A unique T-shaped island in the Persian Gulf, Abu Dhabi is the capital and second-largest city of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the largest of the seven-member emirates. While many commercials and documentaries have recently shot in Abu Dhabi, the city welcomed two major Hollywood productions — the action drama The Kingdom (starring Jamie Foxx and directed by Peter Berg) and the summer blockbuster The Bourne Legacy (starring Jeremy Renner and directed by Academy Award-nominee Tony Gilroy) — and more films may be soon on the way.
Abu Dhabi should also be considered for its unique environment. The emirate offers a mix of coastal, desert, mountain, urban and suburban locations that includes massive sand dunes in the western region’s Empty Quarter desert, a rich underwater-pearl mine, remote offshore islands and a singular mountain, Jebel Hafeet. “Abu Dhabi is a hospitable, professional, First World city, [and] the government wants the world to come and work and succeed there,” says Executive Producer Steve Saeta (The Kingdom). “And with the right experience and understanding, I would recommend it wholeheartedly. I would [also] enjoy going back.”
The key reason that the Golden State remains one of the world’s leading production centers is its gold standard of stunning locations and infrastructure. From Los Angeles and San Francisco to the woods of Yosemite, the desert of Palm Springs and everywhere in between, California offers a buffet of prime locations that will meet the demands of any production. The state also offers the best film and TV crews that can be found anywhere in the world. “If you have a chance [to shoot in L.A.], you often get the best people because they want to stay at home with their families,” reports Sasha Gervasi, the director of Hitchcock (starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren and Scarlet Johansson). “We had an incredible crew [for our film].”
Other top-talent productions that have recently shot in California include Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix), Gangster Squad (starring Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone), Argo (starring and directed by Ben Affleck), End of Watch (starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña), This Is 40 (directed by Judd Apatow), Savages and the TV series “CSI: N.Y.,” “Rizzoli & Isles,” “Body of Proof,” “Justified” and “Parenthood.” More productions are sure to stay in California, thanks to the state’s Film & Television Tax Credit Program, which provides credits against income and/or sales-and-use taxes on qualified expenditures. The original five-year, $500 million program was enacted in 2009 and recently extended for an additional year (through fiscal year 2014–15), and pending legislation can extend the program another two years. The current program offers $100 million a year in tax credits to eligible projects.
A variety of production studios are currently operating in Louisiana, such as Celtic Media Centre in Baton Rouge; Second Line Stages and Big Easy Studios in New Orleans, and StageWorks and Millennium Studios in Shreveport. The state also has adopted a major economic development tool into its incentive program, creating a clear, easy benefit that’s accessible for productions of all sizes. Louisiana’s mature and reliable credit program offers a 30-percent tax credit on eligible in-state expenditures on goods and services, plus an additional 5-percent on payroll for residents. Also, tax credits may be transferred back to the state for 85 percent of face value. With this stable and reliable tax credit program, a diverse palette of locations, greatly skilled crew base (that’s 10–11 deep) and a temperate climate, it’s no surprise that Louisiana makes P3’s top-ten list almost every year.
NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA
Many star-driven films are calling New South Wales home, including Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire), Two Mothers (starring Naomi Watts and Robin Wright), Felony (starring Joel Edgerton and Tom Wilkinson) and Mental (starring Toni Collette). Other productions include the Aussie box-office hit The Sapphires, Happy Feet Two, Walking with Dinosaurs 3D and Lego: The Piece of Resistance. And Sydney is hosting postproduction work for the films The Railway Man (starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth) and Tracks (starring Mia Wasikowska).
The New South Wales government offers incentives to approved productions that shoot throughout the state, such as the Film & Television Industry Attraction Fund. Created to attract “footloose” projects, the Attraction fund is discretionary and its incentives are provided in the form of rebates, which are generally formulated as a percentage of qualifying New South Wales production expenditures. The incentive is determined on a case-by-case basis and takes into account demonstrable benefits, including job creation, skills development and technology transfer. Combined with the 40-percent Producer Offset rebate for film and television projects, the 16.5-percent Location Offset and the 30-percent PDV Offset (for post, digital and visual effects production), these government incentives have made New South Wales one of the world’s most competitive destinations in the industry.
Recent New York shoots include Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis (starring Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan), The Place Beyond the Pines (starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes), Can a Song Save Your Life? (starring Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley), The Angriest Man in Brooklyn (starring Robin Williams and Mila Kunis), Noah (starring Russell Crowe, Emma Watson and Jennifer Connolly), Very Good Girls (starring Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen) and Steven Soderbergh’s The Bitter Pill (starring Rooney Mara, Jude Law and Channing Tatum). These big-budget film projects and many major TV series have cited New York’s tax credit program as a leading factor in the decision to shoot in various areas of the Empire State. New York currently offers tax credits for in-state TV and film production and postproduction. The New York State Film Production Credit is a fully refundable 30-percent tax credit on qualified costs incurred by productions in the state. And New York has recently increased its postproduction credit from 30 percent to 35 percent, which is creating even more buzz in the industry.
