Written by Murray Ashton on Aug 3, 2012. Posted in Interviews

Filming on location with the Mexico City Film Commission

Fernando Uriegas Vázquez is Director General of the Mexico City Film Commission. He’s an expert on location filming in Mexico and Central America, and he’s run the commission since 2009. His more recent feature work includes Apocalypto, Che and Man on Fire.

What can you tell me about filming in Mexico City?

We're the world's largest metropolis. Mexico's best and worst ingredients are all here; colonial palaces and skyscrapers, world-renowned museums and ever-spreading slums. The city is all Latin beats, glamour and excitement; Mexico City is a magnet for Mexicans and visitors alike.

This city has an area greater than 600 square miles and each of its 100,000 streets represents every possible location. Mexico City is the centre of domestic Mexican production. It’s where more than 85% of the country's film industry is based, including more than 20 stages, 95 rental companies, eight laboratories and 48 casting agencies.

In April 2009 the state legislature passed the Filming Law, which established that filming permits can only come from the film commission. This law guarantees the support that the city Government will give to the audiovisual industry. On a normal day the Mexico City Film Commission receives an average of 40 filming applications, including broadcasting, commercials, documentaries, short films, series and feature films. This amount of filming in the city fails to show the quantity of existing crews and specialised equipment, as well as the diversity of locations.

What locations are most commonly used by film and TV crews when they come and film in the city?

This city has so many locations that it is difficult to establish which is the most used. However, we could say that the Old City and its surroundings captivate most producers. The traditional and historic districts attract both productions and tourists. Downtown, La Condesa, La Roma, Coyoacan, San Angel, Tlalpan and Xochimilco are places where you can always find film crews working and having fun.

Mexico City is the centre of domestic Mexican production. It’s where more than 85% of the country's film industry is based, including more than 20 stages, 95 rental companies, eight laboratories and 48 casting agencies.

What are the more unusual locations in your region that our readers would not necessarily associate with the region?

Currently the city has a population of just over eight million people, but it hosts at least 20 million people who either live, work, study or just cross the city on a daily basis. A city with these characteristics can hardly maintain its environment, but in the largest city and most populous of the world you can find crops, semi-desert landscapes, old haciendas, forests and lakes, allowing productions to find locations that look rural without having to leave town.

What has been your most difficult location assignment to date and why?

Tony Scott’s Man on Fire usually had at least three company moves per day, which is a real challenge to do in a place such as Mexico City. To accomplish this we mobilised an army of people to make sure there was parking for more than 30 trucks carrying filming equipment, motor homes and personnel vans to different parts of the city.

Perhaps the hardest part - and those who have worked with Tony Scott know this is true - is that on some occasions this great director decides which scenes to film just the night before, so the locations department had to be prepared for everything.

You can find crops, semi-desert landscapes, old haciendas, forests and lakes, allowing productions to find locations that look rural without having to leave town.

Nowadays, as the Head of the Mexico City Film Commission, one of the biggest filming challenges is to close down some of the main avenues of the city, such as Paseo de la Reforma or the viaduct for long hours. Seeing movies like Carlos Bolado’s Tlatelolco, Olivier Megaton’s Colombiana and most recently Everardo Gout’s Days of Grace, or watching advertising campaigns like Coca Cola, Trident, Ford and Chrysler, we understand that it has being worth the effort.

What types of production do you work on most?

Mexico has a very healthy and productive film industry and at the moment produces more than 70 feature films a year; around 80% of these are filmed at least partially in Mexico City. The film commission has also supported international productions like Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium and The Boy Who Smells Like Fish, the first Mexico-Canada co-production, or Tom Gustafson’s Mariachi Gringo.

Broadcasting and commercials are more commonplace. Televisa, TV Azteca and Cadena 3 produce at least 20 soap opera episodes and series on a daily basis, and commercial production companies produce about 20 commercials a day.

Are there any tips that you would like to share with our readers about filming in your region?

Filming in Mexico is easier and safer than ever. There are the advantages of having all the equipment required and the most qualified and experienced crews, who make Mexico City the best place to film. Productions should contact the film commission so that we can help with permits, the use of the ATA Carnet in case they bring their own equipment, and so on.

For those interested in bringing a feature film project, we recommend they approach one of the two specialised unions, which are very flexible in their statutes and rules.

Mexico City is characterised by a temperate climate with moderate temperatures throughout the year. There might be some variations due to differences in altitude within some sectors of the city. The altitude itself can affect some people, but the adaptation is easy and quick so it does not pose a health risk.

Which are the best airports to use to film in your region? Any tips on customs clearance or film-friendly freight agents?

You can get to Mexico City by air through Benito Juarez International Airport, located within the city limits. There are alternatives located in nearby towns, such as Toluca, Puebla or Acapulco. Benito Juarez usually receives flights from major cities in Europe, Asia, Central and South America, the US and Canada.

What are the most film-crew-friendly hotels in your region and where is your favourite wrap party venue?

Mexico City has a long history of foreign productions, which has made the hotel industry look very favorably on audiovisual producers, so you can get preferential rates for these groups and care and quality of services in these hotels are first-class.

Among the hotel chains that offer better deals to foreign productions are Ostar Group, Camino Real Hotels, Posadas Group and Mission Hotels.

There are usually set costs for Public Liability cover for film units and costs for insuring locations. Can you tell us about location insurance and possibly examples of costs in your region?

There are several companies that specialise in this area and some offer coverage up to about USD250 million locally, along with completion bonds, legal advice and other services at very competitive prices.

What would you recommend crew and cast do to have fun and relax locally?

Now that you are filming in our city, we recommend taking advantage of your free time and go to the Old City where you should not miss the Cathedral and Old College of San Ildefonso. In the same area you will find a myriad of recent editions or libraries with real antiques and at noon you can visit the ruins of the pre-Hispanic Temple and the Palace of Fine Arts.

Have a meal in the Polanco neighborhood and enjoy traditional dishes in restaurants like Pujol, La Jima, Maria Bonita or Mexico Lindo y que Rico. If you prefer, you can find some of the best international restaurants in Mexico, such as the Atalaya, Astrid & Gaston, Au Pied De Cochon or Bellaria.

In the afternoon you can visit the Museum of Anthropology and History, which will enable you to learn more about the cultures that shaped our continent. Close by you will find the emblematic Chapultepec Park and the Chapultepec Castle, home of Emperor Maximilian of Hapsburg. At night you should visit the bars, pubs and clubs of la Condesa - producing in Mexico City means having a great time.

Thank you

To contact Fernando please click here.


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