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In Focus: Iceland Is Too Expensive For Hollywood

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In Focus: Iceland Is Too Expensive For Hollywood

Star Wars: A Rogue One scene filmed in Iceland

Star Wars: A Rogue One is among the many blockbuster Hollywood projects that were filmed in Iceland. Photo: From Star Wars: Rogue One

Icelandic landscape has become prominent in a lot of film blockbusters and television series. A key part of the nation’s recovery from the 2008 financial crisis was an influx of foreign investment, driven by a weaker currency. This made it possible for a lot of high profile Hollywood projects to be filmed in Iceland.

The country thus became a Hollywood hotspot, with black beaches and otherworldly, rocky and mossy landscape serving as the perfect locations for fantasy and science fiction films, to name a few examples.

Domestic companies such as True North and Pegasus have been at the forefront of aiding in all sort of filmmaking in the country, managing pickups, accommodations, food and so forth. After a few successful years, the Icelandic currency has become so strong that foreign film production has slowed down.

Production has scaled down
Leifur B. Dagfinnsson, a producer at True North, claims that Icelanders are already losing large projects due to an increase in price. He warns that if nothing were to be done, the government will have to look into supporting the Icelandic film industry more than ever before.

In an interview with Bylgjan, he claimed that film production has scaled down from weeks to a few days. “The big films used to be filmed here for a number of weeks or even months, but now they’re down to 2-5 days and they can’t afford more than that. It could be the accommodations, food and transportation. We know that cars and trucks are expensive in Iceland, and we need them to transport people to harsh locations.”

According to Leifur, food prices have become so expensive that film production staff complain they’re similar to classy New York restaurants.

Competing against other European countries has become tougher. “We’re competing against Ireland, which offers a 30% tax discount while ours has been 20%.” After said interview with Leifur, Iceland has raised its tax cut to 25%, though it simply doesn’t cut it according to Leifur in another interview with Morgunblaðið in September.

“We need to be at the same level as other countries. Already we’re seeing fewer projects on our hands. Earlier this year we’ve managed to film one Netflix series, while at the same time True North in Norway has 3-4 projects. The strengthening of our currency is having a deep impact on us.” What differentiates the film industry is the speed in which it delivers revenue to the economy. “I believe that one big film project delivers up to 10 billion krónas (nearly ten million US dollars) into the economy. Think of it as a Formula 1 race car that needs to be regularly serviced in a single race. This is money that comes immediately to the economy as opposed to other investments that take years to deliver.”

The years to come
Despite the higher price, Iceland’s image is still positive. “It’s a country with good access, decent food and more. But production teams find the price, especially the price of cars, to be way too high.” As an example, Luke Skywalker’s shocking appearance at the end of Star Wars: The Force Awakens might have taken place in Iceland, as opposed to Ireland, were it not for the high price.

Speaking of Star Wars, the lasting effect of film production can reach decades, as evidenced by Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, which was filmed partly in Norway four decades ago. “I just came from Norway, and people are still visiting certain locations there. In fact, we recently came across a young kid in the middle of the road in Iceland with his skateboard. He told us he was going to do the same thing Ben Stiller did when he travelled across the country while filming Walter Mitty here.” Although it isn’t always clear if films were filmed in Iceland, film stars such as Tom Cruise and Ben Stiller have been active in discussing their time filming in Iceland while on talk shows.

Snorri Þórisson, president of Pegasus agrees that a stronger currency has reduced the number of foreign film projects in Iceland. “What helps us is that we have more projects during winter, then it’s more comfortable working on them. The hotels aren’t as busy.”

Icelandic film director Baltasar Kormákur, known for his films 2 Guns, Everest and A Little Trip to Heaven, wishes to produce more content at home. Asked by Vísir about the declining number of foreign film projects in Iceland, Baltasar agrees that the currency is mainly to blame. The projects come and go like a wave, and though things are looking down now they are sure to go up sooner rather than later.

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