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Fiji: A Filmmaker’s Paradise –

Fiji: A Filmmaker’s Paradise

A scene from Bula Quo!, shot on location in Fiji

Fiji may be one of the world’s most popular holiday destinations, but it also offers a great deal of opportunity to international productions.

Fiji is an archipelago of more than 332 islands, ringed with over 500 islets scattered across the ocean. It’s a paradise for holiday makers, but for filmmakers there’s another very big reason to make the trip to the South Pacific—a 47 per cent tax rebate for commercials, TV shows and feature films shot in the country.

Just as the islands have caught the imagination of travellers ever since the explorer James Cook discovered them in the 1770s, filmmakers have also been falling for their charms since Mr Robinson Crusoe was shot there in 1932. Other classic features shot in Fiji include Frank Launder’s 1949 British version of The Blue Lagoon, 1953’s His Majesty O’Keefe, which starred Burt Lancaster, and 1973’s The Dove, starring Gregory Peck. In 2000, director Robert Zemeckis used Fiji as the location for his award-winning Cast Away, which stars Tom Hanks as the lone survivor of a plane crash.

Fiji is keen to see more filmmakers come to its shores, and the country certainly has a great deal to offer those who make the trip. With an abundance of forest, mineral and fish resources, as well as spectacular coral reef, the country also boasts one of the most developed economies in the Pacific island realm.

In addition, the national film organisation Film Fiji (formerly Fiji Audio Visual Commission) administers that huge 47 per cent tax rebate offered by the Fiji Government—one of the highest anywhere in the world. This can net any qualifying film production spending a minimum of FJ$250,000 (US$140,000) shooting on the islands a rebate of up to FJ$11.75 million (US$6.7 million)

Film Fiji has also launched a package of further incentives, each of which targets different productions from commercials and TV series to high-end features. These include a waiver or reduction of taxes payable by foreign crews and tax-exempt ‘Studio City Zones’, which offer tax free income to productions operating from an established studio city zone or technology park in Fiji.

For qualifying productions looking to raise additional production finance locally, Fiji also has the F1 and F2 Audio Visual Production (AVP) incentives. This allows Fiji taxpayers to claim an attractive tax deduction of either 125 per cent (F2 AVP) or up to 150 per cent (F1 AVP) against their tax liability, depending on the eligibility of the qualifying production expenditure.

The numbers of productions that take advantage of all these incentives is rising exponentially; last year 49 TV shows and documentaries and seven feature films—six from India and one from the UK—were shot on the islands. Many more are planning to make the trip in 2013, including productions from both Bollywood and Hollywood.

“Film productions provide the opportunity for local people to acquire experience in film,” says Florence Swamy, Film Fiji’s Acting CEO, of why such incentives are so important to the local economy. “The incentives were put in place to attract productions here in the hope they would hire local crew members, and utilize local infrastructure, goods and services. As a result of the opportunities presented by these productions, local Fijians can up-skill themselves appropriately to meet the various needs of productions.

“Local people now have knowledge of equipment and an understanding of protocols and other requirements of a highly competitive international industry, and have been able to deliver as required. An increasing skills base is also growing in various areas like production, accounts, IT support, drivers, locations managers, art department, construction, grips/ electrical, unit staff, hair and make-up, wardrobe, camera, catering, cable and junior artists.”

And it’s not just incentives and skills that can be found on Fiji; with around 100 of the islands inhabited by less than a million people, the country also offers a pristine array of locations. Away from the coastline, Fiji’s main city Suva has doubled for locations as diverse as New York to Chennai in India, while timeless British colonial buildings are perfect for period dramas. Inland on the largest islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, there are impressive mountain ranges, while Fiji’s sand dunes can be used for a range of desert locations. All locations approvals and permits are provided through Film Fiji.

One individual who has taken full advantage of Fiji’s charms is the British action movie director and stunt coordinator Stuart St Paul, who started out in the stunt department of the Bond films and whose career includes operating the Queen Alien during the shoot of James Cameron’s Aliens. St Paul decided to make his latest directorial feature Bula Quo!, an action comedy starring Status Quo duo Rick Parfait and Francis Rossi, in Fiji.

“I’ve travelled a lot all over the world and I didn’t expect Fiji to be any different from any other tropical island,” says St Paul, a 40-year veteran of the film business. “I expected it to be similar to islands in the Caribbean or some of the places I’ve been to in South Asia, but Fiji provides a hugely colourful backdrop, fantastic sunlight and images that you just cannot replicate shooting in London or anywhere else in Europe.

“Setting up to film in Fiji was incredibly quick,” he continues of the experience. “Once we’d been greenlit, I drew up a profit and loss sheet with my financier, flew out to Fiji to do a location scout and then called my crew to tell them the shoot was starting. And once we’d got rolling, you realise what an incredible place it is to shoot a film.

“Shooting a film is an expensive business. You have to be convinced you are getting that value back visually. I could stay in England and use that money very differently, but I was brought up working on big movies and I wanted to make a big feeling movie with great light, and Fiji provided that. It’s a beautiful place with great light and the people are wonderful. And while there’s always going to be a cultural divide, you have to remember you’re in a different country and you can overcome that and make it work for everyone.”

In fact, St Paul found the shoot so rewarding that he is already planning to make another film in Fiji. “I have another comedy, which again shows off the island, and is with a well know comedian who has his own huge built in audience,” he says. “I hope to be back there in the middle of 2013.” And, considering the wealth of opportunities the islands have to offer, he undoubtedly won’t be the only filmmaker taking advantage of Fiji as filming location.

For more information on Fiji’s Film Tax incentives, visit



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