Investment continues to come into Mexico, despite the obstacle created by a public arts funding restructure from the government of president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador that many veteran filmmakers have branded a shambles. Netflix has made a $300m content-spend pledge, and rival platforms are training their sights on the country.
Privately financed ‘big indies’ are eager to take advantage of Mexico’s obvious appeal, which includes a knowledgeable and deep crew base that is comfortable working on films of all sizes, stunning scenic diversity, robust infrastructure and a passionate film culture.
One such feature that has got underway in Mexico City is the revenge thriller Silent Night from action master John Woo. Backed by US-based Capstone, who produce with Thunder Road, the film stars Joel Kinnaman as a father out for revenge.
Pablo Cruz’s El Estudio is preparing to shoot the comedy Amor Es Amor, Rob Schneider’s Spanish-language acting and directing debut about a rising telenovela actor. Alejandro G Inarritu wrapped production late last year in Mexico on Bardo (Or False Chronicle Of A Handful Of Truths), the two-time best director Oscar winner’s first feature to shoot entirely in his home country since 2000 breakout Amores Perros. Recent Netflix shoots include Elisa Miller’s drama Don’t Blame Karma and Qué Viva Mexico! from Luis Estrada.
Many in the business have criticised the public funding situation after Obrador phased out the Foprocine and Fidecine funds — two key pillars of previous administrations’ support of auteur film and higher-budget commercial fare — and introduced the Focine fund to support not just production but distribution, marketing, exhibition and film conservation.
Critics say available public funds have dropped by around 30% in recent years and smaller independent projects that struggle to get off the ground must also contend with increased bureaucracy. National film body Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografia (Imcine) reports its annual budget allocation increased from $9.5m (mxn191m) in 2021 to $10m (mxn201m) in 2022, while the amount allocated to the Focine fund has climbed from $5.1m (mxn103m) last year to $5.5m (mxn110m).
The latest edition of Imcine’s Statistical Yearbook Of Mexican Cinema had not been published at time of writing, and that publication will reveal the extent of productions in the country. Mexico is booming, however, on the TV side. Recent shoots include thriller series Senorita 89 (Starzplay in Latin America and Pantaya in the US), and Dynamo and ViacomCBS’s street-racing series Pedal To The Metal (Dale Gas) for Netflix. Upcoming is spy series High Seas (Marea Alta) from El Estudio, which will debut later this year on ViX+, the new Spanish-language platform launched by TelevisaUnivision.
Obrador is building his legacy before his term ends in 2024 — he survived a referendum on his leadership in April — and has thrown himself into statement infrastructure projects. One such initiative is the new Felipe Angeles International Airport, 30 miles north of Mexico City, which is not fully ready but is designed to work with the existing, ageing Mexico City International Airport. If the project succeeds, it could make getting into and around the country easier than it is currently.
Mexico boasts a stunning array of Covid-friendly locations, from historical sites to modern cities, lakes to beautiful beaches, and plenty of sites that can be taken over by productions, which are well ventilated and where crew can maintain social distancing.
We have shot in a big conference room, an open grill area of a Hacienda, a small cafe, a large assembley plant, the desert and the beach, enthuses Paco Herrera at local production service outfit Baklight to KFTV, who have been busy shooting a number of high-profile commercials and corporate videos on location and remotely.
While The Cabo Agency has pioneered the production bubble concept in Mexico, offering partial and full property buyouts that include COVID-19 protocols at boutique resorts, luxury estates, high-rises and stage conversions.
Mexico City is the country’s production hub and its greater metropolitan region is home to some 20 million people. The capital offers a broad range of modern and historic architecture that gives producers a lot of options within a manageable distance of each other.
The city is the most popular location because of its diversity of urban sites, large talent pool and easy access with its numerous international flights, says Remi Noiriel from local production service providers Jacaranda Films, which has been shooting several commercials through the pandemic.
Angie Fernandez at local outfit Happy Monster agrees: “The city is a kaleidoscope of cultures and landscapes, from colonial buildings to pyramids, beaches, lakes, cathedrals and temples.
The opening sequence of Bond film, Spectre, was filmed in Mexico City’s Zócalo, a grand square in the megalopolis’s downtown zone, while Sicario 2: Soldado took advantage of some of the city’s neighbourhoods, as did Cuaron’s Roma.
“Mexico City is a great location to film in, but with a dense population of more than 22 million people and a crew of 150 people and 25 trucks for Roma, it was harder to achieve the best filming logistics [than on previous smaller films]. But it was still possible with good collaboration with the city authorities,” says Horacio Rodriguez, LMGI, location manager for Roma.
There are also two studios available, Gabriel García Márquez, which offers six sound stages and post-production facilities, and Churubusco Azteca with eight stages.
However, Guadalajara is “also growing in popularity with big projects migrating there,” insists Herrera at Baklight, which has worked with an array of international clients, including Momentum, Bacardi and the European Union Council. “It offers five ecosystems within a two-hour drive from the city (beaches, mountains, desert, forest and jungle). Any piece of equipment that you need can be found or brought to the city.”
Plus, Guadalajara offers great animation and post-production services. Guillermo del Toro is doing part of his new film, Pinocchio, in the city.
There are plenty of other incredible shooting locations too. “Depending on the needs of the shoot, Mexico offers a vast array of colourful scenarios, from desert to tropical jungle, volcanoes, beautiful towns rich with culture, and big modern cities,” stresses Daniel Carranza at Cactus Film & Video to KFTV. His company has worked with major clients, including the BBC, across the country. “Guanajuato is a beautiful colonial city located in the centre of the country. There’s Copper Canyon in the northern mountains, full of nature and wildlife, and the Yucatan Peninsula was the homelands for the Mayan civilisation with lots of archaeological sites.”
Mexico has nearly 40 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which is the highest number of any country in the Americas. The majority are of cultural significance and are clustered in central Mexico City. They include the Zocalo, or main plaza, which is the largest space of its type in the whole of Latin America. Other UNESCO sites include the biosphere reserve Sian Ka’an in the state of Quintana Roo in the far south-east of the country.
The fact that the country is surrounded by the North Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean sea and Gulf of California means “you can literally pick the colour of the sand and size of the tides you wish to shoot,” enthuses Herrera.
On top of that there is a variety of forests, glaciers with snow all through the year, and different types of deserts that look like the Sahara or Arizona. “Mexico is one of the most diverse places in the world,” adds Carranza.
For commercials, Mexico is a favourite destination for shoots that need to be tropicalised for Latin America. “We have an assortment of casting options that work for citizens of any Latin country,” says Herrera. “If you need Caribbean locations, Tulun has become a favourite for fashion shoots.”
Those looking to shoot jungle scenes should head to Veracruz and Chiapas, which is where the film Apocalypto was shot. While productions aiming for a Western (as in Old West) look could film in Durango, which has sets ready to use, and “Sinaloa has amazing sand dunes and desert locations too,” adds Herrera.
Mexico also offers a lot of locations that can double for Spanish, French or Italian towns, even small German or Northern European villages. Plus, locations that can double for US locales, especially California.
Mexico’s renowned crew base brings vast experience from international and Hollywood productions and local projects. Netflix has situated its Latin American headquarters in Mexico City, and a little over an hour’s flight from Los Angeles is Baja Studios, where Titanic was shot, one of several world-class facilities.
Click here to see selected production service companies in Mexico.
Click here to see the filming guide for Mexico.
Read the full report in our latest edition of World of Locations.