Production/Post-Production: Wish you were here

Filming overseas is always popular but step aside South Africa and the Czech Republic, adland has some new favourite locations.

In the past decade, the number of UK productions finding their way to locations abroad has gone up to around 65 per cent of all commercials.

The UK might be reliable with everything you need at your fingertips, and often very pretty, but it's pricey, lacks certain skylines and isn't blessed with year-round sunshine.

So where has adland been going to find the best locations? The two most popular destinations until recently have been South Africa and the Czech Republic.

South Africa started to become a regular destination for UK directors at the start of the 90s. It's become the obvious choice for any ad that needs to be shot in winter and requires sunshine. Not only is South Africa a cheaper deal, it doesn't take too long to fly there, jet lag is a minor issue and it has an infrastructure that makes it a reliable place to film.

So why is South Africa dipping out of favour? Apart from the strengthening of the rand and rising prices, the country has found it hard to control the sudden influx of overseas productions. "The biggest problem is probably that there are so many foreigners all over the place," Cathy Wood, a producer at Large Corp, says. Although it can still deliver and no-one wants to slate it, there's a definite ennui in the air. "I only need to watch a lot of European commercials and I walk round Cape Town and know where I am," Peter Thwaites, a director at Gorgeous, says.

South America is the new production Mecca. Argentina stands out as a location, but Chile, Brazil, and Uruguay are all undeniably en vogue too.

Great cities, plains, beaches, pampas and with that often-crucial dose of winter sunshine. "And if you're casting glamorous women, you've got thousands," Wood says.

Hunting around for the next best location has become expected. Karen Cunningham, the managing director of Pink, says: "One has to be cleverer and cleverer about where you can get value for money and where you're not going to have a heart attack making the job happen."

It's not just South America that's been raking in the advertising money.

Daniel Kleinman has just shot a Lynx ad in Cuba. India seems to be gathering in popularity and New Zealand has the scenery and is reasonably priced - if you can cope with the pretty gruelling flight.

When it comes to short-haul locations, Spain has been very popular. Jeff Stark of Large Corp recently shot an ad for Carlsberg Export out of Malaga, where the coastline was a good match for the Baltic. A small Danish population in the area provided the right look for extras and the costs were lower than they would be in the UK, helped by lenient rules about night shooting.

But the introduction of the euro has put prices up in Spain and other European favourites, and recent events are likely to put a bigger strain on the production budget and a dampener on all the excitement about the east. "As countries join the European Union, they will get more expensive," Phil Haselden, the managing director of the Location Partnership, says.

The Czech Republic has been a real vote-winner over the past few years.

Not only is it a lot cheaper than the UK, it now has the necessary infrastructure, including big studios and a raft of reliable production services companies.

"It's so fantastic and so economical to shoot there. It knocks spots off anything here," Cunningham says.

But Prague's star is no longer in the ascendancy - neighbouring Budapest offers a slightly different look for a similarly attractive budget. And if Budapest doesn't get you going, then Romania is being seen as a rising star. Although Romania doesn't seem to cut it when it comes to landscapes of breathtaking beauty and Bucharest is a bit traffic-heavy and smelly, it does boast a very large studio, industrial landscapes and Dennis Hopper has been spotted in a hotel lift. The French, in particular, with the prohibitive costs of shooting at home, seem to be warming to it.

Poland also appears to be on the up, although it's not in everyone's Palm Pilot. Iceland has been in and out. But the locations being most talked-about as the next Czech Republic are Croatia, Latvia and the Ukraine.

Producers are now experts in finding the real thing, but just not always in the obvious places. Across the Atlantic, there's no longer a knee-jerk reaction to go to LA to shoot an ad that's set in LA. Canada offers most of the scapes that American scripts need. And with a bit of imagination, even Buenos Aires could stand in for downtown US.


Move over South Africa. Argentina offers the same months of winter sunshine and, as South Africa becomes crowded and that little bit more expensive, directors are heading for this Latin alternative.

Although there are plenty who rate Brazil or Chile pretty highly, it seems that Argentina has the edge. After the economic crash three years ago, prices are low but Buenos Aires is still a fashionable, cosmopolitan centre with strong European and American influences.

And outside of the cities, there's a good range of locations. Directors can find almost any backdrop going. There's everything from deserts, canyons, jungles and waterfalls to mountain peaks, beaches and plains.

Pioneer, the production services company, set up there in September, aiming to exploit its European know-how and it has been doing a roaring trade. It's also possible to be based in the comparatively stable neighbouring Uruguay, which is only 20 minutes away by boat.

The Academy producer Simon Cooper rates Argentina above South Africa for locations and casting, and Peter Thwaites from Gorgeous says: "Argentina offers a whole variety. A lot of the buildings look European and Argentina isn't so obviously South American as Brazil or Mexico."

Not forgetting its all-round appeal as a pretty incredible place to be.

