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Feature films being shot in other countries but masquerading as US


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#1 Vital Butinar

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 07:42 PM

Hi guys!

 

In the last couple of years I've seen a some movies with pretty a list actors in the main role I wouldn't say low budget and the movie si always happening in some sort of US sounding town or place but here's the kicker. Everything looks like it's supposed to be in the US like cars and signs and even people but some stuff is off like the architecture, cars in the background, even side roles or extras, traffic signs or even electrical outlets and switches on the walls. I've even noticed stuff like electronics or furniture, but mainly the architecture and urban areas and cars. There's always a Skoda or a Renault somewhere in the background and the electrical switches and outlets.

 

Anyway the moment I notice something funky I usually check where the movie was shot and if it isn't shot in Europe, it is some other place like a South American country. Places where they have Skodas and Renaults but don't have yellow lines in the middle of the road and street signs that are white and blue.

 

So my question is what is the point of this masquerade show?

 

If it's supposed to be happening in the US why not just shoot it in the US and make it look authentic even though the name of the town is made up. Or on the other hand if it doesn't matter where it's shot and it is shot in some place like Bulgaria or Hungary or even in my home country of Slovenia why go trough the charade of finding all the US looking vehicles, having to change signs in the background or even going as far as putting flags on buildings and making signs to make it look like the US.

 

Is it that cheaper to shoot outside the US or si there some other reason why this happens?

 

Anyway I was just wondering what's the deal and I'm hoping that someone here might be able to enlighten me.

 

Thanks guys for the input and best regards

Vital 


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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 09:38 PM

Every producer looks at tax credits and labor costs (and travel expenses, exchange rates, local crew depth, quantity, and skill level, etc.) versus the costs of recreating a location instead of shooting in the actual location as scripted. And certain cities outside of Los Angeles have a certain, decent, level of film production infrastructure.  

 

It's just that some of them are only so "deep" in terms of crew base, meaning if a few A-list movies or TV series, for example, come to town and hire most of the local crew, a smaller movie might struggle to find local talent and have to spend more money bringing outside people in, negating some of the reason for being there.

 

As for why a movie set in Dallas but shot in Johannesburg doesn't just re-write the script to be set in Johannesburg, it just depends on the story they are trying to tell. It may create more questions than it is worth dealing with, especially if they think most audiences won't be able to tell where the production was made anyway. I've filmed in Atlanta, for example, but I didn't notice that "Prisoners" was shot there, it felt more northern, like it was somewhere in Pennsylvania.


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#3 Dom Jaeger

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 09:41 PM

 So my question is what is the point of this masquerade show?


Movie-making is all essentially a masquerade show! Smoke and mirrors, make-believe, dress-ups! Sometimes it reaches the level of high art, but it's still a masquerade.

But to answer your question, overwhelmingly it's about budget. Many countries offer incentives for productions to film there that can save producers vast amounts of money. If the exchange rate is also favourable, it saves even more.
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#4 Mark Dunn

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Posted 01 December 2018 - 04:52 AM

It's usually Canada standing in for the US, especially cities.

As Dom says, film relies on suspension of disbelief, or rather creation of belief. If you say it's NY, and it looks enough like NY, it's NY.

Kubrick didn't leave England after the early 60s but he managed to make plenty of pictures set in the US here. He even made a street in London (Hatton Garden) look like NY.

I bet Ljubljana has stood in for Vienna or Prague at least once.


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#5 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 01 December 2018 - 05:25 AM

The daddy of them all is  Full Metal Jacket .. shot in the UK.. on actual locations.. if Newham Docks and the Norfolk boards.. with a few palm trees can get away with being steamy Vietnam .. anything is possible.. 


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#6 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 01 December 2018 - 06:04 AM

Supposedly Netflix in the U.S. is rumored to no longer be chasing tax credits. They are trying to bring more and more production back to the LA area where tech and talent can be closer to home.  Happier staff make for better films.  Not sure if it's true but wouldn't that be surprising?  A studio taking into consideration the quality of life of the people making the films?   What's next?  Mandatory 12 hour turnaround? haha.


