Film crews scout locations in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.Lights! Camera! Action! Tax incentives!

On-location filmmaking, a niche revenue stream for Caribbean destinations, has been gathering momentum in recent years.

Tropical sun-and-sand locations have long been popular backdrops for movies, TV shows, commercials, music videos and fashion shoots.

But location isn't the only draw for film studios.

Production companies heading to the U.S. Virgin Islands, for example, get special exemptions from excise taxes, duty and bonds on importing equipment and accessories, according to Luana Wheatley, film coordinator for the U.S.V.I. Film Promotion Office within the Department of Tourism.

In turn, film companies book hotels, hire locals, use caterers, rent locations and dine in restaurants while on the islands.

"Our goal is to put our people here in the U.S.V.I. to work and to have an impact on the economy," Wheatley said.

The U.S.V.I. Film Production Office, the first of its kind in the Caribbean, was created in 1973.

Four years later, "The Island of Dr. Moreau," filmed on St. Croix and starring Burt Lancaster,"really helped to establish the office and to put us on the map as a film location," Wheatley said.

"We're a diverse destination with many 'beyond the beach' film possibilities," she said. "We don't mind doubling for a location either."

Port of Spain, Trinidad, was the locate for this scene with Tatyana Ali, center, and others in Home Again.In fact, the Florida scenes in the 2008 film "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" starring Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt were shot on Water Island off St. Thomas and on St. John.

St. Croix also served as the locale for an episode of ABC's "The Bachelor" reality show last winter.

A little exposure apparently goes a long way. Tourism officials report an uptick in hits on its website since the show aired, and bookings for the Buccaneer, which hosted the bevy of beauties vying for a marriage proposal, also are up.

The Trinidad and Tobago Film Co. (TTFC), created in 2006 to develop the film sector, has welcomed 85 film crews from around the globe since 2011, including crews from the BBC, ESPN and major studios, according to Isadora Ramkissoon, the company's facilitation officer.

"The TTFC tracks the impact on the economy in terms of its multiplier impact on accommodations, transport, equipment rental, local hires and location costs," Ramkissoon said.

The first major motion picture shot on location in Trinidad and Tobago was "Heaven Knows Mr. Alison," a 1957 blockbuster directed by John Huston, starring Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr as a Marine and a nun shipwrecked on a Japanese-occupied island in the Pacific.

That "island" actually was both Trinidad and Tobago, as scenes were shot on each.

Fefe Dobson and Lyriq Bent in a scene from Home Again, filmed in 2012 in Trinidad, which doubled for Jamaica.Fast forward to 2012's release of "Home Again," filmed on Trinidad, which doubled for Jamaica. The movie's plot revolved around three Jamaicans, deported to Jamaica from the U.S., Canada and the U.K. who had to find their way in an unfamiliar land.

"Right now, we have one of the stars of the TV show 'Chicago Fire' on location here for a local movie," Ramkissoon said. "This is a booming market for us."

Location filming has been an area of revenue for Jamaica for some time now, according to Kim Marie Spence, film commissioner.

Jamaica has a long history with film, beginning with the 1915 release of "Daughter of the Gods," a silent movie notable for the first nude scene by a major star, Australian Annette Kellerman.

The movie was shot on location on sets constructed in Kingston and covered completely in mosquito netting.

Jamaica established its Film Commission in 1984, which is part of Jampro, the country's trade and investment promotion agency.

"We've been a destination for feature films for years," Spence said, "including 'Dr. No,' the first James Bond film in 1962 with Sean Connery; 1989's 'The Mighty Quinn' thriller with Denzel Washington; and 'Knight & Day' with Tom Cruise in 2010.

While there is no "empirical evidence that 1998's romantic comedy 'How Stella Got Her Groove Back' caused a spike in African-American visitors to the island, it did resonate well with that market," Spence said.

A common problem is determining the role such films play in inspiring viewers to visit, according to Spence.

"At the Film Commission, we don't have the mechanism to survey incoming tourists about their motivation to come to Jamaica," Spence said. "In terms of impact on the economy, many Jamaicans are employed to work on film projects."

The Dominican Republic, which appointed its first film commission just last year, served as the backdrop for scenes in 1974's "Godfather: Part II," 1993's"Jurassic Park" and 2003's "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl."

Ellis Perez, the D.R.'s film commissioner, said, "Filming in a destination is a way to leverage one of the most powerful industries, Hollywood, so the government announced a new state-of-the-art film studio in 2011."

Pinewood Studios, which made the Harry Potter films, will manage the $70 million studio.

One section, now open, houses the world's second-largest water tank, which can be used for underwater filming.

A number of tax incentives, credits and rebates put in place in 2011 account for a rise in the number of films and TV episodes granted permission to film in the D.R., totaling 23 in 2012 and 16 so far this year.

The Film Commission has not yet tracked the impact of the film business on tourism, Perez said.

"However, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana, where an episode of 'The Real Housewives of New Jersey' was filmed in 2011, did record a 300% spike in Web traffic and was sold out for New Year's, which they attribute to the locale of the show," Perez said.

Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly. 

Comments
JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI