The Philippines has a well-developed domestic TV business, led by channels such as ABS-CBN, GMA and TV5, and a diverse range of beautiful geographic backdrops. But it doesn't often feature as a location for film, TV or commercials productions. The main reasons for this are a lack of film tax incentives and its distance from key decision-making markets.
Having said this, it has popped up in a few blockbuster movies recently (see below) and there are reports that the government would like to launch a film incentive. Economically, the country is in reasonable shape right now. With GDP growth running at around 5%, it is the third fastest-growing economy in the region behind China and Vietnam. This would probably make it politically easier for the government to launch a film and TV incentive than if the economy was suffering. Crews are cheap and hard-working – which goes some way towards offsetting the lack of an incentive.
Another advantage is that filming in the Philippines is still a novelty, so productions visiting the country report that there is a lot of goodwill and helpfulness among locals.
Productions filmed here have included The Bourne Legacy (which spent quite some time in capital city Manila), Pacific Rim and Godzilla. Historically, the country has hosted productions including Platoon and Apocalypse Now. Because of its location in Asia-Pacific, the country also wins work from regional neighbours. Productions to have shot in the country include Japan's Lupin 3 and Korea's No Breathing, which filmed in Davao. In terms of brands, Wefilm has previously travelled to the Philippines to film a leg of Heineken’s Dropped digital campaign.
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.”
If your production needs big studios then you’re probably going to head for Malaysia, which has both film incentives and a Pinewood-backed studio complex. But if your requirements are more modest then you could try CMB Films and Videosonic Studios. Another interesting outfit is Cebu-based Bigfoot Studio, which says: “we offer state-of-the-art facilities and equipment rental, as well as post production services. We provide everything you need to create a high-quality project: two stages, an underwater shooting tank, fully equipped editing suites and film cameras.” In addition to post-production houses, the Philippines also has film labs.
The Philippines is an archipelago of over 7000 islands, which means it is a terrific source of beaches, coastlines and underwater photography options. There are also jungles, rice terraces, exotic farms, waterfalls, rivers, mountains and volcanoes. In terms of built backdrops, 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.
Filipino crews are experienced, hard-working, inexpensive and speak good English. There’s also a good range of equipment. Aside from Bigfoot (above), there is RSVP which claims to operate “the most comprehensive film production facility and rental house in the Philippines. RSVP is also a factory-authorised service centre for many film cameras, lenses, lights, grip, fluid heads, generators, etc.” Other experienced service companies include Fixer Ink while CMB (mentioned above) can also provide equipment.
In addition there is Philippine Film Studios, Inc, which has credits stretching back to the early 1980s, including The Year Of Living Dangerously, Platoon and coming right up to Survivor and the Heineken Dropped campaign referred to above. Emerge Film Solutions adds: “Art departments here are very good for local looks. Construction crews are also experienced and hard working.” In terms of casting, Filipinos are of Austronesian descent but can double for a range of Asian or Latino looks.