Southern New Zealand is the epitome of film friendly while offering pristine alpine landscapes, stunning year-round glaciers, majestic fjords and rocky crags, as well as waterfalls, rivers, beaches, farms, vineyards and historic towns. The south also houses Film Otago Southland, a collaboration of six regions in the lower half of New Zealand’s South Island that covers the film offices of Film Queenstown and Film Dunedin, as well as the districts of Central Otago, Clutha, Waitaki and Southland. Film Otago Southland has a long history of handling large-scale international TV commercials and feature films, and, over the past three decades, it has grown into a world-class production location with fantastic infrastructure. Based in Queenstown, Film Otago Southland has access to a full array of camera/lighting/grip equipment, SPFX, art departments, catering vehicles (suited for rugged terrain) and specialized helicopter mounts — and all services are locally based, removing any time and cost issues.
During the winter, Queenstown is the perfect place for productions requiring snow. There are ski fields providing road access into the mountains and to the user-friendly facilities in Snow Farm, a nearby ski area. The relatively low elevation of New Zealand’s mountains presents major advantages for filmmakers, as crewmembers are not afflicted by altitude issues; accessibility is fast; and helicopters don’t fly at their elevation thresholds, which heightens safety margins. New Zealand’s financial perks are led by Large-Budget Screen Production Grants of 15 percent for films or TV series with a Qualifying New Zealand Production Expenditure (QNZPE) of $NZ15 million or more — and there’s no cap on the grant or a limit to yearly funding. This is a cash grant and with fast processing (usually within three months of application).
With a 25-percent fully refundable tax credit and no annualized cap, the state is continually considered for upcoming film and TV projects. Other state perks include North Carolina EUE Screen Gems, which resides in Wilmington and offers a total of 150,000 square feet of studio stage space on a 50-acre film and TV production complex with ten soundstages, two special-effects water tanks and 30,000 square feet of office space. And the North Carolina Film Office has built a model film commission which now works in tandem with six affiliate offices that are both publicly and privately maintained, and all are certified by the Association of Film Commissioners International.
The United Kingdom currently offers a 20- to 25-percent refundable tax credit. For films with a total core expenditure of £20 million or less, the film production company can claim a rebate of up to 25 percent of U.K.-qualifying film production expenditure. For films with a total core expenditure of more than £20 million, the production company can claim a rebate of up to 20 percent, and there’s no cap on the amount that can be claimed. The British government also recently announced a tax-credit program for high-end television production. Effective on April 1, 2013, this inclusion of TV projects as qualified U.K. productions will strongly impact television production across the pond.
Utah offers 800 working crewmembers (with three “A” production crews) and two full-service grip/electric companies that are all conveniently located in Salt Lake City. The state also has six film schools for up-and-coming filmmakers as well as numerous talent agencies representing hundreds of local actors and actresses. Utah’s other production incentives include an ongoing 15-to-25-percent fully refundable tax credit and a film commission that will go above and beyond the call of duty to turn any shoot into a great experience. Some of the recent productions that have benefited from Utah’s local assets include John Carter, 127 Hours, Darling Companion, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend and The Mistle-Tones, as well as the upcoming films After Earth (directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring Will Smith) and The Lone Ranger (starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer).
BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA
Another advantage of shooting in B.C. is that it offers diverse locations, including the northern hinterland, heartland deserts, coastal rainforests and the Pacific Ocean. The province’s gritty urban streets and wintry mountain environments are all within a 20-minute drive and the range of available settings make British Columbia very cost effective from a location perspective. The British Columbia Film Commission is supported by a dedicated network of regional film commissions and film liaisons that streamline the process when productions shoot in different areas of the province. And with film-friendly communities, minimal permit fees, inexpensive infrastructure, generous regional tax incentives and a wide range of spectacular shooting opportunities, filming outside of Metro Vancouver can match any project’s creative and budgetary needs.
British Columbia’s provincial and federal governments are highly supportive of the film industry and offer competitive, reliable and bankable incentive programs. Such perks make it clear why the province welcomes hundreds of film productions each year, such as The Cabin in the Woods, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Watchmen and the upcoming Superman movie Man of Steel. TV productions have also taken a liking to B.C., including “The X Files,” “Sanctuary,” “Smallville,” “Fringe” and the new shows “Once Upon a Time” and “Arrow.” Foreign and domestic productions in British Columbia can access a variety of tax credit programs that can be combined for exceptional savings (if eligibility requirements are met). The Film Commission’s Community Affairs office works proactively with the filming community, residential and business owners, and government agencies to ensure that B.C. remains a supportive production center. Local governments and regional authorities throughout the province offer full support, and many have developed helpful production guidelines in partnership with the Film Commission.