Costa Rica

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Overview and productions

Costa Ricans are fond of saying ‘Pura Vida’, in a reflection of the Latin American territory’s positive and optimistic outlook on life. That is now being extended to its film sector as the territory aims to attract international productions to its dramatic shores.

The audiovisual sector offers a port­folio of services at all stages of production, be it project development, production or post-production in both video and audio. It also boasts technicians and behind-the-camera talent.

Like everywhere, Costa Rica was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. “International productions decreased by 95%, which paralysed the sector,” says Costa Rica film commissioner Jose Castro. “Thanks to our fast response in the first two months of the closure, we put in place a safe-filming protocol, which allowed local production companies to continue with filming.

“As soon as our borders opened in mid-2020, we had a lot of projects coming in and that has been the dynamic ever since.”

National Geographic, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Discovery Channel, Netflix, HBO and Disney have all brought titles to Costa Rica. Over the past three years, the country has been visited by projects including Todd Robinson’s war feature The Last Full Measure starring Sebastian Stan, William Hurt and John Savage, Amazon Prime’s reality adventure series The Pack and Netflix reality series Rest­aurants On The Edge.

The government is in talks to introduce financial incentives to boost its film and TV sector. Backed by the tourism board, a consortium of audiovisual companies, the country’s producers’ associations and several political parties, the proposals include plans to offer a tax rebate of 13% for international productions on local spend and the exoneration of any tax or deposit on equipment imported for the shoot as well as on material required for the filming process.

It is also proposed that no actor, director or producer working on an international production in Costa Rica will be subject to tax of any kind while carrying out their work in the country.

Castro says the plans are being finalised and the measures are expected to be in place in the coming months.

Permits

Obtaining a permit in film-friendly Costa Rica is pretty straightforward with no especially onerous rules. A standard permit takes up to 15 days but national parks may require longer. Shutting down a street is possible but will also require more notice. Obtaining permits is relatively straightforward. Production service companies that can help include Costa Rica Filming Locations (CRFL) and Costa Rica Film Support (CRFS).

Infrastructure and crew

With cities dotted across the country, the comparatively politically stable country boasts a robust telecommunications infrastructure, a highly regarded healthcare system and a safe and secure environment for filmmakers.

Costa Rica is a non-unionised country, and production crews are more cost-effective than European countries and the US. It is also a pioneer in ecological shooting methods and is one of the highest-ranked Latin American countries for English-language proficiency.

Small private studios are available up to around 10,000 square feet in size and there are a variety of audio post‑production studio facilities.

Costa Rica can comfortably host up to four film productions at the same time. The quantity and quality of crew is also growing every year. Local universities are working with the Costa Rica Film Commission to develop classes, workshops, seminars and training tools to bolster the quality of the crew and increase the depth of knowledge and experience at any level and role.

Locations

Costa Rica is famous for its pristine national parks, which make up around 20-25% of the county’s entire land mass. These include Corcovado National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Manuel Antonio National Park, and Tortuguero National Park.

In terms of geography, the country boasts various types of forest, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, hot springs and numerous volcanoes. It also has both Caribbean and Pacific Coastlines, complete with palm trees, different colour sands and impressive surf breaks. There is a wide array of agricultural crops including coffee, banana, corn and rice. Costa Rica can be a good double for other parts of the world like the Alps and Africa. In El Salto, Liberia, for example, there is an African-style safari park complete with giraffes, deer, ostriches, camels, zebras etc.

While Costa Rica’s geography is the big draw, the country also has some interesting architecture including modern villas, government buildings, stately homes and palaces, town squares and parks. In poorer parts of capital city San Jose you can also find Brazilian-style favelas.

Costa Rica has a tropical climate. The sun shines throughout the year although there are extensive periods of rain (May to November is worst). The driest period for filming is December to April. Keep in mind there are also regional variations between the East and West Coasts, and also between lowlands and uplands. Best to check with a local fixer or production services company first.

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