Filming Colombia: On location in South America

Colombia is shaking off its violent, cartel-afflicted past and is emerging as a go-to filming location for a growing number of international producers.

Colombia is shaking off its violent, cartel-afflicted past and is emerging as a go-to filming location for a growing number of international producers seeking exotic story settings.

The geographically diverse nation – its landscapes range from the snow-capped Andes Mountains to the tropical Caribbean coast – is home to a vibrant local film and TV community, as well as strong rental houses and production service companies.

Filming Colombia: On location in South America
Bogota

Colombia is also has attracting producers from overseas with tax rebates that range up to a generous 40% figure, making it one of the most film-friendly countries in South America.

Not surprisingly the country has witnessed an upsurge in international productions and 2018 looks to be one of the biggest yet. An agreed end to decades of violence instigated by leftist movement the Farc is also likely improve international perceptions of Colombia’s security situation.

After making a name for itself on the Netflix drug cartel drama Narcos, production service company Dynamo has quite a year ahead and has already serviced Peter Berg’s action thriller Mile 22 that recently wrapped a three-week location shoot in capital Bogota.

The movie stars Berg’s regular collaborator Mark Wahlberg alongside John Malkovich and follows a US intelligence officer’s attempts to smuggle a mysterious but high-value police officer with sensitive information from a place that is identified as a foreign country rather than Colombia specifically.

“They came to Bogota because they wanted to film action sequences in a city that has never been seen in an action film before,” says Dynamo’s Juliana Florez in comments to KFTV. “That, alongside the cash rebate, swayed their decision.”

Angelica Clavijo of the Bogota Film Commission is tasked with supporting film shoots in Bogota as well as promoting the capital as a filming destination. She explains that the producers of Mile 22 had considered Shanghai before finally settling on the Colombian capital.

“It’s not identified to begin with as Bogota, but rather an ‘any’ city,” Clavijo tells KFTV. “At the end they pretty much reveal it is Bogota with a scene shot in the capital’s highly identifiable Plaza Bolivar.”

Mile 22

Clavijo describes the US production as the most demanding and challenging shoot the city has had in recent years.

“There were car chases and explosions,” she says. “The number of roads we had to close in the city centre caused huge disruption. There were days where we had 70 vehicles parked and we were serving 1,600 plates of food.”

President Juan Manuel Santos visited the set during the shoot and acknowledged the importance of having international production companies use Colombia as a filming location.

Eight international features are reportedly set to be filmed in the country in 2018.

In May, director Ang Lee’s sci-fi assassin movie Gemini Man, headlined by Will Smith, is also scheduled for a three-week shoot, this time in Cartagena on the Caribbean coast, home to the Cartagena International Film Fest and one of the country’s most photogenic colonial locations.

Filming for Gemini Man is scheduled within Cartagena’s walled city centre, on the nearby island of Tiera Bomba and in the Bazurto market, a sprawling location that is yet to appear in Cartagena’s tourism guides.

Florez also talks of thriller Triple Frontier, which filmmaker JC Chandor may film in the country later in the year. The long-gestating project is now a Netflix production and may involve Mark Wahlberg. Filming is mooted for Hawaii and Colombia. The story focuses on the notorious border zone between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil where the Iguazu and Parana rivers converge.

“The sheer diversity of impressive locations has been a real draw,” says Clavijo. “We’ve received feedback from international producers on the need for film studios in Colombia and that crews need to improve their English. But as far as locations go, there is never a complaint.”

The Bogota Film Commission has in fact organised three location scouting workshops recently to further strengthen the sector.

Colombia’s game changer has been its new filming incentives aimed at drawing foreign shoots. The incentive allows a rebate of 40% of film services’ expenses and 20% of expenses for logistics services such as hotels, catering and transportation. Qualification requires a minimum production spend of US$400,000.

Orbiter 9

The Medellin Film Commission has also announced its own incentive, a 15% rebate for productions filmed in and around the city that invest a minimum of US$200,000 in services.

“We want to make filming in Medellin as attractive as possible,” says Juan David Orozco, director of the Medellin Film Commission.

