Film-friendly Puerto Rico is in the northeastern Caribbean. It is described as an ‘unincorporated territory’ of the US, which means it has close ties to the US but does not have the same status as a state. There is an ongoing debate about whether the country should pursue full statehood or seek independence.
While Puerto Rico is not a state, it does offer many of the benefits and protections available on the mainland, including applicability of US labour, safety and minimum wage laws, US intellectual property and banking protection and US$ currency.
As referenced above, Puerto Rico is a very supportive of foreign film-makers. It has an active film commission, generous incentives, a stable political system, good infrastructure and great locations. It is also easy to get to, with direct flights to major cities throughout Europe, Latin America and the US (approx. 2-3 hours away).
In terms of climate, Puerto Rico claims to have year-round warm weather and sunshine. But it’s worth noting that hurricane season runs from June to November, peaking in September. Puerto Rico doesn’t usually get hit as hard as its neighbours but it is a potential target during this period.
Puerto Rico has hosted over 90 productions since 1999, the year in which it introduced its tax credits.
Among its most high-profile movie credits are Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Men Who Stared At Goats, The Rum Diary, Che, and Fast & Furious Five. Vin Diesel, producer and lead actor on Fast Five, summed up the appeal of Puerto Rico when he said the island’s key strengths are “a combination of tax incentives and the diversity of locales. Part of [Fast Five] shoots in the deep jungle, and they have a great rainforest that is 20 minutes outside of San Juan (the capital city).” Puerto Rico also doubles for Costa Rica in Ben Affleck movie Runner, Runner.
While film gets the headlines, Puerto Rico plays host to numerous US TV productions. It was also a key location for Sky1’s version of Treasure Island, starring Eddie Izzard. That two-part production was shot during the Puerto Rican winter. Commercial shooting is not such big business. Costs are not that different to the US and there are no incentives for ads.
As outlined above, Puerto Rico offers all the benefits and protections available on the US mainland. In addition, no US passport is required to travel to Puerto Rico by United States citizens and the island is considered a domestic destination by the United States Postal Service. By contrast, foreign nationals are subject to the same immigration requirements imposed for entry into the continental US by US border officials. Vehicles can be shipped to Puerto Rico through various maritime cargo companies. Shipping a vehicle to Puerto Rico from the United States usually takes between 7 to 14 days, assuming that the request was received at least a 1 to 2 week in advance.
Details of permits can be obtained from the Puerto Rico Film Commission which calls itself a “one-stop shop to assist you with all your production needs, from start to finish. Services include step-by-step assistance throughout the entire incentives application process, location breakdowns of scripts, location scouting, assistance with budgeting, orientation with regard to productions resources, assistance with permitting and locations and coordination with state and local agencies.” As general observations, states and local authorities make decisions on road closures while state police and firefighters must be consulted before explosions/pyrotechnics take place.
The big story regarding studios emerged in 2011 when the Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuno, gave the legal go-ahead for a film studio to be built in the San Juan region. The story attracted a lot of attention at the time because Jennifer López and Marc Anthony were reportedly interested in investing in the project, though this has not been formally confirmed. How far the project has progressed is unclear.
But coverage at the time suggested Puerto Rico was planning on building a state-of-the-art studio that could reinforce the appeal of its film and television tax incentives. Figures quoted suggested the studio would cost $57 million to build and would be 34,000 square metres in size. Rumours in the local press suggested it would be located in Farjado, 45 minutes east of capital San Juan.
Other than this, Puerto Rico doesn’t have much by way of film and TV studios. But it does have recording studios and venues for photo shoots, reflecting the strong music/fashion scene here.
The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, as it is formally referred to, consists of the main island of Puerto Rico and various smaller islands, including Vieques, Culebra, Mona, Desecheo and Caja de Muertos. The main island is about 180km long and 65km wide which makes it about 80% the size of Jamaica.
The island’s film commission says that Puerto Rico and its capital city San Juan offer “a diversity of locations within a few hours’ drive of each other, including 350 miles of coastline (including some of the world’s top-ranked beaches), plains, mountains, jungles, dry forests, rivers, lakes and waterfalls, and colonial, urban and modern architecture.” The main mountain range is La Cordillera Central, which rises to 1,339 metres at its highest point (the Cerro de Punta). Location fees for the use of state property are assessed case-by-case and often waived.
Having hosted over 90 productions since 1999, the film commission says: “Puerto Rico’s experienced film professionals shoot for the highest standards. Crews are characterised by their innovative solutions and expertise in the use of the most modern film technologies and skills. With state-of-the-art post-production houses you can produce your film project in Puerto Rico from start to finish. This experience is complemented by some of the best infrastructure in the Caribbean and Latin America, including nine airports, 13 sea ports, one of the most technologically advanced convention centres and performance arenas in the world and robust island-wide broadband service.”
Positive testimonials come from execs like Chevy Chen, producer of USA Networks TV series Covert Affairs, who says: “We have enjoyed working here. Apart from being gorgeous and having great locations, we’ve noted that the crews are very hard working and have meshed really well with our group.”
Anyone concerned about the depth of the talent pool can comfort themselves with the knowledge that the US is close by which means creative talent can be called up quickly if required. It’s a similar situation with equipment. Puerto Rico has good equipment but specialised kit can be brought in from US production centres. Local firms that can provide kit include Raulo Grip & Lighting in Caguas, around 30km from San Juan.