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#7 Vital Butinar

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Posted 01 December 2018 - 07:11 AM

Every producer looks at tax credits and labor costs (and travel expenses, exchange rates, local crew depth, quantity, and skill level, etc.) versus the costs of recreating a location instead of shooting in the actual location as scripted. And certain cities outside of Los Angeles have a certain, decent, level of film production infrastructure.  

 

It's just that some of them are only so "deep" in terms of crew base, meaning if a few A-list movies or TV series, for example, come to town and hire most of the local crew, a smaller movie might struggle to find local talent and have to spend more money bringing outside people in, negating some of the reason for being there.

 

As for why a movie set in Dallas but shot in Johannesburg doesn't just re-write the script to be set in Johannesburg, it just depends on the story they are trying to tell. It may create more questions than it is worth dealing with, especially if they think most audiences won't be able to tell where the production was made anyway. I've filmed in Atlanta, for example, but I didn't notice that "Prisoners" was shot there, it felt more northern, like it was somewhere in Pennsylvania.

 

I thought so and it sounds reasonable enough. Like I've always said if you shoot in a back street of LA or in a back street of something near LA it looks the same.

I've worked on a quite a few shoots that were shot in Ljubljana because there's a specialized production and crew here that do a lot of them for foreign markets. It also helps there are a few huge equipment rental houses in the area.

I've actually even been a dancer in a commercial that was made exclusively for the US market.

One of the good things in Slovenia is (at least to my knowledge, I could be wrong) that if you need to shoot somewhere getting a permit is relatively easy and not that expensive. Even getting police assistance is free or very inexpensive. 

One time when we were thinking of shooting a short film a couple of acquaintances even offered that I could talk to their police lieutenant and that they could provide police cars for a short period of time for a scene as long as the official markings weren't visible and could lend us a couple of uniforms without the official stuff on them. So I think some stuff is quite good as far as production goes.

 

Movie-making is all essentially a masquerade show! Smoke and mirrors, make-believe, dress-ups! Sometimes it reaches the level of high art, but it's still a masquerade.

But to answer your question, overwhelmingly it's about budget. Many countries offer incentives for productions to film there that can save producers vast amounts of money. If the exchange rate is also favourable, it saves even more.

 

Of course it and that's exactly why I love movie-making and it has captivated me and driven me to want to make movies for the very reason "OK this could look like a hotel lobby or those buildings could look like they were build in the 2050 and it would be simple to make a matte painting for the background. Or this think looks like it could be a "sonic laser data fragmentation device working on a quantum xy frequency" or just this lighter looks cool enough. 

 

It's usually Canada standing in for the US, especially cities.

As Dom says, film relies on suspension of disbelief, or rather creation of belief. If you say it's NY, and it looks enough like NY, it's NY.

Kubrick didn't leave England after the early 60s but he managed to make plenty of pictures set in the US here. He even made a street in London (Hatton Garden) look like NY.

I bet Ljubljana has stood in for Vienna or Prague at least once.

 

I agree 100%. If something looks convincing enough you except it no questions asked and whenever I'm watching a movie most of the time if I didn't know that it was Union Station or Thousand Oaks water company or something along these lines and I'm complacently fine with that even though I might know right away where something is.

I usually pick up stuff like this pretty quickly and I've even worked a couple of times for a some people who had wanted to find out a location of a property that's listed on a real estate website but the locations wasn't disclosed and they tried for a weeks to figure out where it was and then finally asked me to figure out and it usually took me less than 10 minutes to find the place 15 at the most just by catching a small detail in a photo like the shape of a sign on the other side of the street or a particular handle on a door or window shape on the other side of the street trough a window.

But some stuff is just too obvious and I know that most viewers will never pick up on such small details and yes I know quite a few instances that Ljubljana has stood in for Prague or other places.

