Portugal has a lot to offer as a filming location thanks to a rich and diverse natural, historical and cultural heritage, as well as a modern and cosmopolitan atmosphere. It has the highest number of sunny days in Europe. And right now, the weakness of the Euro also makes it very competitive. It is one of the least expensive service centres in Western Europe and typically comes in less expensive than Spain.
At the same time, Portugal’s modern and hospitable hotel infrastructure, decent airports, robust telecoms network and dynamic and highly-qualified media sector make it a low-risk option for international production firms, particularly if they are coming from nearby France or UK.
Portugal’s main production hub is capital Lisbon, where good producers and studios can be found. However, Porto in the North and the Algarve in the South are also busy centres for shooting. Because the country is small, it’s easy to get around – with diverse geography and architecture in close proximity.
Historically, Portugal has been a bureaucratic place to shoot. But that’s changing. Lisbon, keen to attract filmmakers, has launched a new film commission and promises to cut red-tape. This new Lisboa Film Commission has been launched by co-ordinator Rita Rodrigues - it's still relatively early days for the commission and you can view a video explaining the development here.
The country mainly appeals to advertising producers, who are willing to travel from Europe, North America, Asia and Brazil. The lack of local incentives mean it is not always easy for TV drama and film producers to make the numbers add up. But there is a steady influx of factual and entertainment projects.
As explained in the opening section, Portugal appeals mainly to advertising producers – with a noticeable pick up in work since 2010. A good case in point is the high-profile Foster’s campaign that sees two Aussies in a beach hut offering agony-aunt style advice to men over the phone. Starting in 2010, creative agency Adam & Eve has shot a number of executions in Portugal because the country’s coastline can double for Australia and because the cost of onscreen talent is so competitive.
Advertising clients mainly come in from across Europe – though there are jobs from Asia and the Americas. Recent visitors include UK-based producer Stink, which transformed an arts centre into an airport for a Heineken commercial. In terms of cost and securing permission, this was an easier option than trying to shut down part of a real airport. Stink, working on a brief from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, also chose Portugal for a new Mercedes campaign. Three ads, linked to a Twitter campaign, were directed by Yann Demange and see the new Mercedes A Class carve its way through evocative backstreets.
While TV and film clients visit less frequently, some high-profile jobs do land. For example, the Swedish movie version of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire shot some scenes here. Go back to 1993 and Portugal also hosted a movie version of Isabel Allende’s acclaimed novel ‘The House of Spirits'.
Portugal is also a popular locations amongst heavy-weight directors Wim Wenders and Raúl Ruiz, both having shot films set here on a number of occasions. In 2013 the country also starred in the release of Night Train to Lisbon, directed by Dane Bille August.
Traditionally, Portugal has been slow in granting permits. But there are moves to put this right. The new Lisbon Film Commission has recently been launched in the Portuguese capital to streamline the local permitting process and simplify the process of filming in the city. It is now possible to receive a filming permit within three days of the initial application – much quicker than was previously possible. Beaches require 1-2 days for permits. The city does not require payment upfront for locations which keeps options open, allowing filmmakers to file for permission for several locations up to the final days before the shoot.
The reason for this is that Lisbon is keen to attract film-makers. The Commission will also work with various municipal services and the Lisbon Tourism Association to achieve this goal.
As a general rule, local film commissions in Lisbon, the Algarve and the Azores are the best places to start when seeking a permit. Different permits may be required for shooting in cities, at beaches, in national parks and on public roads. Another piece of good news is that the police tend to be supportive. Various producers have reported that they are willing to slow traffic or even shut roads for periods of time.
The main studios are in Lisbon. For up-to-date advice on studios in terms of price and specification, it’s best to consult firms with detailed local knowledge, such as Page International Services, Camino Media, Soulkitchen or Artists Group, Grupo Nova Imagem, and its rental branch Smiling.
Among the best-known movie studios in the country is Tobis, a long-established Lisbon-based player that was state-owned until the start of 2012. However financial problems saw it sold off to investment firm Filmdrehtsich Unipessoal soon after and its future is yet to be decided.
Portugal’s financial difficulties are a key consideration for any media firms right now. In 2009, a consortium called Picture Portugal unveiled plans to build a state-of-the-art studio and post-production facility at Portimão in the Algarve. The project, which was intended to attract Hollywood scale movies to the region and had the backing the local mayor, has fallen behind schedule because of problems with raising financial backing. The studio complex is yet to be complete, but includes an up-and-running sports arena which doubles as a studio.
Portugal is blessed with a variety of beautiful locations. Most famous is its coastline, 850km of it, which offers either the dramatic Atlantic coast or sunny Mediterranean-style beaches (Note: Portugal is not on the Mediterranean but the climate in the south is essentially the same).
The Algarve has probably the best beaches in Portugal - stretches of sand regularly broken by cliffs and rock formations. There are also some beautiful port towns and fishing villages and further inland olive trees, orchards, fig trees and almond blossom abound in picturesque Monchique.
Other significant geographic features are lakes, forests, mountains, farms and the famous archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores. The latter is of volcanic origin and offers a variety of magnificent landscapes of outstanding beauty, including lagoons, volcanic craters, hot springs and lush vegetation. On the island of Madeira the Laurissilva forest, with an array of exotic trees would be a great stand-in for a tropical jungle.
On the mainland, of particular interest to filmmakers and photographers are Lisbon, the Algarve, Sintra, Coimbra, Évora, Óbidos, Guimaraes and Oporto. Of significance for international producers is that Portugal can double up for a wide range of countries and terrains (savannah to desert). As for buildings, there’s everything from modern architecture to medieval castles. Industrial skylines, sports stadia and roads for cars to race along are all on offer.
Despite the biggest draw being the coastline, head inland and you can discover some real gems. Dutch insurance company Central Beheer, for example, recently filmed in the mountains of Central Portugal. The northern region of Douro is a region famous for its vineyards sloping down to the river and the Alentejo, just above the Algarve, has plenty of rolling hills dotted with traditional portuguese cottages.
Examples of what is one offer, both in and outside of Lisbon can be found at BlackMaria’s location service Filming in Portugal. Their extensive library is a testament to the diversity of locations in this country.
Portugal has highly professional crews, supported by good art departments, experienced set construction teams, excellent labs, equipment houses and post-production companies. An example of the latter is Som de Lisboa, a state of the art audio production studio skilled in band recording, post-production, sound design and producing original music for ad campaigns.
Companies in the equipment rental business include Lisbon-based Contra Campo, which can provide lighting, grip, transport, crew, studios location services, art direction, set building, casting, make up, wardrobe, props and catering. Another noteworthy player is Grupo Nova Imagem’s Smiling, which offers rental equipment for cinema and television.
As for talent, English is widely-spoken by crews and some service companies are run by native English-speakers. In addition, there are plenty of ex-pats if ethnic diversity is needed for casting. Well-known model agencies in Portugal include Central Models, L’Agence, Just & Elite Lisbon.