From the Republic of the Philippines’ well-connected capital Manila in the north, to the coasts on the South China sea, the Philippine sea and Sulu sea, the islands boast tropical rainforests, mountains and volcanoes (active and dormant) alongside bustling cities, terraced rice paddies, dry savannah, volcanic ash deserts and waterfalls.
The FilmPhilippines Office (FPO), a department of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), is the country’s main body for incoming productions. It also runs the Film Location Engagement Desk, a one-stop-shop assistance programme for international productions looking to shoot in the territory, providing a general endorsement to productions to assist in their transactions with government offices across the country.
Notable international projects to have shot recently in the Philippines include a season of Survivor Israel and the Discovery Channel’s Garden Of Eden.
The US action crime series Almost Paradise, created by Dean Devlin and Gary Rosen, shot in the Philippines before the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We had a lot of access,” says Erin Keegan, producer on Almost Paradise “We could do beach stuff, we could do the resorts but we also had easy access to the docks, the slums, where you’re going to have a little bit more rough and tumble.”
In 2021, to support the production of original feature films in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) region, FDCP launched the Asean Co-production Fund for Filipino producers who are working with Asean co-producers and directors. Such projects can access a selective fund of up to $150,000 to conduct part of their production, animation and/or post-production in the Philippines.
During its first cycle for this year, FilmPhilippines lead officer Mil Alcain received the most number of applications since the launch of the Film Location Incentive Program (FLIP) and the International Co-Production Fund (ICOF) in 2020. Lorcan Finnegan’s Philippines-UK-Ireland co-production Nocebo and Lav Diaz’s When The Waves Are Gone, a Philippines-France-Denmark-Portugal collaboration, both benefited from ICOF support while French animated feature Bionic Max secured FLIP backing in the last funding round in 2019.
Ramona S Diaz’s Sundance project A Thousand Cuts also shot in the Philippines. Produced by CineDiaz and Concordia Studio, the documentary feature takes an unflinching look at Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial policies on the media and free speech.
The doc follows Filipina journalist Maria Ressa as she fights against censorship, persecution and threats to report on the truths of Duterte’s regime. Diaz faced censorship and threats while filming. But having given her crew the opportunity to step away from the project as tensions rose, Diaz says they stayed until it was completed — an endorsement for the dedication of the Filipino crews.
FDCP chairman and CEO Liza Diño-Seguerra, speaking on Screen International’s ScreenDaily Talks in October 2020, said she is seeing increased “regional co-operation happening among Southeast Asian countries and among Asian countries… I hope that through the partnerships among the regional countries we create a stronger market, and see the value and the opportunity to maximise audiences within our region.”
From the archipelago’s well-connected capital Manila in the north, coasts on the South China sea, the Philippine sea and Sulu sea, the islands also boast barrios and barangays, tropical rainforests, mountains and volcanoes (active and dormant) alongside bustling cities, terraced rice paddies, dry savannah, volcanic ash deserts and waterfalls.
Manila is a megacity that is home to everything from modern tower blocks to slums (though bad traffic can slow productions down). The country's colonial past means there is also Spanish colonial architecture.
In terms of climate, November to February is cool and dry while March to May is hot. The rainy season starts in June and lasts all the way to November, with typhoons very common. In rural areas the state of the roads can be a major challenge.
US action crime series Almost Paradise, created by Dean Devlin and Gary Rosen, shot in the Philippines before the coronavirus pandemic took hold. Milan Todorovic, who directed one of the 10 episodes of the ABS-CBN and Electric Entertainment co-production, found the locations inspiring.
“There is a big variety that can be used for many genres and forms of entertainment, be it a TV series or film,” says Todorovic. “The logistics are good and there are crews that can undertake any work the director demands of them.”
He also notes the Philippines is cheaper to shoot than other places, while not compromising on the quality of its services to filmmakers. “The actors are very good.”
Getting a permit in the Philippines is not especially onerous, but it makes sense to call on local knowledge to avoid stumbling across unexpected regulations. Experienced production services companies like RSVP are well-positioned to advise, as are international production services outfits like Emerge Film Solutions. Basic points include the fact that Manila does not issue city-wide permits, so you may need to talk to more than one municipality. Complicated shoots in national parks or in the air usually require more planning. The Philippines has also had to contend with internal security issues so some islands will need government permission to film in. In terms of official bodies you can talk to, there is a Film Development Council of the Philippines but as its name suggestions it is more focused on supporting indigenous production. Better perhaps is the Ministry of Tourism, which has been charged with promoting the country “as a locale for foreign films or movie production or any other form of entertainment that will serve to enhance the Philippines’ image as a tourist destination.”
The Philippines has a long-established film and TV industry, with Filipino and English the dominant languages. The industry can accommodate up to four incoming productions, with crews used to working long hours. Rental rates for equipment, facilities and locations fare favourably to other countries in the region.
The ABS-CBN soundstages are a two-hour drive from the international airport and 30 minutes from hotels. Shooting Gallery Studios is a 20-minute drive from the international airport and 15 minutes from hotels. Bigfoot Studios is a 15-minute drive from the international airport and 10 minutes from hotels.
First Person to contact
Mil Alcain, lead officer, FilmPhilippines, Film Development Council of the Philippines @ email@example.com