Written by James Peak on Sep 27, 2010. Posted in On Location

Portugal sees a boom in production in 2010

As the euro hits an 18-month low against the dollar and UK pound, the lack of an international incentive to film has not stopped 2010 becoming a banner year for Portugal.

With its wild and stormy Atlantic coast, calm and sunny Mediterranean-style beaches and resorts, beautiful mountains, a wealth of heritage and the islands of The Azores and Madeira, Portugal is fast becoming one of those European filming locations talked about seriously in budget meetings.

Producers are busy, particularly in the capital Lisbon, with most production companies reporting exceptional levels of production. TV ad shoots have been drawn by the range of locations, solid infrastructure and the fact that Portugal is often more economical than neighbouring Spain.

As one would expect, Portugal was hit by the global downturn in 2008 and has had a rocky couple of years production-wise. However, not all production service companies are complaining, especially long-established Lisbon-based Ready to Shoot, as Producer Margarida Adonis explains:

“We have never been so busy! We have been mainly doing commercials work with Germany, Korea, Brazil and the UK, and of course the USA. We are finding that our clients are continually impressed with Portugal as a new destination and with our depth of experience. We give a lot of quality for the money our clients pay.”

Michael Moffett, Managing Director of Camino Media, believes that production is not yet near its full potential, especially when compared to their sister office in more established Spain. The rough economics of the last couple of years are being replaced with a new urgency, particularly with European co-productions.

“Camino Media has had a record year in Portugal. We've been on the up consistently for several years but 2010 seems to have opened the floodgates. The range over the past year stretches from the shooting of a cork production story in Oporto and the countryside for Bloomberg News to production service, with a local crew numbering about 30, for the filming of a two-hour Bachelorette episode in Lisbon which was broadcast primetime this month on ABC in the US.”

Bill Hanks, Line Producer at Soulkitchen Productions in Lisbon, agrees that production is picking up sharply again:

“We’re busy! In the last few months we have worked on ad campaigns for McDonald´s, Hi Tec, Andrelon, Bacardi, Prisvrij and Centraal Beheer.”

The commercial for Dutch insurance company Centraal Beheer was filmed in Serra da Estrela, a mountainous region of central Portugal. The production company, Czar in Holland, chose to film there as costs were so reasonable. Two permits were needed to shoot - one from the local authority and a second for road filming. The police helped reduce traffic flow and were able to assist by shutting down the roads intermittently to allow filming.

Soulkitchen is now gearing up for another high-profile ad shoot, this time for Citroen in France. It is a large-scale shoot which, when confirmed, will be shot in the busy cosmopolitan streets of Lisbon.

Marilyn Alexander, Executive Director of Artists Group based in Murches, near Lisbon, is keen to point out that there is a huge range of undiscovered regions in Portugal, worlds away from the beach and sun that tend to characterise perceptions of the country:

“Well, the joy of Portugal is in the range of locations! It amazes me that clients still think that Portugal is just the Algarve! Portugal can 'clone' itself to most countries. We just completed a huge shoot for MTS Russia with Bazelevs. The storyboard needed Brussels, Venice, Africa & the North Pole! We found all of them here and completed shooting in two days.”

This useful ability to stand in for such a number of more expensive locations, with short travel times between, is proving popular:

“We are working a huge amount and making money! As well as our consistent work for our MTS Russian clients, which is immensely satisfying, this year we are seeing the return of old clients who had in recent years been travelling to South Africa.”

Artist’s Group is also currently preparing for three large TV adverts. They are currently sworn to secrecy, although they can tell us they are ‘transport projects’ drawn to Portugal for its value, range and quality.

But it’s not just about commercials in Portugal. Last year, Daniel Alfredson’s big-budget Swedish feature Millennium 2: The Girl Who Played With Fire shot scenes on Gale beach in Albufeira, with great success.

However, plans for the kind of multi-million dollar Hollywood projects that can transform a local industry into a national powerhouse, as has happened recently in New Zealand and Germany, are few and far between. So what would make the difference and push Portugal up the league table for high-end TV dramas and feature films? According to Michael at Camino:

“It is our experience that the local incentives don't currently fit well with our clients' productions, excepting individually negotiated terms that Lisbon Tourism provided to the Bachelorette production for ABC.”

Marilyn thinks that a big step forward would be if local Government could find a way to facilitate permits even quicker than they do now:

“Currently it's eight to ten working days, which actually is on a par with most European capitals, but it could increase turnover if we could offer clients a city permit in a few days. Having said that, we always manage to get what our clients request and we get tremendous support from the police who have helped and supported us on some pretty outrageous requests over the years!”

Bill believes that even though the Portuguese business is relatively stable, a helping hand from the Government in the form of an incentive for foreign co-productions would really help matters.

Producers would do well to consider Portugal for all productions that require a decent infrastructure and a wide range of locations within a short distance, from mountains to beaches to modern European cities.

If, as Margarida at Ready To Shoot reminds us, Producers require “a long summer time, a smooth, dry winter, a good glass of wine and a room with a view” then they would do well to remember that production budgets go a long way in Portugal. If the euro remains weak, as seems certain for the time being, Portugal should see even greater gains in 2011.

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