ComingSoon Visits Colombia – Part 2

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For those who didn’t check out the first part of our Colombian diary, ComingSoon.net was invited down to the country by ProImagenes and the Colombian Film Commission to check out what’s going on with the film industry, and our second day was as jam-packed with information and sightseeing as the first as we learned more about what was going on in the country’s capitol of Bogota. 

Bogota is a very different type of city than Medellin and more like the modern cities we’re used to seeing on the Western Hemisphere, but with a combination of old and new. During some parts of the city, there are still old brick and adobe buildings while other parts are fairly modern with concrete and steel buildings that tower over the other areas of the city.

We would have a good chance to check out the landscape of the city later on, but our day began at Caracol Television where—after we went through a thorough security protocol–we were met by Alejandro Toro, the director of production, and Felipe Boshell, the managing director of production, and were given a tour of some of Caracol’s ten soundstages.

Caracol is one of Bogota’s two privately-owned television stations, the other one being RCN, and has been since 1998. It’s part of a large corporation that includes BluRadio, the Colombian newspaper El Espectador and is closely associated with the Cine Colombia theater chain. We sat down with Alejandro and Felipe where they could talk about their film co-productions, which is something fairly new for Caracol with the advantages that come from the rebates and incentives the country now offers.

They also were involved with the biggest Colombian film of 2014 with Uno al Año no Hace Daño which loosely translates into “Once A Year Does Not Hurt” by Juan Camilo Pinzo, and another one of their films, Antes del Fuego (“Before the Fire”), would be premiering at the Cartagena Film Festival in a few days as well as playing in New York at the upcoming Colombian Film Festival. They are developing a TV movie called “The Abduction of Jocelyn Shaker” with plans to shoot using Colombian incentives, which they hope to sell to Lifetime or Hallmark.

colombiabogota2Another one of their upcoming co-productions is El Abrazo de la Serpiente by one of Colombia’s better-known film directors, Ciro Guerra, who we would meet later on during our trip. They’re definitely getting into film in a big day with eight more films in some phase of production.

The conversation with the production directors eventually led to some of the same discussions we had a lot while in Colombia, particularly how little room there is in Colombia theaters for Colombian-made films as opposed to the imports from Hollywood and elsewhere.

After talking to Alejandro and Felipe, we were given a quick tour around some of the soundstages, the two biggest and newest ones being 900 square feet that include dressing rooms for talent, while the smaller soundstages were a respectable 500 square feet, one of which was being used for a children’s show.

Next up was a visit to FoxTelecolombia Studios, one of Bogota’s production houses that included soundstages, post-production editing suites and everything one might need for any sort of production. There, we met with executive Francisco Forero, who gave us a tour of a few of the five soundstages, two of which were active. As we walked around, we admired the number of posters for some of the ongoing shows that were filmed there including one called “Cumbia Ninja,” which as far as we could tell was about dancing ninjas.

colombiabogota3They were in the middle of shooting the interiors for a 60-episode television series called “Celia: Canto a la Vida,” based on the life of Cuban singer Celia Cruz, which will air on RCN and Telemundo in the States. The sets were specifically a recording studio set and her childhood home in Cuba. Next door in Studio 2 was another television series that was shooting, this one an 80-episode televonela that was actually a remake of a popular Colombian soap opera from the ‘90s called “Azucar” (or “Sugar”), the set being the interior of a giant mansion where they were shooting in what looked like the master bedroom. 

FoxTelecolombia is a good example of how some of the major Hollywood studios have gotten involved in the Colombian entertainment industry as Fox bought 51% of the company started by a former RCN employee eight years ago with plans to use it as a production house for Fox International. They built the new facilities to include a lot more facilities for international talent coming to Bogota to film there including an entire floor of private dressing rooms. One of the benefits of the studio was that people could work there on a lower budget than in other places but have everything they could possibly need on-hand.

We were then brought into the studios’ small theater where we were shown a number of promotional videos, one talking about the studio, the second one specifically about its Visual FX post-production facilities, and the third a teaser promo for the Celia Cruz show, which looked pretty impressive with its elaborate settings and musical numbers. (The show is only filming on the two sets we saw at FoxTelecombia with some of the club settings being on location elsewhere.) We also learned that they’re currently in post on a show about a Colombian comic book hero called “Zambo Dende” which should take full advantage of their VFX team.

colombiabogota4Next up was lunch, and we were taken to Monserrate, the largest mountain at the center of Bogota, where we would have to take cable cars to get up the side of the mountain for a fancy lunch at San Isidro, one of two restaurants at the top of the mountain. Having replaced the significantly slower tram that had been retired, the cable car sped-up the side of the mountain in roughly ten minutes as we were able to admire the glorious thickness of the foliage below us. There we were joined by ProImégenes Colombia director Claudia Triana de Vargas and Silvia Echverri Botero, the head of the Colombian Film Commission, a fairly casual affair since we would be getting their official presentation the next day at the offices.

After lunch, we went back down the cable car and met our tour guide Diego and Invest in Bogota’s Leonardo Pieta, who would take us on a short tour of the downtown area, known as Candelaria, where we learned a lot of interesting things about the history of Bogota and Colombia and how it’s evolved over the past 15 years since the end of the violent years. This was one of the first settled areas of Bogota where many of the original buildings, including the very first church, had been maintained.

