The Dominican Republic could not be a more welcoming environment for the film industry. With strong tax credits, industry and government support and an industry-friendly atmosphere, filmmakers are finding the Dominican Republic an exceptional location in which to base their productions.
As one of the largest and most visited islands in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic offers a wide variety of around 1,000 diverse shooting locations for film, TV and commercials, including tropical forests and stunning beaches. Filming backdrops range from mountainous areas such as Pico Duarte to the island’s largest lake, Lake Enriquillo.
The Dominican Republic has a more established film infrastructure than most Caribbean countries so crew and equipment rarely need to be brought in from abroad. With more than 10 international airports and well-maintained roads, travel and communications are efficient. There is also a robust administrative network.
It has a hot, tropical climate. The cool, dry season runs from November to April and is the best time to film, although there are plenty of dry, sunny days in the rainy season, which runs from May to October. Throughout the year, coastal areas are generally warmer than the mountainous central regions.
It is also the leading economy in the Caribbean, with a culturally lively capital, Santo Domingo. The Dominican Republic Film Commission was established in 2011 and the film industry has substantially expanded since then, in large measure due to the government’s interest in supporting it - in particular the adoption of a law to promote and encourage it. The Dominican Republic’s new Film Industry Law modified the country’s tax system, introducing a number of tax incentives to stimulate the film industry and encourage domestic and foreign investment.
In addition to establishing financial incentives for the film industry the film industry law helps smooth the way for film production by eliminating a number of bureaucratic roadblocks, facilitating customs, procedures and administrative systems, and establishing a special tariff schedule for the production of foreign films.
The new law reflects the country’s respect for films and the industry and its eagerness to welcome both filmmakers and foreign investment in the industry, with the Dominican Republic fast becoming the top Caribbean film destination.
Furthermore, facing stiff competition from other Caribbean islands, the construction of a $70 million film studio on the island, managed by Pinewood Studios, will set it ahead of the rest.
Up to ten feature films a year are produced in the Dominican Republic, making use of the available tax credit and the island’s proximity to the South American market. Director Alfonso Rodriguez, who was born on the island, shot the feature film Mi Angelito Favorito (2012) at a specially-built set at the Estudios Quitasueños. And with the construction of the Pinewood studio productions are expected to increase substantially.
In the early 70s, when Francis Ford Coppola directed Godfather II, starring Al Palcino as Michael Corleone and Robert de Niro as Vito Corleone, things were kicking off in Cuba and filming in Havana was impossible. Standing in for Havana was Santo Domingo. Forty years later and the Dominican Republic has served as a backdrop for films as diverse as the Good Shepherd, Jurassic Park and Miami Vice.
When choosing locations for The Good Shepherd, De Niro had already spent time filming in the Dominican Republic during the filming of The Godfather II when the island served as a backdrop for Cuba. Now working as the director of The Good Shepherd, a classic spy thriller with double agents and high drama, he chose the Dominican Republic again as the backdrop for the Cuba scenes, as well as some of the other more exotic sequences. Santo Domingo stood in for Havana, with more rural parts of the island being used for the Congo scenes, miles away from the real African jungles that were being portrayed.
The island has stood in for Cuba several times in feature films, notably Andy Garcia’s The Lost City in 2005, and Sydney Pollack’s Havana (1990).
Standing in again for other locations, the Dominican Republic also featured in Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg’s 1993 masterpiece. Although shot largely in Hawaii, some scenes were shot along the Chavon River, in the eastern region of the country, which was also the setting for Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War masterpiece Apocalypse Now.
In addition to jungle backdrops, the Dominican Republic has lent its beaches to some of the highest grossing films of the last decade. After four films, Captain Jack Sparrow and his band of swashbucklers have made serious headway through the warm waters of the Caribbean. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl filmed in the Dominican Republic, more specifically Punta Cana. Samana also played a role in the filming of Captain Jack Sparrow’s misadventures.
The Fast & Furious franchise also shot its fourth film in the Dominican Republic in 2009. The action film, directed by Justin Lin, begins with a spectacular sequence with Dominic and his crew hijacking fuel tankers off the island.
With such heavyweight directors filming on the island, the Dominican Republic is bound to attract more films. For many the next step, in what is a fast evolving tale of increasing film production, is that the Dominican Republic sells itself as its own destination, and not a stand-in for Cuba or other Caribbean islands.
