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Tuesday, 18 August 2009 15:19

Location Scouting in Peru

Written by  Karen Watts
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When one thinks of Peru, Machu Picchu immediately springs to mind. And although it is a truly spectacular site, it is far from being Peru’s only draw. This unique country presents filmmakers with scores of dramatic locations...

When one thinks of Peru, Machu Picchu immediately springs to mind. And although it is a truly spectacular site, it is far from being Peru’s only draw. This unique country presents filmmakers with scores of dramatic locations that can be found nowhere else on earth. Recently, a number of film executives had a unique opportunity to learn this firsthand. PromPeru—a division under the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism—hosted location scouts Lori Balton and Stuart Barter along with Line Producer Jose Ludlow on a FAM tour. Together, these three talented individuals have more than 100 years of experience in major feature films and high-end commercials. Karen Watts, CEO of Shoot Latin America, was also honored to be a part of the group—an entourage that included Bruno Canale and Jose Roberto Luy (Chino) as production guides and Angela Maric and Karen Martinez of PromPeru.

When the guests were presented with the question “Why Peru?” they all had a similar response: they had heard much about the country’s scenic beauty, its rich history, and the excellent location possibilities. Backdrops that they felt could be recommended to production designers, producers and directors.

They were, of course, absolutely correct in their assessments. Peru is one of the world’s most diverse geographic regions, sheltering 84 of the known 117 life zones. It is a land where one can journey through solid desert, comb more than 3,000km of beaches, climb dizzying mountain peaks, and explore lush jungles—all in a single breath.  Jose Ludlow explains, “Peru offers a great diversity of locations situated within a very limited distance of each other, most of which are relatively unknown to the entertainment world.”

Warner Herzog, a frequent moviemaker in Peru, sums up the country’s vast potential this way: “Peru is a movie director’s Eden. Its culture is steeped in history, and it possesses marvelous landscapes, beaches, mountains and jungles. It is like five countries rolled into one.”

Upon arriving in Lima, the FAM tour began its expedition with an early morning flight to the southern city of Arequipa and immediately transported through the majestic Colca Canyon. This stunning work of nature boasts razor sharp walls that rise dizzyingly from the waters of the Colca River 3,600 meters below. The canyon offers an ideal backdrop for any adventure movie. High deserts dotted the way to the canyon, which readily made one think of settings for projects that reconstruct ancient civilizations or conjure up galactic adventures on distant planets. As for the canyon itself, recent studies have re-established its rightful claim as the world’s deepest, at nearly twice the depth of Arizona’s Grand Canyon.

The following day was spent in Arequipa. The city’s deeply ingrained architectural beauty comes mainly from the colonial period. The Santa Catalina Monastery—built in 1580 and enlarged in the 17th century—is a city within a city, encompassing over 20,000 meters. It's large complex of rooms and picturesque plazas are characterized by the vividly painted walls, ornate fountains, and a maze of narrow, cobblestone streets that showcase the Mudejar style of architecture. A style adapted by the Spanish from the Moors.

The Santa Catalina Monastery gave Stuart Barter a host of ideas as an ideal location for future projects. Barter explains, “This would work well as a Medina in a Middle Eastern country, or any non-western country where you would need to create a chase scene, or set up a street market where you would have total control and not need to upset or pay ordinary vendors. The roof top vistas at the convent were spectacular and could be used for many things.”

That night we flew to the Puno region, with an elevation of 3,860 meters/12,421 ft. above sea level. The western portion of Lake Titicaca is located here. This body of water is the world’s highest navigable lake and by water volume, it is the largest lake in South America. The origin of the name has been translated as "Rock Puma", allegedly because of its resemblance to the shape of a puma hunting a rabbit. Titicaca is notable for a population of people who live on the Uros, a group of roughly 42 artificial islands made of floating totora reeds (a reed that abounds in the shallows of the lake.) Barter noted, “Titicaca Lake and Islas de Los Uros were breathtaking.” Ludlow added, “Uro Islands have the biggest potential for feature films.”

From this magnificent location we flew onward to Cusco, a vibrant and mystical city that is the gateway to Machu Picchu and the historic capital of the vast Inca Empire.  As the most important colonial center in the Andes at a height of 3,399 meters/11,152ft, Cusco is considered one of the highest cities of the world. As we wandered the cobbled streets that were set against the backdrop of Inca and colonial monuments, our Peruvian production guides Chino and Bruno rattled off the many productions that have used Cusco and the Sacred Valley as film locations. Recent productions include El Dorado, an action film to be released in 2009; “Das Traumschiff,” a popular German TV series by ZDF; “Hiram Bingham Documentary 2007;” “In search of The Lost World,” a BBC Documentary; and an IBM Prodigy 2 commercial produced by Pytka Productions, a U.S. production company.

