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So what do filmmakers look for when they choose their productions?

The first influence is of course the script. If the script sets a film in Africa, then it may well be the first place the producers look. However locations can be faked, and Africa actually competes with places like Texas, Hawaii, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and California to provide locations for films.

The main consideration is the balance between COST and RISK.

For instance: it's extremely easy to film in New York. Literally everything is available in the city for a film production and the City's own processes and protocols are fine tuned to encourage filming. However, it's expensive, and you are going to pay a premium for that level of accessibility and professionalism. In comparison, it's dirt cheap to film in Somalia, but the risks are simply not worth the low costs.


Every producer is going to assess every single script against the variable costs of filming in a particular location compared to the variable risks that might be faced. Producers will be asking themselves whether the authenticity of filming on location will justify the costs of filming, and whether there are other locations closer to home (such as Hawaii, or Puerto Rico) where the location can be “faked”, and whether those destinations will offer incentives.

Deliberations will include the comparable costs of flights to the Somalia (compared to Texas for example), the complexity of permit and visa processes, the availability of a local talent pool that can be made to look sufficiently “jungly”, or an art department capable of manufacturing African- style props (such as car number plates) or costumes in Austin.

Since few locations globally are actually able to offer every single element of the film production value-chain as it would ideally be available in Hollywood, New York or London, it is understood that a certain amount of crew and technical expertise will need to be imported. Producers will therefore calculate the relative advantages and disadvantages of shipping in the missing elements. These costs can be significant.
 Costs are obviously affected by the amounts of equipment to be shipped, the time and distances to be travelled / shipped and by the number of crew and cast who need to be given air tickets (most flights over a certain distance require top crew to travel business class) and hotel accommodation (4-5 star) and per diems. Even exchange rate fluctuations must be taken into consideration.

Producers also look at the various work practices of the different countries and states – the length of the work day, the rules and regulations of hiring, tax obligations etc. – that will determine value for money on the location. Other implications for costs arise from the time it takes to integrate foreign crew members with the local workforce, as well as issues such as language and cultural practices.

A further interesting input on the Budget decision-making process is how issues of
 work practice can impact on the number of
days available to make a film. Producers are often therefore interested to know how many production days they can expect for their budget. For instance, if a budget of $25 million will get 20 production days in one country, versus 25 production days in another, with the higher number of production days being optimum, the producer is likely to lean towards the greater number of shoot days.

The financial juggling undertaken to finalise 
a budget is rarely performed to actually save money or do the job cheaper. Instead, the goal 
of every Producer is to cut extraneous and unnecessary costs so that the bulk of the finance they have raised ends up on the screen as better production values.

Comparative quotes will be drawn up for production at the actual location suggested 
by the script, as well as a number of other destinations where that location can be re- created. This is a like-versus-like comparison between what it costs to pay for labour or hire equipment or procure services in one jurisdiction compared to another. In this globalized industry, what producers are attempting to do is to compare their actual purchasing power – literally, the amount of goods or services that can be purchased with a unit of currency – in a number of possible locations.


All of these costs are specifically balanced against a destination’s risks, which come in a number of shapes and sizes.

  • Physical Risk refers to threats to the cast and crew’s health and well being.
  • Financial Risk concerns the overall cost to shoot and incidental costs of travel, subsistence, tax rebates etc.
  • Psychosocial Risk involves public or private loss of self-esteem or the esteem of others
e.g. producers or other scouts, of choosing one location over another.

  • Time Risk includes elements of the overall
time to conduct the shoot, time to setup and
pull down sets, travelling times to location sites, availability of key sites at the right time and for the right duration, etc.


In this highly cost-competitive environment, many destinations attempt to positively influence producer’s purchasing decisions in favour of one particular location over another by increasing that location’s cost-effectiveness. This is usually in the form of Film Incentives, which provide a rebate to the film company based on the amount of money they have spent. The first significant Film Incentive to attract international productions was also introduced
in Canada, in 1997. In 2000, just four States in the USA collectively offered just US$3 million in Film incentives. Today, 45 States offer incentives programmes valued at between US$1.5 - $1.8 billion per annum. Incentives are now offered in various formats by the governments of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Brazil, Canada, the Cayman Islands, Colombia, Croatia, Fiji, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi) and the United Kingdom, as well as by governments at province, state and city level within many of these countries.


Sometimes however, decisions are extremely unpredictable, such as unseasonal weather,
star or director personal preference, or storyline. Movie stars notoriously enjoy spending their time in London and Sydney – less so in Bucharest or Sofia. Burn After Reading (2008) shot in Brooklyn rather than Washington DC where it was set, because the Coen Brothers preferred to stay home with their young families. KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa famously won the production of Zebra movie Racing Stripes (2005) because the trained equines required for the film could not be moved across provincial lines due to African Horse Sickness quarantine restrictions, while Cape Town won production of the mini-series The Poseidon Adventure, (2005) because the local boat building industry had the experience required to build the ship-based sets.

The following video shows how a state like Abu Dhabi has identified the needs of production and how the spokesperson points out the benefits of its offering to the sector.