The beautiful Central American country of Costa Rica has a lot to recommend it as a filming location. Top of the list is its breathtaking range of locations. The country is also compact, safe, stable and easy to get to from the US, all of which adds to the appeal.
As yet there are no financial incentives, but there is a good crew base to support international productions. Costa Rica’s government has recognised that a more favourable tax regime would be a boost for its film business. It is currently looking at introducing a new film law that seeks to bring a dozen international productions a year to Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is not the cheapest place to shoot in South or Central America, but it does compare favourably on price to the US and Mexico. Because it is well-organised and safe, the risk of unexpected additional costs is minimised to some extent.
The point of entry and main production base is capital city San Jose. There is a decent network of roads across the country so most locations can be reached from here in two to four hours. The range of accommodation in San Jose meets all standards.
Filmmakers have been attracted by Costa Rica’s coasts, volcanoes and jungles for a number of years (though the producers of Jurassic Park famously decided against shooting here in the early 1990s, preferring to double Hawaii for Costa Rica instead).
Movies that have filmed here include 1492: Conquest Of Paradise, Congo, Spy Kids 2, The Blue Butterfly, After Earth, Monster and, in 2014 Paddington doubled Costa Rica for the eponymous bear’s home country of Peru.
Proximity to the US has made Costa Rica a popular choice for reality TV producers and commercials. Major campaigns to have filmed locally have included DNB Bank, which made great use of Costa Rica’s coastline and jungle vistas, and Ikea for Wonderful Everyday.
Obtaining a permit in film-friendly Costa Rica is pretty straightforward with no especially onerous rules. A standard permit takes up to 15 days but national parks may require longer. Shutting down a street is possible but will also require more notice. Obtaining permits is relatively straightforward. Production service companies that can help include Costa Rica Filming Locations (CRFL) and Costa Rica Film Support (CRFS).
Costa Rica doesn’t have anything to compare with The Dominican Republic’s 25% transferable tax credit and Pinewood-backed Studio, so major studio work needs to be done abroad.
Companies like 921 Films Costa Rica offer production and post-production services. Pataz Studio is a 3D and CGI firm. Other companies include Jungle Sound Studio and The Outpost, both of which are strong on audio.
Costa Rica is famous for its pristine national parks, which make up around 20-25% of the county’s entire land mass. These include Corcovado National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Manuel Antonio National Park, and Tortuguero National Park.
In terms of geography, the country boasts various types of forest, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, hot springs and numerous volcanoes. It also has both Caribbean and Pacific Coastlines, complete with palm trees, different colour sands and impressive surf breaks. There is a wide array of agricultural crops including coffee, banana, corn and rice. Costa Rica can be a good double for other parts of the world like the Alps and Africa. In El Salto, Liberia, for example, there is an African-style safari park complete with giraffes, deer, ostriches, camels, zebras etc.
While Costa Rica’s geography is the big draw, the country also has some interesting architecture including modern villas, government buildings, stately homes and palaces, town squares and parks. In poorer parts of capital city San Jose you can also find Brazilian-style favelas.
Costa Rica has a tropical climate. The sun shines throughout the year although there are extensive periods of rain (May to November is worst). The driest period for filming is December to April. Keep in mind there are also regional variations between the East and West Coasts, and also between lowlands and uplands. Best to check with a local fixer or production services company first.
There are an estimated 7,000 people working in the audiovisual sector in Costa Rica, so getting a decent crew isn’t too difficult. Crew generally speak good English and Spanish (the local language). If you need to bring in specialists from abroad, entry requirements are not too harsh. The story is broadly the same with equipment. Most camera, lighting and grip equipment is available locally, but if you do need to bring in sophisticated kit it is a relatively straightforward process.
Local companies worth talking to include Costa Rica Productions, which has editing suites, a sound booth, a small studio, and a stock footage library. Vagabond Films has production operatives right across Latin America including Costa Rica (which means you can ask them about comparisons between countries). It is similar with LCA Productions, which works across Central America. Other companies include Noveciente Veintiuno Producciones, which can hire out crews; CAIAC, which provides location services; Red Creek Productions; and CRFS and CRFL.