The plane is leaving the gate.  Drawn by the promise of film-friendly lands across the globe, TV and commercial producers are buckling up next to fellow producers of feature films. The fuselage stirs as the jet engines spin in preparation to propel them all to film hubs where they can produce more and sometimes better content for less.

Two industry labor strikes slashed filming days in Southern California by more than a third last year according to FilmLA. By most accounts, the return to work anticipated in film and TV since the twin strikes ended has been much slower than expected. Commercial film shoots that often fill the gap for crew have been few and far between. The threat of a third labor strike this year gives executives at studios and streamers all the more reason to develop content they can produce beyond their borders.

“We have to stop assuming that you’re just shooting in LA,” remarked Lisa CochranWarner Bros. Television SVP of Production, during a survey of filming opportunities in Spain last fall. “Our budgets aren’t getting bigger. The business is changing, these mergers, the studios are so different. You have to be open.”

US executives of commercial films also find reason to film beyond their borders this year. They expect that the unionizing of freelance Production Assistants, Assistant Production Supervisors, Production Supervisors, Line Producers, and Bidding Producers will increase shoot costs at home by at least 10%.

Is All Quiet On The Western Front?

Production volume is down. Peak TV is over. Some US crew members are leaving the industry while others struggle to find work. A fundamental shift may be in the works. Pivoting productions at home toward a world of opportunity takes time.

Whether it is for the money, the art, or both, there’s a cinematic pedigree to the recourse of so-called runaway productions that TV and commercial producers turn to. The blend of inexpensive and increasingly skilled labor at epic locations first drew Hollywood feature filmmakers to Spain during the 1950’s to produce legendary super-productions like Alexander the Great, El Cid, The Pride and the Passion, and Solomon and Sheba.

Destinations near and far now compete globally to catch the eye of filmmakers by offering incentives. The money that governments pay back to producers in cash or tax credits is a fraction of the local economic impact injected by film production expenditures.

Money Moves

Of the more than 60 countries where producers can tap into film incentives, Colombia, Costa Rica, Jordan, Serbia, Thailand, UAE, and Uruguay stand out by providing incentives for commercial film projects. Georgia, Greece, Hungary, and Malaysia  sweeten the deal by returning funds for above-the-line foreign labor. Australia, India, Japan, and the United Kingdom recently boosted their offerings while Romania is restoring an incentive put on pause during the pandemic. Producers study the net production cost at a world of possibilities to determine where their budgets will deliver the best results.

The rising costs of filmmaking at home in Hollywood can shape what ultimately reaches the screens of consumers. “If White Lotus can be a huge success,” continues Cochran, “why can’t TV look at doing more stuff like that?” Particularly with a US dollar trading strong against foreign currencies.

“It comes down to what the story is,” observes Mark Hubbard, co-producer of the Downtown Abbey and Dowtown Abbey, A New Era feature films. “Obviously we know it becomes a budget exercise and a tax credit exercise to find the right place to execute it”.

Nigel Wooll, veteran producer of features including Tár, and G.I. Jane says most anything goes if the money works. “To producers, the incentive is all. Because you can do a lot of films in Timbuktu if they have enough incentive.”

World at your fingertips

Considerations Beyond Cost

PSN recently updated its global production capabilities guide to help equip producers with local knowledge that can determine the feasibility of a shoot in a particular country as much as the local production costs.

“It has to work,” says Debbie Liebling, former studio executive and producer of comedy titles like South Park and Borat, Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. “We all sit around looking at numbers saying ‘oh, they’re cheaper and they’re cheaper, but it’s not just that.'”

In its survey of major film hubs, PSN found portable motion control more widely available than ever. The widespread build and use of LED virtual studios is encouraging producers to extend their stay to execute more than exterior filming on set.

Acknowledging a renewed interest to shoot content on film, PSN’s guide now lists territories with film processing labs. External links to currency exchange and inflation trends are also included to provide producers with a more comprehensive view on each territory of interest.

“The PSN Global Production Capabilities guide is a fantastic one-stop resource for production,” notes Charlie Cocuzza, Executive Producer and Partner at commercial production company Imperial Woodpecker. “It’s easy to navigate, and the amount of information at your fingertips is extremely useful when exploring potential shoot locations.”

New users of the guide can click here to sign up and login to access it at no charge. They can also click to connect and consult with PSN and its Partner service companies facilitating filming in more than 100 countries. At a time when market forces compel producers to run away to a foreign land with their projects, PSN is positioned as the resource they’ll look into before taking the leap.