When it comes to seeing Brazil on international screens, the visually iconic city of Rio de Janeiro springs to mind. Rio has been regularly portrayed on-screen in films including Fast Five and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1, both in 2011, and more recently Greg Barker’s drama Sergio.
Now Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, has introduced a cash rebate to attract international production as part of its post-pandemic economic recovery plan. As of October 6, 2021, productions spending at least $362,000 (BRL2 million) in Sao Paulo and working with a local producer can now access a 20%-30% reimbursement of their local costs.
“The goal is to place Sao Paulo on the international radar as one of the most cinematic cities in the world,” says Viviane Ferreira, CEO of Spcine, the company in charge of developing and implementing public audiovisual policies for the city.
Netflix has already shot several big shows in the city, including Sense8, Black Mirror and upcoming dystopian sci-fi series Conquest. The latter closed the city’s most famous street, Avenida Paulista, in 2019 and generated an estimated of $1.8m (BRL10m) and 2,000 jobs.
The local industry is confident the cash rebate can only sweeten Sao Paulo’s appeal to international productions. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), there are 9,747 audiovisual companies in the city, including film studio BigBox Estudios, and some high-profile supporters are talking up Sao Paulo’s benefits.
“I believe the cash rebate will attract more international crews to the city. In fact, we are already discussing it with British and Japanese producers,’’ says Fernando Meirelles, co-founder of O2 Filmes, based in Sao Paulo. “We also learned about a project that would be carried out in Ecuador, but it will probably be transferred to Sao Paulo because of this initiative.”
Sao Paulo offers a variety of locations that have been little explored by international productions. “The city has a diverse architecture that encompasses different styles and periods, including its golden age of coffee [from the 1800s to the 1930s],” says Spcine’s Ferreira.
The city boasts skyscrapers in the financial districts of Avenida Paulista and Avenida Brigadeiro Faria Lima, the man-made beaches of the Guarapiranga dam, numerous parks and a hugely diverse population.
“Different nationalities have lived and co-existed here for more than a century,” says Ferreira, in reference to Sao Paulo’s rich blend of white, Black and mixed-race Brazilians and the multitude of European, Japanese, Middle Eastern and Latin American immigrants
First person to contact
Viviane Ferreira, CEO, Spcine @ email@example.com
International films don’t tend to go to Brazil unless there is a specific narrative requirement to do so. Going back through the years, the country has played host to movies such as Fitzcarraldo, The Mission and Kiss Of The Spiderwoman. It also played host to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Incredible Hulk, Fast & Furious, and, famously, the Twilight franchise (Breaking Dawn honeymoon). Walter Salle’s 2004 Che Guevara biopic is a cult classic that masterfully showcases the country’s variety of landscapes.
Perhaps the most famous film to be shot in Brazil was City of God. Fernando Meirelle’s crime drama is a sweeping tale of how crime affects the poor population in Rio de Janeiro’s infamous favelas. Shot on location in and around the city, this masterpiece of Brazilian cinema won accolades at home and abroad.
Fernando Meirelles returned in 2010 to shoot in his home country with the screen adaptation of Nobel Laureate José Saramago’s masterwork Blindness. A psychological thriller about the fragility of mankind starring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Gabriel Garcia Bernal, Blindness was shot primarily in Sao Paulo.
Another film with an international cast to shoot in 2010 was Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables. Starring Stallone himself and Jason Statham, the film made the most of landscapes in and around Rio.
More recently, Rio de Janeiro was also the site of Edward and Bella’s honeymoon in Twilight: Breaking Dawn (2011). They are filmed in the streets of Rio’s nightlife district of Lapa and enjoy the quiet and beautiful beaches of the fictional Esme Island. In reality, their honeymoon retreat was filmed in one of the numerous bays around Paraty, three hours along the coast from Rio.
In TV, there is a booming domestic business thanks to broadcasters like Globo and producers such as Endemol. International production has increased in recent years: Netflix ordered its first original Brazilian series, a futuristic thriller entitled 3%, in August 2015. However, there isn’t much foreign drama shot here. More typical is for factual film-makers to come to Brazil to shoot documentaries.
Brazil is not the cheapest for commercials production – but it still gets a fair volume of work because of its amazing location and quality crew. Rio shoots have included work for Omo, Lipton, Coke and Starbucks. Brands that have used Sao Paulo include McDonalds, Nescafe, Samsung and Wella.
Ad agency network FilmBrazil says: “Brazil represents the largest advertising network in Latin America, with over 5,000 production companies registered in ANCINE producing over 46,000 commercials in 2014 and generating a US $1.169bn turnover.”
Brazil has a good reputation for sorting out permits quickly. But there are some points of note. Firstly, to film in Brazil you need to partner with a Brazilian production company that is registered with the Secretaria para o Desenvolvimento Audiovisual (an organ of the Ministry of Culture). You can check the list of registered production companies here.
A synopsis of the project must be sent to the Brazilian company. Based on this synopsis, a budget will be established and a contract with the Brazilian production company is signed. This contract must then be registered with the Agência Nacional do Cinema (ANCINE) along with a list of all non-Brazilian technicians and the dates of their arrival in and departure from Brazil.
For every three foreigners contracted for any given filming project, one Brazilian must also be contracted. The local employees' contracts should be registered at the Ministry of Labour by the Brazilian production company. To get full details, the best starting point is your local Brazilian embassy or consulate.
