Funding uncertainty, rising virus cases and a string of violence have taken some of the sheen off Mexico’s growing reputation as a major filming location. But there is no doubt that if the central American country can get rising infection rate down, there is great appetite to film in the country.
Indeed Netflix opened a local hub and before the pandemic said it planned to shoot 50 projects in the country, having scored hits with The House Of Flowers and Narcos: Mexico, the latter benefiting from the show’s switch in focus from Colombia to the activities of the Guadalajara Cartel in the 1980s.
While major projects like Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, Bond film Spectre and Catherine Hardwicke’s Miss Bala for Sony/Columbia have all taken advantage of Mexican locations in recent years, and been drawn in by the impressive studios and incentives.
Mexico is also proving popular on the commercials side, with the likes of Nike, Samsung, Airbnb, Nissan and Chevrolet all shooting in the country.
Mexico City is the country’s production hub and its greater metropolitan region is home to some 20 million people. The capital offers a broad range of modern and historic architecture that gives producers a lot of options within a manageable distance of each other.
“The city is a kaleidoscope of cultures and landscapes, from colonial buildings to pyramids, beaches, lakes, cathedrals and temples,” enthuses Angie Fernandez at local outfit Happy Monster to KFTV, that has worked on international documentaries and commercials for the likes of Mitsubishi and Savile.
The opening sequence of Bond film, Spectre, was filmed in Mexico City’s Zócalo, a grand square in the megalopolis’s downtown zone, while Sicario 2: Soldado took advantage of some of the city’s neighbourhoods, as did Cuaron’s Roma.
“Mexico City is a great location to film in, but with a dense population of more than 22 million people and a crew of 150 people and 25 trucks for Roma, it was harder to achieve the best filming logistics [than on previous smaller films]. But it was still possible with good collaboration with the city authorities,” says Horacio Rodriguez, LMGI, location manager for Roma.
There are also two studios available, Gabriel García Márquez, which offers six sound stages and post-production facilities, and Churubusco Azteca with eight stages.
However, Guadalajara is “also growing in popularity with big projects migrating there,” insists Paco Herrera at local outfit Baklight, which has worked with an array of international clients, including Momentum, Bacardi and the European Union Council. “It offers five ecosystems within a two-hour drive from the city (beaches, mountains, desert, forest and jungle). Any piece of equipment that you need can be found or brought to the city.”
Plus, Guadalajara offers great animation and post-production services. Guillermo del Toro is doing part of his new film, Pinocchio, in the city.
There are plenty of other incredible shooting locations too. “Depending on the needs of the shoot, Mexico offers a vast array of colourful scenarios, from desert to tropical jungle, volcanoes, beautiful towns rich with culture, and big modern cities,” stresses Daniel Carranza at Cactus Film & Video to KFTV. His company has worked with major clients, including the BBC, across the country. “Guanajuato is a beautiful colonial city located in the centre of the country. There’s Copper Canyon in the northern mountains, full of nature and wildlife, and the Yucatan Peninsula was the homelands for the Mayan civilisation with lots of archaeological sites.”
Mexico has nearly 40 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which is the highest number of any country in the Americas. The majority are of cultural significance and are clustered in central Mexico City. They include the Zocalo, or main plaza, which is the largest space of its type in the whole of Latin America. Other UNESCO sites include the biosphere reserve Sian Ka’an in the state of Quintana Roo in the far south-east of the country.
The fact that the country is surrounded by the North Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean sea and Gulf of California means “you can literally pick the colour of the sand and size of the tides you wish to shoot,” enthuses Herrera.
On top of that there is a variety of forests, glaciers with snow all through the year, and different types of deserts that look like the Sahara or Arizona. “Mexico is one of the most diverse places in the world,” adds Carranza.
For commercials, Mexico is a favourite destination for shoots that need to be tropicalised for Latin America. “We have an assortment of casting options that work for citizens of any Latin country,” says Herrera. “If you need Caribbean locations, Tulun has become a favourite for fashion shoots.”
Those looking to shoot jungle scenes should head to Veracruz and Chiapas, which is where the film Apocalypto was shot. While productions aiming for a Western (as in Old West) look could film in Durango, which has sets ready to use, and “Sinaloa has amazing sand dunes and desert locations too,” adds Herrera.
Mexico also offers a lot of locations that can double for Spanish, French or Italian towns, even small German or Northern European villages. Plus, locations that can double for US locales, especially California.
Getting permission to shoot at these locations is easy if you follow Mexican Film Commission requirements. There is also a network of regional commissions throughout the country.
In the few states where there are no local film commissions, or they are brand new and still not working at full speed, it is especially important to have a local company on the ground to get the permits from the police, municipal authorities etc, insists Herrera.
It’s worth noting that for shooting at archaeological sites it can take up to a month to get a permit.
Mexico plays host to several climates that have individual weather patterns throughout the year, although you can find year-round warmth and sunshine in specific regions.
Producers just need to bear in mind that Mexico has been going through a tough political period. “It is very important to have local people giving advice in terms of security when going into certain areas to shoot,” emphasises Carranza.
Baja Studios is situated on the Pacific coast of Baja California, which is south of the US border and boasts stage space and water-tank facilities originally developed for James Cameron’s Titanic. More recently the tanks have been used for the survival film All Is Lost, starring Robert Redford, and ocean-set scenes for AMC’s TV horror Fear The Walking Dead, a spin-off from cable TV hit The Walking Dead, which has been based in the US state of Georgia for nearly a decade.
“The Baja studios are great,” says Carranza. “Plenty of European commercial projects are coming. It’s very affordable to shoot here, there are good flights to other countries, and great equipment. It’s like coming to a third-world country in terms of prices, but to a first-world country in terms of tools and the industry.”
As for crew, they are growing in experience from working on shoots of all sizes and styles, whether it’s Hollywood, European, Latin American or Asian, and they have a strong work ethic.
“International producers are surprised (and impressed) by the warmth and helpful attitude of the Mexican crews, and the speed and efficiency at which things get solved on a shoot handled with Mexican crews,” says Herrera.
Fernandez adds: “Our crew go the extra mile, often working beyond the standard 10-hour days.”
In addition, the film workers’ unions in Mexico are modern and flexible, easily adapting to the new conditions and needs of film and audiovisual productions.
The country also has an excellent telecommunications infrastructure, and efficient air and ground transportation.
First person to contact
Alexa Muñoz Vidaña, Mexican Film Commission: email@example.com