Belize Film Industry steps up its game

Belize needs to offer financial incentives to film production companies seeking sand and sea or a jungle location to produce a film, the Coordinator of the Institute of Creative Arts’ Film and Media Arts Unit Suzette Zayden said at a film industry symposium at the House of Culture in Belize City on Thursday, February 9, as William Ysaguirre reports in this article for Belize’s Reporter.

Zayden, who doubles as a facilitator for the Belize Film Commission, says the game has changed as film companies can shoot anywhere in the Caribbean and a number of locations are now offering very attractive financial incentives.

Puerto Rico ranks tops in the Caribbean for film-makers as it offers a 40% cash back—reimbursement of cost of production; and Trinidad and Tobago offers a similar 35% cash back incentive.

This is not chump change. Disney spent US$18 million in the Dominican Republic when it shot “Pirates of the Caribbean  -Dead Man’s Chest” over a period of nine months.

Zayden said Belize needs to introduce legislation to offer similar incentives, and to this end the symposium will prepare a paper for submission to the Ministry of Finance recommending the industry’s needs.

In this regard, attorneys Pamela Watson and Natoya Boyd of Young’s law firm are assisting the Commission.

The commission seeks to streamline the entire process to facilitate production companies who choose Belize as their shooting location. At present, the commission issues a license to film companies, but the application needs to be signed by an executive of the company, not their local production director, so that the commission can establish a direct link with the foreign company.

Zayden said Belize’s attraction as a film destination is growing as the industry has many pros. Belize has an extremely talented workforce which is able to work the long hours the industry demands and who can adapt to new practices. Belize’s annual International Film Festival coming up in July also stimulates production and attracts interest from potential distributors.

On the downside, there is little financial support for project development and the number of legally registered production entities is small. Most film creators do not end up owning their work, as it is normally done on commission.

There are also only a few venues as there are only two operating cinemas: one at the Princess Hotel and Casino, which has two screens, and one in San Pedro.

The Film Commission has been in existence since 2000, but industry data is only available back to 2008, when Zayden came on board. She said the commission seeks to market Belize as a film location and provide assistance in location scouting to production companies seeking to shooting Belize.

The commission will also facilitate the film companies’ entry into the country past Customs and Immigration through the Ministry of Finance.

It seeks to register all film production, foreign and local, which are shooting in Belize, and it will serve as the film company’s liaison with government, by helping to clear work permits, visa waivers and duty-free concessions.

It would also like to develop and maintain a production services directory of business enterprises who have worked with film companies in the past and who are interested in providing services to the film industry. The commission will also encourage investment in rental companies and sound stages.

The money brought in by foreign movie makers may not be documented in economic reports but it is big money.

While the commission statistics only date back to 2008, it reports that film companies – some 88 of them, have brought US$1,979,864.00 into the country over the past four years.

It began as 13 companies in 2008 that spent $97,158.23, and soon grew to 25 companies in 2009 which spent $547,766.58; to 24 companies in 2010 which spent $268,866.95. This trickle grew to 49 companies, which spent $1,066,073.00 in Belize last year.

These dollars are spent primarily on hotel accommodations, transportation, telecommunications, meals, film permits, local film crew and actors hired as extras, and other services such as insurance and hardware supplies.

Hollywood has also invested a lot in Belize in the past. After his starring roll beside Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep in “The Deer Hunter” in 1977, Christopher Walker starred in the “Dogs of War” shot in Belize in 1978, for which the film company bought the Seaview Institute to portray a prison fort, and the Holden Memorial Clinic became the Chateau Caribbean where Walken stayed upon in his arrival in  “Zangaro”.

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