Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean. With its warm climate, beautiful scenery, relaxed atmosphere and reggae roots, it encapsulates many people’s ideal of life in the region. Although it has a population of only 2.8m, it is estimated to attract around 1.3m tourists every year.
In terms of the film and TV production business, it is one of the most developed locations in the Caribbean and has an active film commission. A popular choice for North American filmmakers, it has developed a talented English-speaking crew base and is able to offer a wide array of equipment. At time of writing there were also plans to build a state-of-the-art studio. In terms of logistics, it has three international airports with daily flights from LA taking 5 hours.
The main problem with Jamaica is lack of film incentives. In late 2013, Jamaica’s film industry put together a six-minute video urging the government to introduce incentives or risk eroding the country’s industry. In the video it claimed that lack of incentives had cost Jamaica hundreds of millions of dollars in work that went to locations like Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico and South Africa instead. It also claimed that some leading productions had gone elsewhere because of concerns over the country’s lack of security.
International filmmakers have been coming to Jamaica since the early 1900s. During the 1980s there was a big increase in the number of projects visiting the island, with high-profile credits including the Bond series of films (Dr. No, Live and Let Die and Goldeneye). Since its establishment in 1988, the Jamaican Film Commission estimates that it has serviced over 3,500 film projects, ranging from full-length feature film to documentary. Currently it calculates that 150 productions are shot in Jamaica annually. High profile movies to have visited include Cocktail, Cool Runnings, Legends of the Fall and, most recently, Knight and Day (starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz).
Other interesting developments in recent years include a visit from America’s Next Top Model and commercials production connected to sprinting icon Usain Bolt. Puma came to the island in 2011 to shoot a series of TV spots with Bolt.
Having said all this, lack of incentives is still an issue for Jamaica. Recently, the $1.3m movie Home Again chose to shoot in Trinidad (with its 50% incentives) despite being a Jamaican story.
Details of permits can be obtained from the film commission. The process is pretty straightforward but do allow plenty of time to avoid being caught up in red tape. The film commission will advise on which parts of the island require special permission for filming and what the process is for issues like road closures.
More generally, the commission should be the first port of call on any administrative issue such as import permits, work permits, bond waivers for film equipment, location scouting and sourcing local security, accommodation and transport.
The big story regarding studios came in May 2014 when Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Anthony Hylton, announced plans to construct a film studio in St Thomas. Hylton said a 20-acre former Goodyear factory would be turned into a film lot with multiple stages of the highest international standard. “A Hollywood studio has agreed to provide oversight on the project,” said Hylton, who also added that a deal to produce five films has been signed with producer Steven Paul (Ghost Rider, Baby Geniuses).
Reporting on the story, local newspaper The Jamaica Observer said Hylton’s ministry “is in the process of reforming the National Industrial Policy to broaden the focus from trade in goods, services and commodities, to place emphasis on high-tech and knowledge services, focusing on design and intellectual property.”
There is no doubting Jamaica’s natural beauty. Highlights include the Blue Mountains, tropical forests, coffee/ banana/ sugar plantations, the caves and rocky cliffs of Negril, the gorgeous beaches of Montego Bay, the colonial architecture of Spanish Town and the big city buzz of capital Kingston. There are also rivers, meadows, waterfalls, the coast, winding roads and even arid terrain. Churches, bridges, bars, lighthouses, markets, forts and mansions add to the variety. It is also very much worth noting that Jamaica can double for Africa or Southeast Asia.
In terms of weather, Jamaica has a tropical climate with year-round high temperatures and humidity. The rainiest weather is generally in May/June and October/November. Big storms can occur between July and November. One downside for Jamaica is its roads. Although it has a large network of roads, cities can be congested and rural roads are often poorly maintained.
Jamaican film crews are high quality and have worked with the likes of Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney and MGM. Most camera, grip and lighting equipment is available but specialised kit will need to be brought in. Additional equipment brought in to the country will be allowed to enter duty free (with notice). There is a basic presumption that overseas companies will source film crews from Jamaica before bringing in crew from abroad. However specialist personnel such as art departments and directors of photography will usually need to be brought in while post-production generally needs to be done abroad.