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Filming Chile: Dramatic locations and easy access

ValparaisoChile already has a thriving commercials industry and attracts shoots from around the world, but the South American country is also building on its features appeal.

The country stretches nearly 2,700 miles down the backbone of the South American continent towards the Southern Ocean, bordering Peru to the north, and Bolivia and Argentina to the east.

Chile welcomes around 50 international shoots a year. Most are commercials but in mid-2016 the country hosted Simon West's action-comedy Salty with Antonio Banderas among its feature productions, a movie which specifically sought to switch its setting to Chile from the Thailand locations of its source novel. A further measure of Chile's growing popularity is that international expenditure to the country's production service companies has increased by a third over the past four years.

Chile may have an immense north-south reach, but the country is just 220 miles across at its widest point, which facilitates easier access to starkly different terrain within short travel times.

“Most of the country is accessible within a few hours by plane,” says Joyce Zylberberg, director of Film Commission Chile, in comments to KFTV. “Santiago, where much of the film business is located, is near the centre.

“We have nationwide coverage by all means of transport: domestic airlines, bus networks, boats, and hiring and leasing of vehicles to mobilise equipment. Our highways are very well maintained and our transportation standard is very good. This is the reason that we receive a lot of road movie projects!” 

Zylberberg tells KFTV that most locations in Chile are accessible within just two hours’ travel time, which can be a major advantage for producers looking to maximise their efficiency. 

Filming Chile

“Chile may be the only country in the world where the main city is an hour’s drive from both the sea and snowy mountains, resulting in low logistics costs,” Zylberberg says.

“You can find a wide range of landscapes and scenarios, such as desert landscapes in the north and glaciers in the south, sub-tropical landscapes on Easter Island (the iconic Pacific Ocean territory is officially Chilean), fields and vineyards in the central valley, deserts, snowy mountains, ancient forests, cities and towns, among other unique locations to film.”

Chile’s production industry is based in Santiago in the centre of the country, a capital city that offers a distinctive range of visuals as a result of its varied colonial history. The port city of Valparaiso is just 70 miles from Santiago and also offers striking architecture.

Further north, the Atacama Desert is a popular filming location with vast, arid vistas. In the south, filmmakers can find rainforests, lakes and glaciers. 

Producers usually fly in their own heads of department for Chilean filming but they can hire their below-the-line crew in Santiago, where they also have access to studio facilities. 

City filming in ChileSignificantly, Chile accepts the ATA Carnet customs document – the only country in the Americas south of Mexico to do so – which eases equipment imports.

Locally available specialist kit includes a Russian Arm crane in addition to a Technocrane, Fisher and Panther dollies, helicopter mounts and a Milo motion control rig.

Film Commission Chile works to promote the country as an unparalleled location for international film productions, acting as a support network to facilitate permit applications, import film equipment, supply foreign producers with the necessary contacts within Chile's film industry, and provide information about benefits,” says Zylberberg.

Zylberberg accepts that Chile is still an emerging country in terms of its international production appeal, and particularly as a film and TV location.

Ideally the country also needs a filming incentive, which is something Serman says is on the horizon. In the meantime, production support is available from the government through Film Commission Chile.

“The feedback is that we can be leaders,” says Zylberberg. “The people who film in Chile return, and that is a good sign. They tell us that Chile as a destination has all the attributes to provide the best service: locations, weather, stability and qualified crews. However, we know that the final push will be given once we launch incentives.”

For more on filming in Chile see our production guide.