Despite being so small, the US Virgin Islands are popular locations for filmmakers that want to achieve a Caribbean look without leaving US soil [benefits of this include access to English-speaking crews and US currency]. It has a film-friendly community and government that are ready and willing to assist shoots.
The US Virgin Islands is based around three Caribbean islands that are part of the US. Between them, the three islands (Saint Croix, St. John and Saint Thomas) have a land area of 346.4km sq and a population of 106,000.
The capital of the US Virgin Islands is Charlotte Amalie, which is also a popular cruise ship port. Along the town’s historic waterfront are restored 17th and 18th-century warehouses that once held molasses, rum, spices and other trade goods.
Not to be overlooked is the climate: while hurricane season can be a concern, an average temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit coupled with regular sunshine is great news for producers.
All three islands are surprisingly busy with film, TV and commercials production. Movie credits include Trading Places (1983), The Big Blue (1988), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), and Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (2011). Among the TV shows to have been hosted here include A Woman Named Jackie and Miami Vice (NBC), and Charlie’s Angels (ABC).
Commercials producers are also regular visitors: brands to have visited include AT&T, American Airlines, Bacardi Rum, Canon, Corona Beer, Gillette, H&M, Heineken, Hyundai, Johnson & Johnson, Pepsi, Ralph Lauren and Royal Caribbean Cruiselines.
The best starting point is The Film Office which can help to acquire all permits including those for the National Park, Coastal Zone Management (CZM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, special nature reserves, police (road closures), fire, marine enforcement and locally managed beaches and parks. Local Government fees sometimes can be waived.
There is not a huge pool of companies but there is enough quality to service most film, TV and commercials productions, though it is also possible to fly in specialist kit from the US. Studio and post-production work is generally handled on the US mainland.
The three islands offer pristine beaches, tropical mountains, authentic West Indian architecture, historic ruins, great views and golf courses. But there’s also a lot more to catch the attention of filmmakers. According to The Film Office, the islands have hundreds of historic and cultural sights: “The influences of Danish, French, Spanish, West Indian, African and other cultures on architecture and history are also evident,” it explains.
Other locations include farms, ranches, scenic drives, gently rolling hills and a huge oil refinery. On St. John there is an extensive national park while Saint Thomas has a picturesque harbour, ocean park and easily accessible underwater wrecks.
Worth noting is that there are many outer islands in the USVI group. Each island has its own character and unique locations that can be quickly scouted by helicopter. The Film Office says it is possible to shoot a sunrise and a sunset within a single day.
In terms of access there are international connections and commuter planes running between the islands. There are also hundreds of hotel rooms that visiting productions can use.
Despite plenty of sunshine, producers need to watch out for hurricane season, which officially lasts from June to November. The Virgin Islands often lie in the pathway of hurricanes, though there is pretty good advance warning technology. Also, keep in mind that mid-December to mid-April is peak season, which means more tourists and higher prices (February is the busiest month). Emerge Film Solutions notes that the best conditions for underwater photography occur from December to April.