Surrounding Cusco is the Urubamba Valley (the Sacred Valley). This overcharged natural setting features agricultural terraces descending down steep mountainsides and picturesque villages that feature noteworthy Incan palaces on their outskirts. Sacsayuaman is considered an ancient military fortress, but others believe that it was a temple dedicated to the Sun God. The colonial towns Pisac and Ollantaytambo are famous for their ruins of agricultural terraces and tombs carved out of sheer cliffs. Pisac is also recognized for its large artisan market. One can only marvel at the Inca’s remarkable ingenuity for building monumental structures in such inaccessible locations—all without the benefit of the wheel. Balton summed it up best, “These are the most amazing collection of terraced hillsides I have ever seen—to contemplate the years and countless man-hours that went into constructing these endless stone walls is mind boggling.”

Next stop: Machu Pichu. Rediscovered in 1911 by Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham, it is one of the most beautiful and enigmatic sites of the ancient world. Machu Pichu was recently voted as one of the new 7 wonders of the world. Its impressive profile has made this rare site the most recognizable location in foreign movies. Machu Pichu has had a starring role in scores of TV commercials and publications for many years now, including the 2004 film, The Motorcycle Diaries.

In late 2008, Bollywood came to Machu Picchu for the first time to shoot the movie Endhiran. Produced by Ayngaran International and Sun TV, this sci-fi adventure was loaded with special effects and featured a musical dream sequence with over sixty dancers filmed amongst the ruins.

After our spectacular romp through the beautiful Andes Mountains, it was off to the lush foliage of the jungle. Peru is known for its tropical forests filled with a rich biodiversity found nowhere else on earth.  Whereas most of the exotic jungles are found closer to the mighty Amazon River on the northeastern side of the country, we were fortunate to visit the area of San Ramon and La Merced—an easy 6-hour drive east from Lima. This area features numerous waterfalls, jungle-like forests, abundant rivers and many other natural wonders that are perfect for any production requiring an exotic location—all without the logistical hassles of going to the Amazon. The short distance makes it so much easier, accessible and cost friendly to transport equipment, crew and cast. No airplanes, bad weather, or delays. For VIPs, helicopters can be easily arranged from Lima. Canale summed up the area’s great advantage succinctly: “Just think you can get 360 degrees of jungle without fighting bugs, rafts, or dangerous animals!”

After the jungle, we ended up back in Lima. This colorful city offers great potential for TV commercial locations. Its historic downtown was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1991. Ludlow, an experienced commercial producer, stated, “The city of Lima can duplicate practically all Latin American major cities, and in certain areas it can also duplicate Europe and the United States.” The district of Miraflores, lying on the shores of the Pacific Ocean and facing both the open sea and modern life, reminded Lori Balton of Santa Monica. She explains, “Lima itself was a microcosm of Peru, with open country nearby, delightfully faded barrios and Miraflores, which was like being home in Santa Monica.”

The road trip back to Lima served up an unusual occurrence that falls into the category of ‘adventurous’. It was a reminder that successful location filming in foreign countries depends on the local production service personnel and how well they handle unexpected difficulties that may pop-up. In our case, the indigenous people of the region decided to sympathize with local Amazonian Indians up north on a government disagreement. In a show of solidarity, they set up roadblocks that obstructed the highway back to Lima. Our group was stuck!  But our resourceful production guides, Bruno and Chino, took charge of the situation and soon everything was worked out smoothly. They arranged for us to walk through the blockade as our transportation back to Lima waited for us on the other side of the roadblock.

Stuart Barter summed up the responsiveness of our guides; “I must say that the way Bruno and Chino got us through the road block outside La Merced represents some of the best on the spot thinking and on your feet ingenuity that I have ever seen. It was brilliantly thought-out, on the spot, and perfectly executed with timed connections moving from motorbike taxi, to van, to van at night in Andean Villages—all hooked together by last minute cell phone calls. It was all really indescribable, like being refugees in some Film Noir movie with a happy ending!”

Prom Peru

APU Productions

Shoot Latin America

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