With the rebirth of Virgin Islands flora and fauna and repairs to damaged infrastructure underway after hurricanes Irma and Maria in September, the Department of Tourism is actively soliciting film and commercial producers to bring their business to the territory.
“Our challenge is that we had two major Cat 5 storms but we’re open for business,” Luana Wheatley, director of DOT’s film office, told the Source. “Some locations may be a little bruised.”
Filmmakers look to the Caribbean for locations such as cobblestone streets, yachts and beaches to shoot models in swimsuits. They also favor the charming historic buildings, quaint churches and colonial sites found in the territory.
And, the warm waters of the Caribbean are important for directors and their actors who spend time in the water while filming.
Over the years, Virgin Islands locations have been substituted for the Africa savannah, the Greek islands, Afghanistan, Key West, Florida and Mexico, according to Wheatley. Producers love our long, winding roads and search for “uninterrupted horizon,” she said.
To remind the film industry of the Virgin Island attributes, the DOT will advertise in trade magazines and publications that cater to producers, directors and filmmakers over the next few months. Wheatley and DOT staff will attend industry events and speak to advertising clubs about the benefits of filming in the territory.
“We’ll just get in front of a lot of people,” Wheatley said.
In January, Deadline Hollywood/Deadline.com published an article featuring the territory’s filmmaking readiness and Wheatley. The story described the impact of the hurricanes, recovery efforts and touted “the islands’ stunning locations.”
Incentives, tax breaks and cash rebates will be used to entice the film industry to the territory. Since the enactment and revision of the STARS Act in 2011 and 2015, companies can realize as much as $2.5 million in rebates based on what they spend. Virgin Islands residents who work on projects receive tax credits and hotels pay lower occupancy taxes, based on the number of rooms booked and the duration of the stay.
The V.I. Economic Development Authority manages the STARS program.
DOT is not wasting time. Meetings are underway with a film company that may set up in the territory soon to film a watercraft commercial. Wheatley didn’t name the interested party, only saying, “it seems to be a big firm.”
“Commercials really are the bread and butter of the industry here,” Wheatley said.
According to Wheatley, her department was created in the 1970’s by Gov. Cyril King after the movie “The Island of Dr. Moreau” was filmed on St. Croix, reportedly at Davis Bay. She said King insisted on meeting the bear featured in the film and he created the film office shortly after.
Over the years, more than a dozen well known films have been shot, at least partially, in the territory. “Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” are two recent blockbusters, filmed on St. Thomas and the iconic “Four Seasons” was filmed in the waters around St. John in 1981. In 1994 Sandy Point on St. Croix doubled for a Mexican Beach in the final scene of the “Shawshank Redemption.”
Television shows filmed in the territory include CBS’s “The Amazing Race;” Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmerman;” ABC’s “The Bachelor;” and PBS’s “Weekend Explorer,” along with commercials for Nordstrom, Seagram, Princess Cruises and Pottery Barn Kids.
According to Wheatley, the Travel Channel hired about 30 people in the territory to help produce the promotional films last year.
DOT will look for similar events as well as to continue cable HGTV real estate and reality shows.
A focus on streaming services, such as Hulu and Netflix, which are increasingly producing original shows, will occupy the DOT in 2018. There is also a rumor of a remake of “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” and Wheatley said she will encourage filming the movie in the Virgin Islands.