For Orozco, promoting Medellin as a location that can simulate other parts of the country is now one of the commission’s top priorities. Elijah Wood’s low-budget horror film The Boy was shot in Santa Fe de Antioquia near Medellin, doubling for the US state of Colorado.

Orbiter 9, the Spanish science-fiction movie that marks the directorial debut of Hatem Khraiche, also filmed for eight weeks last year, transforming Medellin into a futurist cityscape. Both productions made use of the local cash rebate.

Orozco concedes that the rebate is a major factor behind the slate of eight national and international productions set to film in the city this year, alongside the recent peace deals with the Farc.

“Now that peace is signed with the Farc, we are seeing previously off-limits areas open up to tourism, industry and, finally, film,” Orozco says.

Aside from the familiarisation trips organised by the Colombian government, the Cartagena International Film Festival (FICCI) – the oldest cinema festival in South America – is also playing its part in attracting the film industry’s top names. When British actress Tilda Swinton expressed interest in visiting the country, an invitation to the festival with a retrospective quickly materialised.

“It is a good platform for interested producers and directors to experience the country,” says Diana Bustamente, the festival’s creative director.

Last year, after attending a retrospective of his work at FICCI, Thai director and Palme d’Or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul decided he would shoot his next film locally. Weeks later, he embarked on a two-month trip through Colombia to research locations.

Colombia

Memoria stars Tilda Swinton and will explore colonial history when it starts shooting in 2019.

Joining Swinton at this year’s FICCI were cinematographer Owen Smith, French film director Bruno Dumont and the Spanish actress Maribel Verdu, all of whom attended retrospectives of their work.

“The festival’s outlook reflects the industry’s outlook – increasingly diverse and international,” says Lina Rodriguez, FICCI’s general manager. “All the policies, politics and decisions concerning the film industry in Colombia stem from conversations at the festival.

“Our priority is to give international producers a taste of what Colombia can offer. The film commissions can then do the rest.”

International and national productions and co-productions are on the rise, backed by strong incentives and dedicated film commissions working in overdrive to promote Colombia as the Latin America filming destination of the future. There are likely to be more images of Colombia on the big screen in the coming years.

Images: FreeImages.com/Jhonattan Balcazar/David Garzon

Filming Colombia: On location in South America
Bogota

Colombia is shaking off its violent, cartel-afflicted past and is emerging as a go-to filming location for a growing number of international producers seeking exotic story settings.

The geographically diverse nation – its landscapes range from the snow-capped Andes Mountains to the tropical Caribbean coast – is home to a vibrant local film and TV community, as well as strong rental houses and production service companies.

Colombia is also has attracting producers from overseas with tax rebates that range up to a generous 40% figure, making it one of the most film-friendly countries in South America.

Not surprisingly the country has witnessed an upsurge in international productions and 2018 looks to be one of the biggest yet. An agreed end to decades of violence instigated by leftist movement the Farc is also likely improve international perceptions of Colombia’s security situation.

After making a name for itself on the Netflix drug cartel drama Narcos, production service company Dynamo has quite a year ahead and has already serviced Peter Berg’s action thriller Mile 22 that recently wrapped a three-week location shoot in capital Bogota.

The movie stars Berg’s regular collaborator Mark Wahlberg alongside John Malkovich and follows a US intelligence officer’s attempts to smuggle a mysterious but high-value police officer with sensitive information from a place that is identified as a foreign country rather than Colombia specifically.

“They came to Bogota because they wanted to film action sequences in a city that has never been seen in an action film before,” says Dynamo’s Juliana Florez in comments to KFTV. “That, alongside the cash rebate, swayed their decision.”

Angelica Clavijo of the Bogota Film Commission is tasked with supporting film shoots in Bogota as well as promoting the capital as a filming destination. She explains that the producers of Mile 22 had considered Shanghai before finally settling on the Colombian capital.

“It’s not identified to begin with as Bogota, but rather an ‘any’ city,” Clavijo tells KFTV. “At the end they pretty much reveal it is Bogota with a scene shot in the capital’s highly identifiable Plaza Bolivar.”

Mile 22

Clavijo describes the US production as the most demanding and challenging shoot the city has had in recent years.