 

The daddy of them all is  Full Metal Jacket .. shot in the UK.. on actual locations.. if Newham Docks and the Norfolk boards.. with a few palm trees can get away with being steamy Vietnam .. anything is possible.. 

 

Definitely the I've always loved it when something looks convincing especially when someone thinks of a really cool way of showing something in a different light that it usually is (Bradbury building in Blade Runner or Star fleet Academy in Star Trek, etc).

 

Like I said I've seen this in a couple of movies that had a really big name in the lead or even a couple of big names in the lead rolls and the whole thing was supposed to be happening in a some random town in the US but was actually shot some place else and even though they got US cars form what I bet was every American car enthusiast in a 300 mile area and tried to window dress a couple of buildings the sum was just not convincing because everything was just a little off. The road had a white line in the middle not a yellow one, the buildings were just not American looking and the streets were just not convincing, sometimes on the highway or something all except for the car right out of the windows were cars you'd never see in the US not to mention that the wall sockets and light switches were wrong. Hell I haven't seen switches like that for 30 years even around here.

Anyway like I said I don't mind the smoke and mirrors it's actually what makes film-making fun but sometimes it's just too many wrong details and it looks off. But then again I'm certainly not the target audience nor am I anybody even remotely qualified to pass judgment on why someone decided that they would do that but I do however find it interesting.

 

I mean I'm currently writing a screenplay for a feature film that I have high hopes that might one day be made into a movie some day and while it might or might not be the story is based in the US and I literally can't imagine the story making sence somewhere else and as for faking it. I guess it could be done but again it just wouldn't look right and I'd be willing to go as far as to say that if it was filmed somewhere else and masqueraded as the US it might take away from the story telling side of the movie and it might not end up being as good as it could be.

 

Thanks guys for confirming what I was thinking and it was super interesting getting another point of view. :)

 

Best regards

Vital 


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#8 Bruce Greene

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Posted 01 December 2018 - 11:01 PM

I've shot in Georgia, but the story took place in Russia :)

 

Of course it was not Georgia USA, but the Republic of Georgia.  Still, it took quite a bit of masquerading...  And yes, it was for cost reasons.


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#9 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 01 December 2018 - 11:57 PM

I just remembered a funny one along these lines.. we were shooting a new model, yet to be released  BMW in Japan .. which one of the BMW drivers had already dented in Tokyo before shooting.. so we could only shoot one side.. but it had to look like Europe.. !! not very easy in Tokyo..! so we shot on the road that goes up to the base of Mount Fuji.. as the country side looked a bit like Europe to a blind man on a fast horse..  and a dir and AD came all the way from the UK for that day .. it certainly would be have been cheaper to ..well.. shoot it in Europe ..


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#10 Dom Jaeger

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Posted 02 December 2018 - 02:30 AM

We just finished supporting a $40M Chinese feature film, primarily shooting here in Melbourne Australia, but set in Africa!

Here's a picture of a part of the Melbourne suburb of Footscray turned into an African village:
https://i.redd.it/5sq8glinrze11.jpg

Hundreds of local African-Australians got jobs as extras.

Don't ask me why they didn't shoot in somewhere like South Africa, which also has experienced crews, rental houses and other support infrastructure for features of this size. I guess sometimes a variety of factors decide the shooting location.
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#11 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 02 December 2018 - 02:34 AM

We just finished supporting a $40M Chinese feature film, primarily shooting here in Melbourne Australia, but set in Africa!

Here's a picture of a part of the Melbourne suburb of Footscray turned into an African village:
https://i.redd.it/5sq8glinrze11.jpg

Hundreds of local African-Australians got jobs as extras.

Don't ask me why they didn't shoot in somewhere like South Africa, which also has experienced crews, rental houses and other support infrastructure for features of this size. I guess sometimes a variety of factors decide the shooting location.

 

wow it looks fairly convincing.. but needs some litter 


Edited by Robin R Probyn, 02 December 2018 - 02:34 AM.