We had a chance to walk past the Presidential Palace but as we were exiting the secured area, people were streaming out of the Senate and surrounding buildings. Our guide asked what was going on, and apparently, there was an earthquake, measured at 6.6 on the richter scale on the outskirts of Bogota that had enough of an impact that they emptied the city’s buildings as a precaution. Of course, we hadn’t felt a thing as we walked through the area, but if we had, that may have been more excitement than we were prepared for. We ended up at a large plaza square with a statue of Simon Bolivar in the center that was almost as full of pigeons as it was people.

That tour and the rest of our day in Bogota was hosted by Invest in Bogota, the agency whose name is essentially exactly what it sounds like, as they create initiatives to bring money into the city as representatives for the Chamber of Commerce and the city’s government. We went to their offices high up in one of the more modern concrete and steel buildings, where we were given an impressively verbose presentation by Investment Manager Juan Carlos Jimenez and Lilia Manolova about how they’re working to get international companies to set-up shop in Bogota to help the thriving economy there. The presentation had a lot of information about Colombia not all of it related to the movie biz per se, but it contributes to the confirmation of the government’s desire to bring money into the country with film productions, which is indeed the purpose of our being in Colombia.

colombiabogota5That was the end of the “business” portion of the day as we were then taken to a special coffee tasting demonstration at the E & D Café (short for Education and Development of Coffees) by Jamie Duque. At the first, the inconspicuous storefront seemed like a typical café, but in the back was what looked like a science lab with lots of gadgets and charts that showed how seriously they take the process of making coffee there. Duque has become one of the most respected authorities in coffee, traveling the world to judge coffee competitions while looking for the best coffee beans and the best way to harvest them. Sure, his name isn’t as well known as “Juan Valdez,” a fictional Colombian coffee farmer who has his own chain of Starbucks-like cafés in Latin and South America, but the man does know coffee as he is a certified barista with many degrees and awards, all of which were on display. He did his best to teach a bunch of movie journalists how to analyze and determine the best aspects of the beans by aroma, fragrance and taste, as it continued our education on why some of the best coffee beans come from Colombia, which has a lot to do with the altitude and the consistent weather. After learning how Duque’s coffee beans are maintained to keep the freshness over other forms of coffee, we each left the café with a bag of Duque’s award-winning Catacion Publica coffee beans which we’d have to figure a way to sneak past customs. (And we did.) 

As we walked to dinner at the trendy Harry Sasson restaurant, we passed a local movie theater, café and bar called Cinema Paraiso which played more arthouse fare than the typical cineplexes with the outside covered with posters for movies like Polvo de Estrellas (aka David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars) and a mysterious film called 7 Days in Havana, an anthology film about Cuba, that included an impressive line of directors including a segment directed by Benicio Del Toro, which was never released in the States. (By coincidence, the theater also recently got Escobar: Paradise Lost, which has yet to secure a U.S. release date after multiple delays since its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.)

Dinner was another memorable affair as we were seated in the backroom of the restaurant, surrounded by a wine rack that took up the entire wall and wicker baskets filled with fresh produce, which presumably is used in the nearby kitchen. The delicious meal was a great way to end what ended up being a long day.

colombiabogota6The next day, we were carted off to the ProImagenes offices, the entrance flanked by two old film projectors that were no longer operational, where Claudia delivered a presentation about the rebate with all the details necessary for those interested in applying. Since its introduction in 2013, ten projects from different countries have been approved for the rebate, which offers 40% off film services during pre-production, production and post-production and 20% off what they call “film logistical services” i.e. transportation, catering and lodging.

There are very specific conditions to be eligible for the rebate, including that the project’s budget has to be a minimum of $500,000. It’s also only available for films, TV movies and mini-series although they have made a few exceptions like web series and such. Like with the Medellin rebate, the film would have to include the logos for the Colombian Film Commission and ProImagenes in the production credits before the film.

It doesn’t make as much sense for Colombian productions to apply for the rebate, since they’re better off going for the government film incentive established in 2003, which would theoretically get them more funds to make their movies. Some of the movies that have taken advantage of the rebate so far, include The 33, The Boy (which just premiered at SXSW), Out of the Dark, Gallows Hill as well as two episodes of the upcoming Netflix mini-series “Narcos,” which was recently shot there with Brazilian director Jose Padilha (RoboCop) and his Elite Squad star Wagner Moura playing Escobar. Other TV series like “Covert Affairs” and “Mental” have also shot in Colombia but weren’t eligible for the rebate because as mentioned, it doesn’t apply to television shows.

You can watch a video with all the details here

Although the Cartagena Film Festival was days away, the staff of ProImagenes were already starting to prepare for the Bogota AudioVisual Market (BAM), which runs this year from July 13 through July 17, bringing industry professionals from all over Latin America and the rest of the world to watch and talk about the movie industry. This is also when the Colombian Film Commission announces the winners of that year’s incentive for Colombian films, and ProImagenes will often bring down producers and filmmakers from other countries for a similar tour to the one were were undergoing.

After the presentation, we had one of the most amazing one-course meals during our time in Colombia as ProImagenes’ chefs cooked up a traditional Colombian soup called Ajiaco, which consists of chicken and potatoes but also has corn and avocadoes with eah of the elements brought separately by the waiter to put in the soup, along with sour cream, cilantro and capers. It was an incredibly rich and hardy dish that was quite satisfying. (You can find a recipe for Ajiaco right here but I’d be surprised if it tastes anywhere near as good when not in Colombia.)

From the offices of ProImagenes, we were off to the airport once again for the short jaunt to Cartagena and the Cartagena Film Festival (CIFFI), which we’ll cover in Part 3, coming soon.