“There were car chases and explosions,” she says. “The number of roads we had to close in the city centre caused huge disruption. There were days where we had 70 vehicles parked and we were serving 1,600 plates of food.”

President Juan Manuel Santos visited the set during the shoot and acknowledged the importance of having international production companies use Colombia as a filming location.

Eight international features are reportedly set to be filmed in the country in 2018.

In May, director Ang Lee’s sci-fi assassin movie Gemini Man, headlined by Will Smith, is also scheduled for a three-week shoot, this time in Cartagena on the Caribbean coast, home to the Cartagena International Film Fest and one of the country’s most photogenic colonial locations.

Filming for Gemini Man is scheduled within Cartagena’s walled city centre, on the nearby island of Tiera Bomba and in the Bazurto market, a sprawling location that is yet to appear in Cartagena’s tourism guides.

Florez also talks of thriller Triple Frontier, which filmmaker JC Chandor may film in the country later in the year. The long-gestating project is now a Netflix production and may involve Mark Wahlberg. Filming is mooted for Hawaii and Colombia. The story focuses on the notorious border zone between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil where the Iguazu and Parana rivers converge.

“The sheer diversity of impressive locations has been a real draw,” says Clavijo. “We’ve received feedback from international producers on the need for film studios in Colombia and that crews need to improve their English. But as far as locations go, there is never a complaint.”

The Bogota Film Commission has in fact organised three location scouting workshops recently to further strengthen the sector.

Colombia’s game changer has been its new filming incentives aimed at drawing foreign shoots. The incentive allows a rebate of 40% of film services’ expenses and 20% of expenses for logistics services such as hotels, catering and transportation. Qualification requires a minimum production spend of US$400,000.

Orbiter 9

The Medellin Film Commission has also announced its own incentive, a 15% rebate for productions filmed in and around the city that invest a minimum of US$200,000 in services.

“We want to make filming in Medellin as attractive as possible,” says Juan David Orozco, director of the Medellin Film Commission.

For Orozco, promoting Medellin as a location that can simulate other parts of the country is now one of the commission’s top priorities. Elijah Wood’s low-budget horror film The Boy was shot in Santa Fe de Antioquia near Medellin, doubling for the US state of Colorado.

Orbiter 9, the Spanish science-fiction movie that marks the directorial debut of Hatem Khraiche, also filmed for eight weeks last year, transforming Medellin into a futurist cityscape. Both productions made use of the local cash rebate.

Orozco concedes that the rebate is a major factor behind the slate of eight national and international productions set to film in the city this year, alongside the recent peace deals with the Farc.

“Now that peace is signed with the Farc, we are seeing previously off-limits areas open up to tourism, industry and, finally, film,” Orozco says.

Aside from the familiarisation trips organised by the Colombian government, the Cartagena International Film Festival (FICCI) – the oldest cinema festival in South America – is also playing its part in attracting the film industry’s top names. When British actress Tilda Swinton expressed interest in visiting the country, an invitation to the festival with a retrospective quickly materialised.

“It is a good platform for interested producers and directors to experience the country,” says Diana Bustamente, the festival’s creative director.

Last year, after attending a retrospective of his work at FICCI, Thai director and Palme d’Or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul decided he would shoot his next film locally. Weeks later, he embarked on a two-month trip through Colombia to research locations.

Colombia

Memoria stars Tilda Swinton and will explore colonial history when it starts shooting in 2019.

Joining Swinton at this year’s FICCI were cinematographer Owen Smith, French film director Bruno Dumont and the Spanish actress Maribel Verdu, all of whom attended retrospectives of their work.

“The festival’s outlook reflects the industry’s outlook – increasingly diverse and international,” says Lina Rodriguez, FICCI’s general manager. “All the policies, politics and decisions concerning the film industry in Colombia stem from conversations at the festival.

“Our priority is to give international producers a taste of what Colombia can offer. The film commissions can then do the rest.”

International and national productions and co-productions are on the rise, backed by strong incentives and dedicated film commissions working in overdrive to promote Colombia as the Latin America filming destination of the future. There are likely to be more images of Colombia on the big screen in the coming years.

Images: FreeImages.com/Jhonattan Balcazar/David Garzon

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