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#12 Vital Butinar

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Posted 02 December 2018 - 06:20 AM

I've shot in Georgia, but the story took place in Russia :)

 

Of course it was not Georgia USA, but the Republic of Georgia.  Still, it took quite a bit of masquerading...  And yes, it was for cost reasons.

 

Well when done right the viewer wouldn't even notice.

 

I just remembered a funny one along these lines.. we were shooting a new model, yet to be released  BMW in Japan .. which one of the BMW drivers had already dented in Tokyo before shooting.. so we could only shoot one side.. but it had to look like Europe.. !! not very easy in Tokyo..! so we shot on the road that goes up to the base of Mount Fuji.. as the country side looked a bit like Europe to a blind man on a fast horse..  and a dir and AD came all the way from the UK for that day .. it certainly would be have been cheaper to ..well.. shoot it in Europe ..

 

Yeah I've seen stuff like that. I've even seen stuff being shot with the steering wheel on the wrong side and then seeing the image flipped over meaning all the signs in the back ground had to be changed and flipped. But I spotted a flaw anyway. A couple of things were not flipped even so I noticed but sensed that something was wrong from the start.

Architecture matters and it there si no architectural elements then vegetation and the look of the land matters. I guess sometimes you can get away with it pretty convincingly but sometimes you just can't.

 

We just finished supporting a $40M Chinese feature film, primarily shooting here in Melbourne Australia, but set in Africa!

Here's a picture of a part of the Melbourne suburb of Footscray turned into an African village:
https://i.redd.it/5sq8glinrze11.jpg

Hundreds of local African-Australians got jobs as extras.

Don't ask me why they didn't shoot in somewhere like South Africa, which also has experienced crews, rental houses and other support infrastructure for features of this size. I guess sometimes a variety of factors decide the shooting location.

 

Wow, that looks pretty accurate and convincing. Right down to the faded green paint on the wall of the shop and the dented white van. The only thing that would be a bit of a giveaway to me might be the lack of wires goring from building to building and the street lights because they all look too new. But really nice and totally convincing.

 

By the way was the action supposed to be happening in Ghana. The kids are wearing school uniforms the same colors and style appropriate to Ghana but they might use them else where. :)

 

To clarify I'm not saying there are no street light in Africa because there are but they are usually really old and non functional for the best part. I used to live in Ghana for 11 years when I was a kid and one of the main differences I observed was in Europe or US, Canada etc. the streets had lights and you could tell from above where streets were and the buildings were dark patches between streets but once you crossed into Africa the situation had changed no more street lights just streets illuminated by headlights and buildings had lights on all sides. Granted this works for densely populated areas other places are different. But still you can probably pick out a building sooner than a street.

 

So I guess it all comes down to money and if it's cheaper to window dress a place or actually go to a place.

 

Let's be honest most of the time the place where something is taking place in a movie is not that important and it's used to convey some sort of information without having to actually say it. Like if it's a European setting with burned down and bombed buildings it's probably during or around a world war and if it's guys in suites with hats and machine guns it's probably a gangster movie set in Chicago. And this could go on and on.

But the trough is most of the time you could just substitute one place for another like rich guy living in a New York penthouse apartment would probably work just as fine in Seattle or even London or a dozen places like that.

 

Like I've said I have no problem with masquerading that's one of the fun parts but when it's done to a certain degree of attention and detail it looks awesome and probably serves the story just fine and nobody is the wiser but when it's done inarticulacy due to budget constraints or just the person tasked with the job just doesn't pay that much attention to detail I think that it might be easier to just tailor the story to the place where it's shot and it might not even matter.

 

Of course taking context into account like if I ware shooting a movie in Slovenia in staid of NYC the rich guy would not be living in a penthouse apartment because there are clearly non here but would live in an expensive looking house with expensive appropriate cars in front even though the dialog would still stay in English. Although I have seen movies where the language was English but it was shot somewhere else and it didn't feel right either but that's usually due to the people talking with not enough of a convincing accent to fool the viewer that they were native speakers. 