Timing and restrictions vary from location to location but most permits are easy to obtain and can be processed in anything from a couple of days to a week. A week’s notice is required to block streets.
Note: While permits are quite easy to get, experts advise shooting in cities at the weekend when there is less traffic. For commercial productions, the director and DoP must have work visas. Producers, agencies and clients can travel on tourist visas.
There are several state-of-the-art studios in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. One of the best known is Locall de Cinema e Televisao in a Sao Paulo suburb called Vila Mariana. Ten minutes from the airport, it has five studios ranging in size from 48 sq m to 440 sq m, as well as a range of equipment for rent.
Also in Sao Paulo is Estudios Quanta, which has four studios equating to a total space of 2,400 sq m. These are supported by production offices, dressing rooms, communal areas and the opportunity to rent cameras, lenses and lighting. In fact, Estúdios Quanta rents kit via five separate offices across Brazil and claims to be “the only equipment rental company to stock all the leading brands of cameras, lighting, cranes and dollies.”
In Rio, one of the busiest sites is the Herbert Richers Studio, which turns over high volumes of film and telenovelas.
Brazil is one of the largest nations on earth so it stands to reason that it has diverse locations. Aside from the amazing forest, river and coastline opportunities, there is an industrial side to Brazil which can be of interest. Not to be overlooked is the farmland and the plantations.
Brazil’s architectural attractions extend from frozen-in-time colonial towns to the postmodern and contemporary architecture of some of the world’s most vibrant cities.
The picturesque spot of Paraty remains one of Brazil’s best-preserved colonial towns, whilst the charming town of Ouro Preto, in the state of Minas Gerais, has some remarkable Baroque churches tucked away on narrow, steep streets. But it is in Rio de Janeiro that colonial architecture is at its finest. The pretty Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Glória do Outeiro is a stunning example.
The three big urban centers are Sao Paulo, Brasília and Rio de Janeiro. Sao Paulo is the largest city in Brazil. The expansive high-rise skyline, with helipads and a variety of architectural styles, is the main look of this city. Brasilia, built on the futuristic designs of Oscar Niemeyer, is home to some of the world’s most interesting modernist architecture. There are a ton of creative looks for filmmakers emerging from this city. Last, but certainly not least, is Rio de Janeiro. Known for Ipanema beach, Christ the Redeemer, Guanabara Bay, favelas and the world-famous Carnival, Rio de Janeiro is quintessentially Brazilian.
Other points of focus are the sports stadia used for the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup.
Then there is Brazil’s biodiversity: legendary in scope, its diverse ecosystems boast the greatest collection of species of fauna and flora anywhere in the world. From otherworldly landscapes of red-rock canyons to thundering waterfalls, there is undoubtedly a film location for you. The Amazon is the largest and most biodiverse tract of rainforest in the world. Parque Nacional Chapada de Veadeiros is dotted with striking geological formations and caves; The Chapada Diamantina has forests, river beaches and a kilometre-long grotto; The Pantanal is the world’s biggest inland swamp; and the Iguaçu Falls are unrivalled.
Brazilian beaches are also renowned around the world. One long stretch of sun-drenched sand, no city beach has a setting that can match Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil has plenty of beaches for filmmakers to feast their eyes on.
Fernando de Neronha Island is a pinnacle of crumbling granite, with pristine coral reefs and crystalline water, an hour’s flight from Brazil’s northeastern coast. For a different look, the beaches on Marajó - a sandbank the size of Denmark in the mouth of the Amazon River - are a good bet. Jericoacoara in Ceará is great for sand dunes and Transcoso in Bahia is perfect for beach luxury.
In addition to the natural landscapes, Brazil has a wide range of architectural looks. These include cattle ranches, coffee, rice, corn and sugarcane plantations.
Brazilian post-production companies have established an exemplary international reputation. Facilities with state-of-the art hardware and software have found as much recognition as have the highly-skilled Brazilian film, sound editors and 3D specialists.
Most camera equipment is Arri, but there is also Panavision and Aaton as well as a wide range of HD cameras. Cranes, dollies, remote heads, stabilized heads, camera-cars and shot-makers are all available to the highest standard. Although there are some options for motion control and stabilized camera mounts, there is no Spacecam or real Moco gear. Production companies include Story Productions, Vandalo and Estudio Vertical.
It is possible to bring your own kit into Brazil but make sure you follow rules to the letter. The decision about whether to let equipment in is completely down to the Brazilian customs officials.
Above-the-line audiovisual professionals in Brazil are, for the most part, fluent in English and very often in Spanish as well. This also applies to a wide range of below-the-line functions. One of the current priorities in Sao Paulo is to increase the number of professionals who speak other languages as well as their proficiency, thanks to a language teaching plan offered in conjunction with the main associations and unions.
The cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are well equipped to handle large productions. Sao Paulo accounts for 25% of the Brazilian film industry, with 1,500-plus production companies. In 2019, more than 1,000 productions were shot in the city.
The country has high-level producers and heads of departments who are used to working on international co-productions.
Sao Paulo has fully equipped studios of more than 1,200 square metres, including BigBox Estudios, which has two complete studios integrated with autonomous units for the rental of state-of-the-art equipment.
Brazil is vast but most incoming productions base themselves in either Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo. Both have an abundance of hotels and restaurants and are well connected to the rest of the country. Sao Paulo is the international gateway to Brazil and has three international airports, and good proximity to the coast, just one hour away by car.