Despite the challenges of the pandemic, local and international film and TV productions in Mexico have run under Covid-19 protocols, as filmmakers take advantage of the country’s biodiversity, facilities and deep crew base.
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu has been quietly filming his independent Mexican drama Limbo (Sebastian Hofmann is also shooting a ‘making of’ documentary), and Analeine Cal y Mayor recently shot Sky and XYZ Films’ romantic comedy Book Of Love starring Sam Claflin and Veronica Echegui, backed by Head Gear Films, in the country.
In 2020, Sony Pictures International Productions (SPIP) shot Pitipol Ybarra’s road-trip movie 25 Km/h in several Mexican regions. The remake of the 2018 German box-office hit, also produced by SPIP, is produced by Born Free and Garcia Tagliavini Productions.
On the TV side, James Schamus filmed drug-trafficking drama Somos. for Netflix; Joe Rendon wrapped action-comedy series Bunker for HBO Max; and in spring Lucia Puenzo started shooting Fremantle and Fabula’s Señorita 89 for Starz.
Netflix is now staffing up its Latin American headquarters in Mexico City, and has committed $300m to local and global original productions filmed in the country. Production on season three of Narcos: Mexico wrapped recently, and projects to shoot since 2020 include Manolo Caro’s The House Of Flowers: The Movie, and the second season of Who Killed Sara?. Coming up this year is Diego Luna’s family drama series Todo Va A Estar Bien.
However, president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s ongoing austerity drive, and a reported 8.5% economic contraction in 2020, have led to concerns over the future of arts funding. There have also been fundamental changes in the public support structure for both the local Mexican industry and incoming international productions.
Since last year, the government has phased out the Foprocine and Fidecine funds, which backed local auteur-driven work and higher-budget commercial fare. In its place has come the Focine fund, which ambitiously sets out to support multiple sectors besides production including distribution, marketing, exhibition and film conservation.
This year Focine has allocated $4.9m (mxn97.9m), compared to combined allocations from the two funds that in recent years industry professionals say were nearly double the Focine figure. However national film body Imcine points out Focine funding applies to a single year (and has backed 75 productions in 2021), whereas the combined funds were administered through a trust that supported projects over several years.
There has been no state support for the local Mexican industry during the pandemic and no government backing for production insurance. This throws another obstacle in the path of low-budget shoots that cannot afford the sky-rocketing premiums.
Administered by Imcine, the Focine fund is also designed to support international co-productions and attract overseas shoots. Any hesitancy to travel to Mexico — which was hit hard by Covid-19 — should start to be mitigated by the national vaccination drive, which is well underway. Covid-19 protocols are determined by a nationwide ‘traffic light’ system of colour-coded regions. Mask-wearing, zones and other hygiene measures on set are approved by Covid assessors. Interstate and international travellers should consult the Mexican Film Commission website (see The Lowdown sidebar) for updates on protocols as the situation can change quickly.
Mexio boasts a stunning array of Covid-friendly locations, from historical sites to modern cities, lakes to beautiful beaches, and plenty of sites that can be taken over by productions, which are well ventilated and where crew can maintain social distancing.
"We have shot in a big conference room, an open grill area of a Hacienda, a small cafe, a large assembley plant, the desert and the beach," enthuses Paco Herrera at local production service outfit Baklight to KFTV, who have been busy shooting a number of high-profile commercials and corporate videos on location and remotely.
While The Cabo Agency has pioneered the "production bubble" concept in Mexico, offering partial and full property buyouts that include COVID-19 protocols at boutique resorts, luxury estates, high-rises and stage conversions.
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.
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 Herrera at 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 generally 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.”
There is also Quarry Studios in Mexico City, CTT rentals studio and Argos Media Group's independent production studio Estudios GGM.
Netflix is investing heavily and continues to staff up its Latin American headquarters in Mexico City.
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.
Roughly one-fifth the size of the US and bridging its northern neighbour to central America, Mexico has more than 7,200 miles of coastline. Mexico City International Airport is a major international hub, serving Los Angeles and New York in four to five hours and western Europe in 11-13 hours. Cancun, Guadalajara and Los Cabos are among a network of regional airports.
First person to contact
Alexa Muñoz Vidaña, Mexican Film Commission: email@example.com