Chile: A country of locations

It has been at least 20 years since public organizations began to promote Chile on the international cinema and advertising circuits. With diverse landscapes, short distances between a range of different sceneries, specialized human capital and safety across the country, there are many compelling reasons why Chile has been successful in attracting foreign productions to its shores; productions which, in recent years, have been growing in number.

On October 13, 2010, 33 miners were rescued after having spent 70 days trapped 700 meters below the surface of the earth following the collapse of San José mine in Copiapo, northern Chile. The drama of the event, the strength of the men who were trapped, the relentless search and the spectacular rescue not only attracted the interest of global media, but also Hollywood. In fact, four months after their rescue, the miners signed a contract with the talent agency William Morris Endeavor (WME) to look into the production of films, works of theatre and books based on their story. WME contacted Mike Medavoy, producer of Black Swan, Shutter Island and Zodiac, among more than 300 other movies, to produce a feature film about the miners. The 33, as the film was called,  would be directed by the Mexican Patricia Riggen and the script composed by José Rivera, who was nominated for an Oscar for the film Motorcycle Diaries (directed by the Brazilian Walter Salles).

In Chile, Copiapo and Tierra Amarilla, a number of distinct highways and different desert zones formed part of the approximately 30 locations in total that were used to film the movie that starred Antonio Banderas and Juliette Binoche. A team of 52 people was brought to Chile, including cast and crew, which stayed for a total of between three weeks and five months. Locally, a more stable team of 110 people was recruited, in addition to further suppliers of lights, cameras, transport as well as numerous extras. Overall, the financial return for Chile was US$16 million.

Comparative advantages

The 33 was one of the last feature films shot in Chile and the financial figures generated by the movie represent only a portion of the impact of the film-making industry as a whole in this part of the world. In recent years, film and advertising producers from a range of countries have seen Chile as a perfect stage on which to tell their stories, despite the country’s geographic isolation.

The Film Commission Chile (FCCh) alone has hosted 250 productions since 2011, a figure that represents only 40% of the national total. Of this number, about 70% relates to international audiovisual productions. In terms of production type, the majority, 60%, pertains to commercials, 20% to television shows and another 20% to film-making.

An extensive geography that is made up of coasts, mountains, deserts, cities, countryside, forests and millenary ice fields is Chile’s most prized asset in this regard. In fact, “Chile, a world of locations” is the motto of the FCCh an one that should “be pushed further” according to Joyce Zylberberg, Director of the Commission that was created in 2011 by the Consejo del Arte y Industria Audiovisual (Council of Art and the Audiovisual Industry), which in turn is supported by the Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes (National Council for Culture and the Arts), or CNCA. The objectives of the FCCh are to contribute to the development of the audiovisual sector through the promotion of the country as an international film-making destination, and to strengthen the cultural, social and economic impact of the industry as a whole.

“Chile has all the locations that one could want for a production and which are, furthermore, in close proximity to one another. This means that in a space of two hours you can, for example, film in the mountains and then in the city or by the sea. This is a highly attractive incentive in terms of the efficiency of a production”, states Zylberberg.

She adds that this advantage could be maximized to an even greater extent by streamlining permits, facilitating the execution of productions, involving local communities and demonstrating the huge potential of Chile in this line of business.

In this regard, the General Manager of the ski resort Valle Nevado, Ricardo Margulis, says that all the potential locations have an airport nearby, good road access and all the essential services close at hand.

As well as the diversity of scenery at its disposal, Pedro Pablo Cabrera, Executive Director of Shoot in Chile says that safe conditions throughout the country and the fact that Chile is in “the opposite season” to the northern hemisphere are strong additional pull factors. For example, if a European producer needs to shoot scenes for their next series, it is worth their while to do so in Chile, says Cabrera.

Chile is a reliable country which is seen as having a serious business culture, according to Product Development Manager at Jump Cats VFX & Fábrica de Medios, Germán Ovando. With that in mind, he also comments that a German producer once told him that “Chileans stick to their word”. Ovando continues by stressing that local creative technicians have a good level of training and experience of working on international productions.

The President of Ski Portillo and Tierra Hotels, Ellen Guidera, agrees that the key attributes of Chile are those related to its natural beauty, transparency, level of work and professionalism, as well as the probable factor of being “reasonably priced” compared to other countries.

In this sense, Guidera is sure that the national economy would benefit not only through the investment and execution of audiovisual productions, “but also from the (associated) learning opportunities, coverage in international commercials and by presenting the best of Chile to the rest of the world in visual form”.

In turn, Ariel León Isacovitch, photographer and Location Manager of Locations Chile, contends that trust and good relationships with foreign producers are the only way to generate positive results, while ensuring partnerships and “joint, cohesive work to strengthen Chile’s position in this industry”.

Two decades of momentum

The positioning of Chile within this industry has required significant and ongoing efforts. ProChile kicked things off in this area by focusing on the internationalization of national services and creative industries. And at least two decades ago, support for film-making from the State and institutions such as the CNCA began to take shape in a sustained and coordinated manner.

This path helped to pave the way to 2009 and the creation of the CinemaChile brand, which has achieved growing recognition from international film critics and audiences, “placing Brand Chile on a solid footing in the eyes of the world”, according to the promotion company.

The FCCh, meanwhile, which is a member of the Latin American Film Commission Network (LAFCN) and the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI), has taken positive steps in in terms of coordination with prominent national and international film-making players to facilitate the execution of audiovisual productions in Chile. Accordingly, Comisiones Fílmicas (Film-making Commissions) have been established in nine of the country’s regions, which have support from film-friendly municipalities and have entered into related agreements with a number of different government bodies.

Their establishment also gave rise to the 2014 launch of Shoot in Chile as a sector-specific brand, which was developed by the Asociación de Productores de Servicios de Producción Audiovisual (Association of Audiovisual Production Service Companies), as well as the program Marcas Sectoriales (Sectoral Brands) from ProChile, which seeks to transform the country into a global hub for audiovisual production. Both have taken on the role, together with 14 national production companies, of providing a range of services to international production teams coming to Chile.

“Management, methodology and planning through common goals have enabled us to move towards a working methodology of international standards”, emphasizes Pedro Pablo Cabrera, from Shoot in Chile.

More recently, the FCCh and Corfo have created the Programa Piloto de Apoyo a Inversiones Audiovisuales de Alto Impacto (High-Impact Audiovisual Investments Support Pilot Program) to incentivize big-budget productions to come to Chile. During its first two years of operations, the scheme will provide an incentive to all international productions that exceed US$2 million in expenses and that, of course, are filmed in Chile. The incentive also includes a commitment to return 30% of the qualified expenses of all television series and films shot in the country.

“We recently concluded the call for proposals and it was very well received”, states Zylberberg, adding that “as the Film Commission Chile, we hope the program will be established and then grown in the short term”. Beyond the landscapes and security, she notes that Chile is now attractive for the close proximity of and access to a range of unique locations, and due to the country being the only Latin American nation with the ATA Carnet. The ATA Carnet is an international customs document that allows free temporary admission of merchandise, which is exempt of duties and import taxes, as well as specialized equipment for production and post-production. Chile also permits entry to qualified professionals and technicians with experience of providing international production-related services.

“If it remains in place in the long term, the incentive program of Corfo is a really important dealmaker and the best advertisement to attract international productions which specifically seek countries that generate and provide these kinds of conditions”, affirms Zylberberg. She also explains that the United States is one of the primary markets since it produces the most films and because its companies are willing to search out new locations, whether for requirements related to the script and storyline or for lower costs.

Zylberberg continues: “Therefore, we maintain contact with US producers interested in coming to Chile. From the FCCh, we are in contact and exchange information with the offices of ProChile in the United States, and we have a solid relationship with and are active members of AFCI, whose headquarters are in Los Angeles”.

The example of New Zealand

The greatest impact generated by the arrival of foreign productions, according to Marca Chile (Brand Chile), has been their ability to boost the local economies of distinct communities by injecting capital that has then helped to improve local people’s quality of life.

In this way, these productions could increase economic growth in Chile by diversifying resources and raising the tourism profile of the country. In turn, this is linked to rises in the value of land and the creation of new jobs. Shoot in Chile alone has, for example, generated US$35 million and over 4,000 direct jobs.

“By comparing similar trends in other countries, the calculation of direct job creation in the audiovisual sector could rise by 46% in five years, in conjunction with more than 3,000 indirect jobs. As more international productions are made in Chile, the level of professionalism in this industry will increase, thereby creating a virtuous circle”, stresses Zylberberg.

Patrick Moore, Coordinator at Banff Mountain Film in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru, agrees with this sentiment. He also believes that the arrival of international productions could have a significant impact on Chile.

“Recent productions, such as the film James Bond: Quantum of Solace, which was partially filmed in the north of the country, are very beneficial. You just need to look at what Lord of the Rings has done for New Zealand”, he states.

New Zealand is an example to Chile, says Zylberberg, not only because the country built an industry based on locations, but also because it has comprehensively developed its local industry as a result of this advantage. This includes generating a labor force, specialized infrastructure and incentives specifically designed for the industry. These initiatives, she states, come from public policies implemented over a period of 30 years, but which are now bearing fruit.

“I think that Chile should follow a similar path” argues the Director of the FCCh. “We have to be more than just ‘a pretty face’ if we want to drive the local industry in stages, since we lack the capacity to absorb an unlimited demand. We should therefore aim for medium-sized projects that help to refine our installed capacities over time. Moreover, all such efforts should be long term in focus in order to build a national brand and positioning on the global stage” she concludes.

The challenges: clear regulation and improved promotion

Obtaining a filming permit in the majority of the municipalities in the Metropolitan Region is “complicated” according to Pedro Pablo Cabrera from Shoot in Chile. This may only seem like a small detail but, in his opinion, it reflects the lack of clear regulation in Chile in this area. This situation, in conjunction with recognizing the potential of the industry and generating the required incentives, are the key challenges identified by Cabrera to foster the growth of the sector.

“The view of Chile from abroad is highly positive but we must keep working to improve certain internal matters. Support from the municipalities to devise clear regulation and procedures to allow filming would help. Ultimately, this would enable the promotion of the region, city and municipality brand”, he argues.

Similarly, Ellen Guidera, from Ski Portillo and Tierra Hotels, believes that research into the potential national value-add of the industry would be a significant benefit.  “If the value is significant, then investment is needed for a solid advertising proposal and a large-scale campaign” she states.

This line of thinking is supported by Ricardo Margulis, from Valle Nevado, a place which has been utilized as a location on many international commercials and films, for which it was not necessary to proactively seek out production teams since, “the producers themselves are the ones that have contacted us”. Nevertheless, he stresses the need to “prepare solid promotional campaigns that highlight the benefits of coming to the country. This includes placing Chile on the locations’ map, and doing something specific in this area”.

The Undersecretary of Tourism, Javiera Montes, warns that remaining up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies related to tourism in terms of promotion, services and diverse experiences is the major challenge posed by the comparative advantages and differentiating elements facing Chile when competing as a top film destination. She adds that the work undertaken by the FCCh has not only contributed to the development of the national audiovisual industry, but also “an increased cultural, social and economic impact on the country”.


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