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Tuesday, 28 January 2014 19:57

Filming in the Island Region

Written by  Jennifer Marino
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When a film or television production calls for an island setting, there are plenty of places to choose from, as every island can offer incentives and unique scenery to filmmakers. For example, Hawaii is known for its majestic volcanoes and Dominica has miles of pristine rainforests, while the U.S. Virgin Islands offers charming European towns. Each island region also has a film office with numerous resources so productions are not left stranded. The following island hot spots are not only beautiful, they’re also a breeze to shoot.


The U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) doesn’t currently offer tax rebates, but interested producers should take note that there is no sales tax. The Film Office at the USVI Department of Tourism can assist filmmakers on a case-by-case basis with a competitive subsidy or incentive package. Productions also get special exemption from excise taxes, duty and bonds on importation of equipment and accessories. The Film Office also helps with securing permits and scouting assistance, as well as assistance with airfare, hotel and ground transportation for select productions. 

St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas make up the main islands of the USVI along with Water Island (of the St. Thomas district), and each locale offers unique scenery: St. Croix exhibits farmland, plantation ruins, rain forests and European towns; St. John contains uninhabited islands, quaint fishing villages, mountainside villas and white-sand beaches; and St. Thomas’s versatile locations include beachside jungles, cargo ports, shantytowns, cosmopolitan areas and vintage beach clubs. “The USVI are popular primarily because of our convenient location and the fact that we are a part of America with the security and familiarity of the U.S., yet exotic in character,” says Steve Bornn, development manager of the USVI Film Office. 

USVICurrently, there are three print commercials in production in the USVI while another is in preproduction. The USVI has a small, yet experienced crew base and two grip/electric companies. The islands also contain warehouses that can be used for temporary soundstages and set shops. We, of course, want to continue to attract the usual suspects: features and episodic TV,” says Bornn. “However commercials and still shoots remain our lucrative our bread and butter. Our goal is to land one or two long-term episodic TV serials based in the USVI, whether we are fictitious or we play ourselves. With the closure of the oil refinery in St. Croix, we have had preliminary interest by production companies and producers to repurpose the giant warehouse into possible studio/lot space, which would enhance our offerings.”

 The USVI has doubled for many locations, including the Florida Keys (in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Mexico (The Shawshank Redemption), the Greek Islands (A Woman Named Jackie) and Afghanistan (Philips Healthcare). For The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn film franchise, Location Manager Michael J. Burmeister found an isolated beach in the USVI that could double for Brazil. The production was originally scheduled to shoot in Brazil but when bad weather hit Rio, Burmeister was tasked with finding another “perfect beach.”  

After filming in Louisiana and Vancouver, the Twilight production team anticipated the USVI shoot to be cumbersome. “It was a big deal to come from Vancouver to the Caribbean, but it was easy once we got there,” recalls Burmeister. “The film commission was very helpful, the people were accommodating, and local vendors went out of their way to accommodate us. We brought in our own crew but also hired local crew who were skilled and able to do the job.” The two-night shoot, which included scenes shot for parts one and two of Breaking Dawn, required special equipment to be brought in from Florida, such as a barge to create artificial moonlight on the water. Burmeister reports that it was easier to obtain equipment from Florida than from other islands. “The easy access, good parking and close proximity to the town made the shoot go more smoothly,” he says. 

Dominica-Village 400 DOMINICA

Dominica offers a wide array of natural settings from black-sand beaches and grasslands to mudflats and swamps. According to the Dominica Film Commission, the most popular locations requested are those with great backdrops that include rainforests and waterfalls. The Commission will offer location scouting assistance, help securing locations and permits, and acts as a liaison between productions and government agencies. Filmmakers can also benefit from the island’s duty-free exemptions on all expenditures associated with a production. 

Productions shot in Dominica include Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise and the reality TV series “Pirate Master.” And while Dominica doesn’t currently have any major productions filming in the area, there are several documentaries in production made by Dominicans living abroad. The Film Commission also reports discussions with a Hollywood producer who’s planning a slate of up to 10 films that may be filmed entirely or in part in Dominica, and these productions would utilize local crewmembers. While the crew base is not deep, Dominica offers experienced camera assistants from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and crew that have worked on Mark Burnett productions.

Hawaii 400HAWAII

Hawaii is known as the epitome of paradise in films like Blue Hawaii and The Descendants. The state’s postcard-perfect beaches, active volcanoes and lush jungles continue to lure in filmmakers from across the globe. An added bonus of filming in Hawaii is the tax rebate available to qualified film, television, commercial and digital media projects. According to Honolulu Film Office Commissioner Walea Constantinau, the new incentive (enhanced last July) has generated a greater interest in filming in the islands. The refundable production tax credit is currently set at 20 to 25 percent (20 percent of qualified production costs on Oahu and 25 percent on the Big Island, Kauai, Lanai, Maui and Molokai). 

Honolulu is particularly desirable to filmmakers because of its close proximity to diverse locations. The city, beaches and jungles are only miles apart, so a production can change settings without leaving the island. According to Constantinau, Honolulu has an average of seven to nine crews shooting at any given time. While most productions are small, some major filming is taking place, such as Cameron Crowe’s Untitled Hawaii Project (starring Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone and Rachel McAdams) and the fourth season of the CBS series “Hawaii Five-0.” “We are looking forward to steady industry growth and the economic impact benefits that go hand in hand with increased business,” says Constantinau. 

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