Location Report: The Cayman Islands
Blazing sunshine, white sandy beaches and pristine aquamarine waters… Pretty as a postcard, the Caymans are an intriguing collection of islands. From the busy Grand Cayman with its Seven Mile Beach hotel strip, to the wonderfully peaceful and calm island of Little Cayman - it’s what dreamy brochures are made of.
A relative newcomer, the Cayman Islands Film Commission was set up in February 2009 although filming on the Caymans isn’t a new thing. The Firm (1993) with Tom Cruise and Haven with Orlando Bloom (2004) were both shot here.
Dax Basdeo, the Film Commissioner, says they are taking baby steps and admits their activity is almost part-time, although the islands have hosted everything from commercials to photo shoots, documentaries and feature films. Dax said: “Out of the 60 enquiries a year, about a dozen come down. We don’t want to start with anything big until we know we can do it.”
Their most recent project? A low-budget feature film called Zombie Driftwood. Dax smiles: “We’ve learnt a lot. I need to write up new guidelines! But things are a lot clearer now.”
Meanwhile, the focus is on building knowledge and experience and training local crew. On their latest projects, budgets were committed for apprenticeships to capitalise on the overseas knowledge coming “on island” as the locals say.
The community is very supportive, hoping to create another sideline economy to add to the thriving financial sector and tourism industry. Dax said: “Film would serve the creative economy. It will never be as important [as our other industries], but it’s good for our islands.”
Obviously, their real asset is the Caymans’ natural beauty. From the pristine beaches in Little Cayman, to the caves (used as hurricane shelters) and dramatic 150-foot bluff in Cayman Brac and the incredible marine life underwater. There’s also the cosmopolitan island of Grand Cayman with its new developments such as Caymana Bay, a modern residential area offering contemporary architecture, landscaping, waterfront and shops.
To Caribbean standards, the infrastructure is first-rate and an added bonus is that security is no concern. On Little Cayman doors aren’t even fitted with locks!
Another bonus is the vast choice when it comes to accommodation, catering and transport. Indeed, special rates and negotiated tariffs for film crews are already commonplace.
The Film Commission has launched an online photo gallery, as well as a production directory to make life easier. As for equipment, there is some on the island but Dax confides: “Filmmakers tend to prefer their own equipment, which is not a problem as we’re so close to the USA. They can ship or fly it in.”
As for the finance side, the tax-free state has steep 22% import duties, but Dax says this can be waived by the Film Commission. The rebate incentives are competitively set at 30%, within the top range in the Caribbean.
Fiercely protective of its reputation, the tightly regulated Cayman Islands won’t take on any projects that portray them in a negative light. Gone are the days of The Firm painting the Caymans as a money laundering haven. “That sort of thing just can’t happen here, so why give us a bad reputation?” asks Dax.
It’s still early days, but there are already ambitions for studios. With a combination of attractive locations, keen investors, experience and good infrastructure, the film future looks promising.
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