If adland is bored with South Africa, Argentina offers a new and glamorous alternative.

Why is it so popular at the moment?

You've lapped South Africa umpteen times, but you still need winter sunshine.

Buenos Aires will look good for your money. Great scapes and casting opportunities too.

Which ads were recently shot there?

Simon Cracknell/PlayStation, Doug Nichol/Smirnoff, Chris Palmer/HSBC, Jorn Haagen/Labatt, Paul Goldman/Lynx, Steve Hudson/Lion cereal.

Which are the best production service companies?

Flehner, Pioneer.

Where are the best studios?

They're not on a grand scale, but Cameras y Luces, Studio Baires or Central Park are a safe bet.


So what's behind the buzz about Croatia? It's emerging from life as a war zone, but it does have a film history and was famously the location for The Great Escape. Film crews are returning to the country and the local authorities are keen to support filming here.

Alex Quennell, a producer at Salt Film, is promoting Croatia to London production agencies. "It has wonderful forests, mountains, castles," he says. Locations include stretches of the Dalmatian Coast, the cities of Split and Dubrovnik as well as fortified islands. "It's very Mediterranean and Italian in feeling." It's also very cheap; costs are less than Prague or Budapest by a reasonable margin.

There's plenty of enthusiasm about Croatia in London's adland, though no-one has braved it yet. French and German production companies are more keen. A Coca-Cola ad was recently shot there through a Parisian production company. UK companies, including Brave and Large Corp, are looking at quotes for shooting there.

James Tompkinson, the head of production at Partizan, has a typical reaction to Croatia: "I would love to go to Croatia ... some of the locations could be incredible. It has an absolutely fantastic coastline."

Why is it so popular at the moment?

If you've tired of Prague or Budapest, then Croatia is the next, uncharted country, at a very low price.

Which ads were recently shot there?

Mmmm ... this is somewhere that everyone wants to use, but no big names from the UK have made the leap.

Coca-Cola has shot there out of Paris.

Which production companies are raving about it?

Everyone is interested but who'll go first?

Which are the best production service companies?

It's early days, but there's Zodiac (through Salt Film in the UK).

Where are the best studios?

Jadran studios in Zagreb.


Hungary is on the up as a location for commercials, though it has had a mixed reception. Some consider it a poor relation to the Czech Republic, and Budapest not as slick an act as Prague, but for others it's a bit of a find.

At Academy, the producer Simon Cooper enthuses about its "unique 60s and 70s architecture, which has been left and therefore hasn't been modernised. We're not interested in a chocolate-boxy feel ... it's gritty."

Being on the cusp of formal entry into the European Union is a mixed blessing. European regulations could put costs up, but it should make it easier to bring the product to be advertised into the country, and there could be tax breaks too.

It's certainly had its fair share of top directors shooting in its territory, most recently hosting Traktor for a Levi's "car" spot for the US. And it's a firm favourite for a smattering of London production companies, including Academy and Therapy Films.

"Very interesting casting, fascinating and compelling Eastern European faces," Thwaites, who recently shot a Honda IMA ad, "sense", for Wieden & Kennedy in the country, says.

Why is it so popular at the moment?

As an alternative to Prague, it's got good backdrops at low prices. Plus plenty of grit and late-20th century architecture.

Which ads were recently shot there?

Enda McCallion/Gordon's Gin, Traktor/Levi's, Walter Stern/Coca-Cola, Jorn Haagen/Nissan, Peter Thwaites/Honda IMA.

Which are the best production service companies?

Pioneer is repeatedly recommended.

Where are the best studios?

Ma Film in Budapest.


If you want an American look for your ad, then go to Canada. The Americans caught on during the strike by directors and actors three years ago. "The Americans found it then, but now the rest of the world has found it," Patrick Hayes, the managing director of Production International, says.

Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal all offer great cityscapes. And it's a lot easier and cheaper to get a street or three closed off than it is in New York.

"If you need a contemporary, metropolitan city, then Toronto is your place," James Tompkinson, the head of production at Partizan, says. The director Doug Nichol has shot in Toronto and Vancouver. Daniel Barber recently shot an HSBC commercial in Canada, which stood in not just for the US cityscape, but also the midwest.

Another big factor in Canada's favour is the cost of talent. It's not always the case, but casting in Canada can be far cheaper, certainly than its US neighbours. But there's perhaps not the most inspiring range of talent. Peter Thwaites has shot several ads in Canada, including one for T-Mobile: "It worked out very well. Canada is good. The casting is perhaps not as fascinating as in some places."

Why is it so popular at the moment?

For an American street scene, go to Toronto. It's easier and cheaper too. Local talent can be a good buy.

Which ads were recently shot there?

Doug Nichol/Sony Ericsson, Trevor Melvin/Boots, Daniel Barber/HSBC.

Which are the best production service companies?

Blink Pictures, Spy Pictures, Steam Films.

Where are the best studios?

Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, there's plenty to choose from.

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus