A Brief Guide to Exotic Film and TV Shoots

On location in Lapland and Bhutan.

Bloomberg News

It’s a truism in film and TV production that location is as important as casting. Nailing it means dealing with language barriers, bad weather, and, of course, red tape—Mandi Dillin, the location manager for HBO’s Westworld, recalled in a trade magazine interview that, while shooting in California and Utah, she had to submit names and get permits for every animal on set, “including chickens and donkeys.” To entice the wary, locales compete for shoots using catchy tag lines (“The story is Utah”), alluring lookbooks, and generous incentives. Here are some of the best sells.

French Riviera.
Photographer: Guichaoua /Alamy Stock Photo

Desired mood: Gatsby Continental
Location: French Riviera
You saw it in: Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

Many Hollywood films with what might seem to be inimitably French settings—Catch Me If You Can, X-Men: Days of Future Past—were actually shot in Montreal. These days, though, France is imploring producers to “Go for the real thing.” Last year, after the government sweetened a key tax rebate for international productions from 20 percent to 30 percent, spending by foreign film companies tripled, to more than $160 million. Film France also pitches, among the country’s other “neuralgic” characteristics, its “top of the range savoir-faire,” and offers a helpful guide for the less cultured. The brochure includes translations for phrases such as “I don’t eat cheese” and “I like my meat well-cooked,” and a reminder, if you’re using horses, that “equine reproduction activities” begin in February.

Lapland, Finland.
Photographer: Peter Adams Photography Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo

Desired mood: Arctic Sultry
Location: Lapland, Finland
You saw it in: The Bachelor Season 21 (2017)

“Have you thought about silence yet?” the Lapland Film Commission asks. “Many of our locations have no ambient noise at all.” In the event of a storm, the region’s “Finnish snow-how” will kick in, but on the whole, its weather is “notably milder” than Siberia’s. In winter, “dusk begins before dawn turns to day, making the light conditions artistically interesting.” And in summer, there’s the midnight sun, when longer daytime shoots are a plus. Inspired by The Bachelor, the region’s tourism authority has introduced a new slogan: “The colder the climate, the hotter the lovin’.”

Atacama Desert, Chile.
Photographer: Robertharding/Alamy Stock Photo

Desired mood: Martian Colonial
Location: Atacama Desert, Chile
You saw it in: Quantum of Solace (2008)

Seeking a hint of intergalactic authenticity? Astrobiologists often conduct tests in the Atacama, earth’s oldest and driest desert, because of its climatic similarity to Mars. Consider, too, Chile’s diverse range of extras (“practically all ethnic phenotypes are found,” the country’s film commission proclaims) and cinematic infrastructure, which includes one of Latin America’s two Russian Arms—high-tech cranes perfect for smooth shots of an alien world whizzing by. But take care: “It is important to have trained crew members who do not suffer from vertigo,” the commission says. “Most common materials, other than some metals, minerals, and water, are combustible.” And: “The venom should also be extracted daily from venomous reptiles.”

Ouarzazate, Morocco.
Photographer: Incamerastock/Alamy Stock Photo

Desired mood: Antiquit-ish
Location: Ouarzazate, Morocco
You saw it in: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

The Ouarzazate Film Commission sorts its location database into such categories as “Dune,” “Lake,” and “Casbah,” which gives you some idea of the region’s versatility. The fortified village of Aït Benhaddou alone has masqueraded as pharaonic Egypt (The Mummy), Buddhist Tibet (Kundun), Soviet Afghanistan (The Living Daylights), greater Rome (Gladiator), and bed-slaving Yunkai (Game of Thrones). Ouarzazate’s production facilities are without parallel in North Africa, and the country offers an experienced, relatively cheap labor pool and a hefty 20 percent rebate on its goods and services tax. Be sure your health-insurance premiums are paid up, though: English location manager Christian McWilliams, who lives in Morocco, told a trade magazine, “I’ve experienced sandstorms and floods, fallen off a mountain, and lost a large piece of my calf to a shepherd’s dog.”

Photographer: Scott Kemper/Alamy Stock Photo

Desired mood: Hermetic Copacetic
Location: Bhutan
You saw it in: Happiness (2013)

This predominantly Buddhist Himalayan kingdom didn’t produce its first feature film until 1989, and it wasn’t until a decade later that owning a TV became legal. But His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck now considers both industries critical to Bhutan’s pursuit of Gross National Happiness, its preferred growth metric. He’s tasked the government with setting up a film commission by next year to “promote brand Bhutan,” “forge national identity,” and “generate employment.” Thomas Balmès, who directed the documentary Happiness, about an 8-year-old monk, has said that shooting in the kingdom’s high-altitude, low-oxygen villages and monasteries was a challenge. But what the country lacks in infrastructure, it makes up for in atmosphere—a 2015 survey found that only 8.75 percent of Bhutanese consider themselves less than happy.

Tyrol, Austria.
Photographer: AGF/Getty Images

Desired mood: Alpine Classical
Location: Tyrol, Austria
You saw it in: Snowpiercer (2013)

The French film director Jean-Jacques Annaud, who shot The Bear here, has said that “Tyrol offers the efficiency of Germany, the beauty of Switzerland, and the charm of Italy.” Lately the state film commission has dubbed the area Tirollywood, drawing more than 80 high-altitude Bollywood productions. Among them was the box-office bomb Yuvvraaj, which tells the story of a man with a “genius disorder,” his two conniving brothers, and a comely cellist. (In keeping with the Austrian setting, the movie was scored by A.R. Rahman, aka the Mozart of Madras.) Tyrol’s dramatic valley roads and quaint chalets suggest romance with a hint of heartbreak, and its peaks promise outright danger. Spoiler alert: The hero’s genius doesn’t extend to hang gliding.

U.S. Virgin Islands.
Photographer: Eyfoto/Getty Images

Desired mood: Post-Prison Tropical
Location: U.S. Virgin Islands
You saw it in: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The USVI Film Office touts the territory’s exotic and mundane features with equal gusto. In addition to St. John’s petroglyphs and St. Croix’s mocko jumbies (stilt walkers), the isles “have Kmart and Home Depot” and let filmmakers “shoot a sunrise and a sunset in a single day.” These last two features might not be unique, but at least Americans won’t need passports to take advantage of them, which may be why Shawshank’s producers sent Tim Robbins here, rather than to the Mexican destination his character reaches after crawling to freedom “through a river of s---.”