Still the very fact that the island can stand in for so many other locations is a great endorsement of the rich variety of exotic landscapes and historic buildings available on the island.
Since a new film law (Law 108-10) was implemented, more regulations have been imposed on the audiovisual industries. To shoot in the country you must have the corresponding permits and paperwork to avoid situations that could delay your production or put it at risk.
Permits are required throughout the Dominican Republic, including for shooting in a private space. A filming and photography shooting permit is required for all audiovisual activity and must be presented in the event of a random police check. These permits must be obtained through a local producer and registered production service provider.
Only registered producers at the Film Commission can obtain the necessary permits and custom clearance documents. A registered producer has a unique ID at the film commission. When you work with a producer this ID (“Cedula”) must match the one on the corresponding film commission paperwork. The film commission document, issued for local producers, is not transferable.
For the filming and photography shooting permit and customs permit you need third party liability insurance covering all crew and gear, copies of all passports, flight details, inventory of equipment, project brief and correspondence with DGCINE/Film Commission informing them of your local partner.
Failure to present the necessary paperwork can result in equipment being detained and productions delayed.
In February 2011, Pinewood Studios Group and the Indomina Group agreed to launch Pinewood Dominic Republic Studios, a state-of-the-art production facility for film and TV. The studio provides nearly 7,000 sq m of sound stage space and 15,000 sq m of associated production support facilities.
In June 2013, a 75m x 75m water exterior water tank was officially opened at Pinewood with natural ocean horizons, blue screen capabilities and a fully equipped marine and diving department.
There is also a studio facility called Estudios Quitasueno, 15 minutes west of Santo Domingo.
The Dominican Republic is one of the Caribbean’s most diverse countries, with stunning mountain scenery, desert scrublands, evocative colonial architecture and breathtaking beaches. The bustling capital Santo Domingo – official title Santo Domingo de Guzman – located on the coast was Spain’s first New World city. The city has an old town, known as the Zona Colonial, which has been a UNESCO heritage site since 1990. Examples of colonial architecture - both preserved and in ruins - remain to this day. This area exudes romance with its beautifully restored mansions, churches and cobblestone streets.
Altos de Chavon, a 2 hour drive from Santo Domingo, resembles a 16th century Mediterranean town. Set upon a spectacular hillside cliff and overlooking the winding Chavon River it makes for a perfect filming location.
But it is the hundreds of miles of coastline that define the Dominican Republic. If you are a filmmaker looking for a beach, the Dominican Republic could be the place for you. White-sand beaches shaded by rows of palm trees, others lined dramatically with rocky cliffs, wind-swept dunes or serene mangrove lagoons, the diversity of beaches is simply outstanding. The best beaches can be found in Punta Cana, a 3.5 hour drive from Santo Domingo.
The sea is the common denominator in the Dominican Republic and fishing villages with moored boats live alongside indulgent tourist resorts with aquamarine waters. Some of the bays and coves where pirates once roamed are home to migrating humpback wales. Coral reefs and surf breaks can also be found in abundance.
Outside the capital, much of the country is rural. The fertile interior provides vistas reminiscent of the European Alps, rivers carving through lush jungles, stunning waterfalls, traditional village life, farming and sugarcane plantations. Four of the five highest peaks in the Caribbean rise above the fertile landscape around Santiago, including Pico Duarte, its highest.
To the southwest, remote deserts can be found giving the Dominican Republic a diversity of locations that is simply not found on other islands.
The Film Commission website can give you can idea of the huge variety of locations on offer. Cinefilms, a Dominican Republic-based service provider, has the largest location image library in the country.
The Dominican Republic has a good range of standard lighting, grip and camera equipment including cranes, jimmy jibs, Fisher and Panther dolly, 35mm and RED cameras, scuba-cams, etc, as well as a small, but talented, pool of crew and support personnel who work year round on features, television and advertising. Local crews are experienced in servicing local productions and most speak fluent English.
More specialised equipment can be brought in from Miami, a short 2.5 hour flight away. Bringing in equipment from abroad requires a temporary entry of goods permit, which you can get once you have a Filming and Photography Shooting Permit. Both permits must be obtained through a registered production service company or local registered producer and will take 5 days.