 

Thanks guys it's really nice hearing some other points of view and learning something more about the industry.

 

Best regards

Vital


Edited by Vital Butinar, 02 December 2018 - 06:27 AM.

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#13 Mark Dunn

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Posted 02 December 2018 - 07:41 AM

The daddy of them all is  Full Metal Jacket .. shot in the UK.. on actual locations.. if Newham Docks and the Norfolk boards.. with a few palm trees can get away with being steamy Vietnam .. anything is possible.. 

The Broads is a new one on me- makes sense, I didn't think even Kubrick could make Beckton gasworks look that green. I'd always assumed the Essex marshes.

Mind you, the road markings at Bassingbourn barracks give it away in a couple of Parris Island shots- they're on the "wrong" side for the US. I'm surprised he didn't have them blowtorched off and repainted, but perhaps he was used to them after 25 years in England. I can't offhand think of another mistake in a Kubrick picture.


Edited by Mark Dunn, 02 December 2018 - 07:42 AM.

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#14 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 02 December 2018 - 07:49 AM

The Broads is a new one on me- makes sense, I didn't think even Kubrick could make Beckton gasworks look that green. I'd always assumed the Essex marshes.

Mind you, the road markings at Bassingbourn barracks give it away in a couple of Parris Island shots- they're on the "wrong" side for the US. I'm surprised he didn't have them blowtorched off and repainted, but perhaps he was used to them after 25 years in England. I can't offhand think of another mistake in a Kubrick picture.

 

It is actually a pretty incredible feat when you thing about it.. main thing is ..if people start noticing wrong plug sockets then the film is just not a very good one.. or that viewer has an unhealthy interest in electrical outlets .. 


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#15 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 02 December 2018 - 09:22 AM

One thing about this is that it's not a cheap solution in any sense. We've had more than a couple of people here asking if London can double for New York, and I think at least one of them mentioned the Kubrick use of Hatton Garden that was referenced above. What's easy to overlook is the fact that dressing that London street to be any sort of reasonable stand in for Manhattan would have cost an absolute fortune. Closing down a London street like that would now (and probably would then) have cost five figures and taken several days. Any small production hoping to pull off the same trick could probably fly key people to New York and do it for real, for less. That example is about Kubrick being a bit mad, and doesn't have much to do with sensible filmmaking technique.

 

One particularly good example of the UK doubling the USA was the TV series Episodes, which I thought did a shockingly good job of depicting Los Angeles. Absolutely nowhere in the UK looks even the remotest, tiniest bit like absolutely anywhere in LA. Sensibly, they did blend in quite a bit of LA location work where it was really required. There were some minor problems - those little "fire door keep shut" signs in the blue circle that I don't think are part of American standard safety signage.

 

thirdlight_32536791933_4_3.jpg

 

...and they had scenes which were supposed to be on sound stages, which don't look the same, and there was way too much Arri lighting, and absolutely no Mole stuff, for what was supposed to be an American set. The ceeforms were a dead giveaway, but that's Robin's electrical outlet consideration at play. 


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#16 Richard Boddington

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Posted 07 December 2018 - 01:06 AM

Long gone are the days when only Hollywood could make and support a feature film.  Movies can be made in so many places now, many places that have excellent crews, far from the LA union bosses that will make life hell for any independent film producer.  The large studios have enough money to deal with the unions, independent film producers rarely do.

 

Even Toronto has now priced itself out of the market for many independent producers.  Active unions, and big budget American shows have pushed labour costs out of reach of many independent Canadian producers.  I have found that South Africa offers wonderful opportunities.  I have shot two feature films there, and I am planning a third.

 

They offer world class crews, all the equipment you could possibly need (my last show was all Panavision), fantastic weather 12 months of the year, no unions of any kind, a generous film incentive for international treaty co-pros, and an amazing exchange rate, 1USD = 14 Rand!!

