax.

    Since the 2000s, Uruguay has had a modest but steadily growing local production sector, with a focus on co-productions with such neighboring Latin American as Brazil and Argentina. The industry received a boost when homegrown director Fede Alvarez directed two North American Gustavo Hernández’s You Shall Not Sleep productions, Evil Dead (2013) and Don’t Breathe (2016), followed by The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018) and now a planned Don’t Breathe sequel.

    The country is seeking to raise its profile internationally as a shooting destination, which will no doubt be helped by the Netflix series Conquest. In addition to Brazil, the Keanu Reeves project shot in three locations over seven days in Uruguay’s capital city of Montevideo.

    "Netflix visited Uruguay, invited by the Uruguay Film Commission & Promotion Office, and was absolutely in love with our varied locations and the short distances between each," says Martín Pommerenck, the International Affairs Coordinator of National Institute of Cinema & Uruguay Film Commissioner.

    ***

    Uruguay: Essential Information

    Incentives:

    25 percent rebates for eligible expenses, capped at $400,000; minimum expenditure $1M; 0 percent VAT

    Facilities:

    Reducto Studios and Production Center, Montevideo: Two film studios, with 7,642 and 4,036 square feet; services for feature films, commercials, television series, video clips, digital projects and VFX, plus flexible offices and postproduction facilities

    Recent Shoots:

    Netflix’s Conquest

    Brian De Palma’s Sweet Vengeance

    Gustavo Hernández’s You Shall Not Sleep

    Local Facilitator:

    Martín Pommerenck, international affairs coordinator of National Institute of Cinema & Uruguay Film Commissioner (internationalesicau@mec. gub.uy)

    This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Nov. 10 daily issue at the American Film Market.