The Republic of the Philippines is hoping a mix of financial incentives, stringent safety measures and tailored Covid-19 protocols will mean film and TV production will resume in the coming months, despite the country being on high alert due to the threat of terrorism and clashes between the military and insurgent groups.
“With the government easing restrictions slightly, local productions of TV shows and commercials have begun once more though adhering to stricter protocols such as shorter days, turnaround time, fewer crew and the usage of PPE, to name a few,” says lead officer Mil Alcain of Manila-based FilmPhilippines Office (FPO), part of the Film Development Council of the Philippines. FPO also runs the Film Location Engagement Desk, a one-stop-shop assistance programme for international productions looking to shoot in the Philippines.
The country’s other major support programmes are the Film Location Incentive Program (FLIP) and its International Co-production Fund (ICOF).
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.”
Further pre-coronavirus shoots include Survivor Russia, produced by Mastiff Russia; Philippe Martinez and Ross W Clarkson’s General Commander starring Steven Seagal (a UK-Philippines-Hungary-US co-production); and Korean director Kim Hong-seon’s horror film Metamorphosis.
Lorcan Finnegan’s Philippines-UK-Ireland co-production Nocebo and Lav Diaz’s When The Waves Are Gone, a Philippines-France-Denmark-Portugal collaboration, have both garnered ICOF support. French animated feature Bionic Max secured FLIP support in the last funding round in 2019.
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.
FPO has a register of qualified and experienced freelance crew for hire. The industry can accommodate up to four incoming productions, with crews used to working long hours. Rental rates for equipment, facilities and locations are considered to fare favourably to other countries in the region.
There are also studio options like 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.”
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.
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.