Really it's tough to beat South Africa as a film location, they can do anything, and all for 1/10th the cost in Hollywood.

 

R,


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#17 Vital Butinar

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Posted 08 December 2018 - 07:39 AM

One thing about this is that it's not a cheap solution in any sense. We've had more than a couple of people here asking if London can double for New York, and I think at least one of them mentioned the Kubrick use of Hatton Garden that was referenced above. What's easy to overlook is the fact that dressing that London street to be any sort of reasonable stand in for Manhattan would have cost an absolute fortune. Closing down a London street like that would now (and probably would then) have cost five figures and taken several days. Any small production hoping to pull off the same trick could probably fly key people to New York and do it for real, for less. That example is about Kubrick being a bit mad, and doesn't have much to do with sensible filmmaking technique.

 

One particularly good example of the UK doubling the USA was the TV series Episodes, which I thought did a shockingly good job of depicting Los Angeles. Absolutely nowhere in the UK looks even the remotest, tiniest bit like absolutely anywhere in LA. Sensibly, they did blend in quite a bit of LA location work where it was really required. There were some minor problems - those little "fire door keep shut" signs in the blue circle that I don't think are part of American standard safety signage.

 

thirdlight_32536791933_4_3.jpg

 

...and they had scenes which were supposed to be on sound stages, which don't look the same, and there was way too much Arri lighting, and absolutely no Mole stuff, for what was supposed to be an American set. The ceeforms were a dead giveaway, but that's Robin's electrical outlet consideration at play. 

 

Yeah things like that are usually a dead give away but as long as it's only a detail like that and the rest of the production is done right I'm willing to bet that not a lot of people would pick up on anything.

 

Long gone are the days when only Hollywood could make and support a feature film.  Movies can be made in so many places now, many places that have excellent crews, far from the LA union bosses that will make life hell for any independent film producer.  The large studios have enough money to deal with the unions, independent film producers rarely do.

 

Even Toronto has now priced itself out of the market for many independent producers.  Active unions, and big budget American shows have pushed labour costs out of reach of many independent Canadian producers.  I have found that South Africa offers wonderful opportunities.  I have shot two feature films there, and I am planning a third.

 

They offer world class crews, all the equipment you could possibly need (my last show was all Panavision), fantastic weather 12 months of the year, no unions of any kind, a generous film incentive for international treaty co-pros, and an amazing exchange rate, 1USD = 14 Rand!!

Really it's tough to beat South Africa as a film location, they can do anything, and all for 1/10th the cost in Hollywood.

 

R,

 

I believe completely that there are crews around the world that can rival the production value of Hollywood.

 

For example just a couple of days ago I watched a movie from 2008 made in Germany. It was in English because I guess they wanted to appeal to a broader field of audience but they did not masquerade any place to try and look like the US or any place else. You could clearly see that the license plates were from Berlin and if you were a little more perceptive you could actually even tell where some of the shots were done (I have been to a very small par of Berlin only 3 times in my life for a duration of a weekend).

 

But here's the kicker the movie was done great, shots were good and everything except for the color grading of a few shots that were indicative of movies of that genre from that time period everything was done great and the movie was great to watch. The movie did not feature any A list actors from Hollywood.

 

On the other the three movies that I was referring to in my first post were all to a degree executed much more professionally as far as image quality goes but the fact that they tried to masquerade a place from Romania or Bulgaria to look like the US coupled with the added problem that some of the execution of the production was done poorly and both of those facts took away from the story making you ask yourself what's wrong and not enjoy the movie as opposed to the German movie that did no masquerading.

 

Like I said I have no desire to pass judgment and understand complacently that making a feature film of 120 minutes in length takes a lot of money, effort and time if you want it to look even remotely right and even if I compare how much effort goes into making something small like a music video that looks remotely like it was done by people how actually thought trough what they were doing and wanted to achieve something particular.

 

It's really interesting reading different points of view and information about how some stuff is.

 

Thanks guys for educating me.

 

Best regards 


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