Need an Out of This World Location? Shoot in Iceland (and Get 20% Back)
Director Ridley Scott and actress Noomi Rapace on location in Iceland during the filming of Prometheus [photo credit: Kerry Brown/20th Century Fox]
Prometheus was shot there, as was the current season of Game of Thrones. And word came recently that the 2nd unit on the sequel to J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot, headed by ILM visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett, will begin shooting visual effects shots there shortly. Why is Iceland suddenly such a popular location? It might have something to do with the sheer natural beauty of the place. Or it may also be the very attractive 20% production credit that's now officially on the books.
Iceland is a draw for sci-fi and fantasy tentpoles for many reasons, starting with its sparsely populated, isolated vastness and range of volcanic and glacier-scarred landscapes that read lunar and otherworldly in all of their extremes. But it is also the light, unique at that top edge of the world (yet still under a six-hour flight from New York). In winter, when the sun rises for mere hours, you don't have much time to get it right, but when you do, it's magic. "The days are short but the light is beautiful for that whole period," said Game of Thrones director and executive producer Alan Taylor in a behind-the-scenes vlog for HBO shot on location this past winter. In summer, well, the sun hardly sets at all, giving you time to shoot any number of daylight scenarios, or day for night, if that's what you need.
Several years ago, Iceland's government reimbursed 12% of production costs on any film or television project that chose to shoot there. That legislation, in effect from 2001-2006, aimed "to enhance domestic culture and promote the history and nature of Iceland." Then came the country's banking collapse. As a result of the financial crisis here in the U.S., Iceland tumbled into a deep financial morass of its own. The value of its banks had ballooned to ten times the size of its economy, and when Lehman Brothers went down, so did the entire Icelandic banking system. The country's currency crashed and its economy subsequently tanked. (Icelandic citizens, being a relatively small but united group, are still angry and in the process of trying—and successfully convicting—the government leaders in control during that bubble and its aftermath. And though they are members of the European Economic Area, they are not yet part of the EU.) Tourism has been the primary IV, so it's no wonder the Icelandic government quickly turned that 12% refund into a hearty 20%. They need the very best storytellers to help them spread the word.
A lot of other big films have been shot in Iceland in the past ten years, including Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers and Die Another Day. But plenty of commercials, music videos and reality and travel shows have been made there recently, thanks in big part to the steadily increasing refund incentive. It was well known in the past that Iceland was expensive for travelers of any kind, and even that changed after the financial crisis. When I was in Iceland with my family on vacation two years ago, the cast and crew from ABC's The Bachelorette were camped out at our hotel in Reykjavik, the capital. The 1st AD was tight lipped when asked what they were filming ("Oh, nothing you've seen; it's just a pilot"), but our tour guide matter-of-factly told us the next day (seems most of Iceland had already read it in the papers). I wasn't that surprised to see them there, actually. A friend in production had shot in Iceland a few years before and suggested the hotel to us. It seemed a likely destination for crews large and small. Our guide, surely bragging a little bit at this point, also told us that Iceland is like a second home to Viggo Mortensen, who you'd think first set foot on the remote island during a film shoot. In fact, he came for a vacation with his son. If you don't believe me, listen to what the national campaign "Inspired by Iceland" got when they asked him to go on the record about it:
For more details about incentives and cooperative European Council grants that apply to productions shot in Iceland, check out the Film in Iceland pages here.