Costa Rica is getting a spanking new airport. On a rainy and humid November day, reps from JetBlue, the Costa Rican tourism board and the Four Seasons resort in nearby Peninsula Papagayo gathered for a tropical press conference in a giant air hanger at northwest Costa Rica’s Liberia Airport. Local school children performed traditional dances to celebrate the airline’s inaugural flight from New York’s JFK as journalists got the grand tour of Costa Rica’s $41 million Daniel Oduber Quiros airport, which is preparing to handle some 600,000 visitors a year, with new routes from Europe and North America. Its sleek air-conditioned terminals with modern stores and cafes serving international cuisine is a far cry from the old-school digs and rice and beans next door.
The new airport represents the entrepreneurial spirit that is turning Costa Rica into a prime destination for location film shoots. Will Smith, Mel Gibson, and Marc Anthony have visited Costa Rica in recent months to scout locations. According to the locals here, Gibson recently sold his Guanacaste coastline home to Lady Gaga for some $40 million.
And Will Smith is poised to film his upcoming action film, “One Thousand A.E. (Another Earth)” this February. M. Night Shyamalan directs this sci-fi epic for Sony Pictures and Overbrook Entertainment.
The film features Will and Jaden Smith as a father and son who crash-land to earth a thousand years after humanity has abandoned the planet. It’s no wonder that Costa Rica has become popular with filmmakers. Not only does it offer diverse locales, with no less than seven active volcanoes, rain forests, rapid rivers, sandy beaches and colonial cities, but a full network of support and financing. In the early stages of setting up its own film commission, Costa Rica already provides an array of film incentives to lure major productions south to this lush landscape where the lore of pura vida, or the good life, rules on winding lanes–often overrun with monkeys.
The country’s Free Trade Zone Regime provides a 100 percent exemption on all import duties for raw materials, equipment and components, and a 100 percent tax break for four years which goes to a fifty percent break after the first four years. In order to qualify, filmmakers must invest $150,000 in fixed assets inside of a free zone area, but can film anywhere. All of the services that the company uses in the country will exempt from sales tax, for example gas, car rental services, catering services among others helping filmmakers save another 12-15 percent. (More info here on Costa Rica Film Support.) Costa Rica hired Hollywood agent Joel Tabbush in May to be its U.S. liaison.
Recent productions to take advantage of the scheme include many documentaries and music videos as well as 2009 NBC reality show “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here” and such subsequent reality shows as “Love in the Wild,” “Temptation Island,” “The Bachelor,” “The Amazing Race,” “Survivor Costa Rica,” and “Men Versus Nature.”
Among the films to have taken advantage of the tax breaks: New World Television’s “El Dorado” and Ridley Scott’s “1492 Conquest of Paradise”; Kennedy/Marshall’s “Congo”; “Mowgli: The New Adventures of The Jungle Book,” from Fox Kids Network; “Spy Kids II: The Island of Lost Dreams,” from director Roberto Rodriguez for Miramax International; and Rob Schneider’s “The Chosen One.”