Filming in the world’s most versatile locations
Finding the perfect location for a film can be challenging and sometimes the most obvious site is not the right answer.
Many factors come into play, such as accessibility, cost, noise and weather conditions. Some places might be too difficult to reach, or local authorities and internal conflicts might stand in the way. Others can simply prove too expensive. In such cases, using somewhere more practical as a double is often the best solution.
There are many places around the world that attract film crews on a regular basis because of their versatility, well-developed infrastructure and film-friendly attitudes.
The UK is full of adaptable locations and offers generous filming incentives that make it one of the world’s top production hubs.
London is one of the most popular UK cities and doubles for locations around the world. Oxford is typically used for filming historical dramas, for example as a double for Russia in Anna Karenina. Manchester’s cobblestone streets are perfect for Victorian settings. The city stood in for 1940s New York in Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger and has doubled for London in parts of the BBC’s hit drama Sherlock.
Elsewhere in Europe, Prague is a versatile film double offering Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture and, crucially, a competitive filming incentive. The Bohemian Czech capital doubled for the majority of European locations in TV drama Crossing Lines, while the BBC’s adventure series The Musketeers was filmed nearby doubling for 17th Century Paris.
Jason Zada’s psychological drama The Forest (pictured right) used the Tara Mountains in Serbia as a double for Japan’s Aokigahara, or Suicide Forest, a location so-called because of the number of locals who tragically go there to take their own lives. Japan is notoriously expensive as a filming location and stories set in the country are rarely shot there for more than a few days at a time.
Zada made use of Serbia’s skilled crew base while filming and then took his Serbia-filmed footage and in post-production laid it against wide background shots of Mount Fuji to convey the story’s sense of place.
Morocco has for some years been among the world’s top locations for desert landscapes. Service company Morocco Film Production claims “the landscape gives filmmakers the power of not only portraying Morocco in a unique light but also use the landscape of Morocco as a double of many countries.”
Indeed, Morocco has been used as a double for much of the Middle East, but also places like California and Florida.
Morocco is a particular favourite of British filmmaker Ridley Scott, who in recent years used the country as a double for Afghanistan in his spy thriller Body of Lies and as a stand-in for Somalia in his war movie Black Hawk Down.
The country also doubled for Afghanistan in Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper and Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone, starring Bradley Cooper and Matt Damon respectively.
Britain and Morocco signed a co-production filming treaty in September 2013. Since then, British production in the country has dramatically increased. Last year, high-end BBC drama The Night Manager used the Es Saadi resort in Marrakech as a double for Cairo.
South Africa is the other major production hub on the African continent and has found success through its versatile locations and generous filming incentive support. The country offers a rebate of up to 20% for foreign film productions.
Cape Town doubled for locations ranging from Surrey in the UK to the Nevada city of Las Vegas in the US for the war drama Eye in the Sky. It also substituted for Islamabad and Pakistan in the terrorism TV drama Homeland.
American film productions often turn to Canada, especially its westernmost province British Columbia, for cheap and flexible locations. Being the third largest centre for the film industry in North America, Vancouver has gained the nickname Hollywood North.
The popular adaptation of the novel Fifty Shades of Grey used the city to double for Seattle and has returned for the sequels, whilst Fear the Walking Dead substituted Vancouver for Los Angeles. The city also doubled for San Francisco in both the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, as well as New York and China in The Interview.
Vancouver is a regular double for California as the Canadian city offers better filming incentives for big-budget feature productions.
In eastern Canada, the French-speaking province Quebec is also building its production profile. It’s largest city Montreal is a multifaceted location that has been used to double for virtually every city, from Minsk in David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to Marseilles in Catch Me If You Can and New York in The Terminal, both from Steven Spielberg. Bryan Singer filmed both X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: Apocalypse (pictured above) in the city.
Whilst some filmmakers put authenticity first, using original locations only, others prefer to find often cheaper and more accessible alternatives. Visual effects make it easier to double locations for other parts of the world, often through the creation of digital background vistas. More and more countries are now open to film productions, providing generous film incentives whilst building their infrastructure. But for now, places like London, South Africa, Morocco and British Columbia remain the most sought-after, multifaceted sites.
The Forest image: Gramercy Pictures
X-Men Apocalypse image: 20th Century Fox