International producers give Wendy Mitchell the lowdown on their recent experiences of filming in Puerto Rico.
Patrick McCormick, executive producer of The Rum Diary, and Bahman Naraghi, COO of GK Films.
UK director Bruce Robinson is shooting an adaptation of Hunter S Thompson’s novel The Rum Diary, starring Johnny Depp, entirely in Puerto Rico; the shoot continues through early June. The story is set in 1950s Puerto Rico.
Did you consider any other locations?
Patrick McCormick: The production did some scouting in Mexico as a viable option. But the story is set in Puerto Rico. And it had the beaches, coastlines, cultural elements and the right people. To me, it was an obvious decision.
How much equipment or props did you bring in?
PM: Because of the nature of period film, we knew we’d have to bring certain things in from prop houses in Los Angeles. But we did better than we thought we could to get stuff locally. We rented a lot of equipment locally from PJ Gaffers. The volume of work will continue to make those vendors more viable for big shoots. He has expanded just for our needs.
Who was indispensable?
PM We were able to put the project together very quickly because of people like Antonio Sifre and the film commission. Also Ellen Gordon was exceptionally helpful [she became the production’s unit production manager].
Any advice to other producers?
PM Only that you can’t underestimate the cost and time needed to get things in and out of an island. With a 40ft truck leaving Los Angeles, it might take two weeks to get to Puerto Rico. And it could cost $8,000 to $10,000 for the round trip. So you have to keep track of that.
What is your experience with the tax incentive so far?
Bahman Naraghi We did not monetise the credit up front, we will do it after the shoot. Before this I did a film in Massachusetts, and the process in Puerto Rico has been very similar. So far there’s not been any difficulty.
Producers Elizabeth Redleaf and Christine Kunewa Walker of Werc Werk Works
Puerto Rico doubles for Florida in Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime, now completed, a drama about intersecting relationships with an ensemble cast including Ciaran Hinds and Charlotte Rampling.
Why did you shoot in Puerto Rico?
Elizabeth Redleaf Because of the tax credit and the idea it would be cheaper overall. It was a smart decision financially. And also they had great crews.
What about costs when you were there?
Christine Kunewa Walker The hotels were less expensive [than the US]. We tried to get all set dressing there, but they are not used to renting. Sometimes it was cheaper to ship items from the US.
What’s your experience of the tax credit?
ER It’s not a hard process. We’re auditing now, it’s a three to four-month process. In some US states it can be years.
Who in Puerto Rico was indispensable to the production?
CKW Rosi Acosta at KCPR.
What advice do you have for others?
CKW Only go there if it works creatively, but I’d say that as general advice. Try to get good local help. The people are wonderful and everyone was so welcoming.
James Holt, executive producer, Men Who Stare At Goats
Puerto Rico was used for interiors and Middle East settings for Grant Heslov’s story of US military paranormal research starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges. The film is now in post and Mandate International will show a trailer in Cannes. The film is produced by Los Angeles-based Samuels Media, Clooney and Heslov’s Smoke House and BBC Films.
How was your experience of Puerto Rico?
Going anywhere the first time is always
a learning curve. But now we’re looking forward to going to Puerto Rico on many more films.
Why Puerto Rico?
It was the 40% that got the ball started. If you read our script, [Puerto Rico] isn’t the first place you’d think of, but we could make it work for the creative part of the movie. About half the movie shot there, a five-week shoot, and the rest was shot in New Mexico.
Did you use a lot of local crew?
Yes, we used local crew and equipment as much as we could to maximise the rebate. In general, the crews are fantastic.
How easy has the tax credit proved?
We’re finalising the audit now. You have to sell that credit, so that’s an added layer but it’s all very straightforward. It’s a pretty seamless process.
Laura Bickford, producer of Che: Part One
Steven Soderbergh shot for six weeks in Puerto Rico for the Cuba-set portions of this film, the first of his Che projects. Star Benicio Del Toro is a Puerto Rico native.
Why go to Puerto Rico?
We looked at Mexico to do the whole thing, we looked at the Dominican Republic, but there were a couple of reasons why Puerto Rico worked for Cuba. Also, Puerto Ricans and Cubans have that same look, so that was important for extras.
What was great about shooting there?
It’s like the US, it’s US unions. It’s like working with US-style services. For example shooting in Spain [for Che: Part Two] was great creatively but the transport was so different. In Puerto Rico we were shooting on this 900 square mile farm with 200 cast and crew and extras, and that would have been impossible without a great ‘transpo’ team.
Any issues with local crews?
Make-up are used to doing Latin American TV so they are not really used to getting people dirty for jungle scenes. But overall they were really great professional crews; we had fantastic gaffers, sound guys and assistant technicians.
Who was indispensable?
Our local production manager, Ellen Gordon. And our lawyer, Antonio Sifre. Also the film commission and Government Development Bank.
Any advice to other producers considering shooting in Puerto Rico?
Puerto Ricois a great place to shoot. It’s like shooting in the US but with different locations. We had to import weapons for 300 people, and in somewhere like Mexico that would have been a nightmare but in Puerto Rico it was easy.