The DR: Lights… Camera… Action!

Filmmaking is now a major industry in the DR

Filmmaking is now a major industry in the DR

If you’ve seen the latest Jennifer Lopez and Sandra Bullock movies, you’ve been looking at the Dominican Republic, now one of the world’s hottest locations for filming, thanks to generous new tax breaks.

Since 2018, the Dominican government has boosted incentives for film projects in the country, ushering in a rush of new productions including the upcoming action movie remake “Road House” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and the much-awaited bio-drama “Nyad” starring Annette Bening and Jodie Foster.

Many of the movies use the country’s state-of-the-art facilities opened in 2014 in a joint venture with the UK’s Pinewood Studios, known for James Bond and Harry Potter films. The Dominican complex hosts the only horizon water tank in the Americas, an enormous above-ground pool set next to the sea where “through the lens, it looks like you’re right in the middle of the ocean,” says Maria Valentina Avellaneda, marketing manager at Lantica Media, which runs Pinewood DR Studios. Filming in the tank is easier than in open sea because of machines to control waves, storms, and other conditions in water that’s not salty.

The Dominican Republic long has welcomed film productions, with Santo Domingo’s Spanish colonial zone sometimes standing in for Cuba, as in “The Godfather II” released in 1974 and “Havana” in 1990. (Communist-led Cuba is largely off-limits for U.S. filming because of the U.S. embargo on the island.)

But production really took off after the Dominican government passed an incentives law in 2010 that basically offers a 25 percent rebate on most filming expenses. The law helped motivate the nation’s Vicini Group, which made its fortune in sugar, to partner with Pinewood and invest more than $50 million to build Pinewood DR Studios on 43-acres of its land in Juan Dolio, about 40 miles east of Santo Domingo. Besides the horizon water tank, the complex now hosts three sound stages, with a fourth planned. Jennifer Lopez worked on “Shotgun Wedding” there.

“The plan is to host a film industry hub and later an entire city on the lands around Pinewood DR Studios,” says Avellaneda, envisioning workshops, residences and other facilities for crews and families.


The initial film incentives law catapulted the number of film pro- ductions in the country in the 2010s to 195, about twice the number produced in the century before. The tally exploded in the 2020s, with added incentives and a speedy re-opening after COVID. More than 100 productions were filmed in the Dominican Republic in 2021 alone, with their spending topping $260 million, industry reports show.

“We were the first film destination to open after COVID, and we proved you can make a production safely and affordably here. It’s been a snowball of growth since, with not just more films, but bigger ones,” says Avellaneda. She estimates the “The Lost City of D” with Sandra Bullock had a $60 million-plus budget and used 600 local crew and 200 crew from the UK and US. 

While most productions come from overseas – even filming of a version of reality TV show “Survivor” for Turkey – there’s been a boom in home-grown movies too. The incentives law offers the 25 percent tax credit when foreign groups work through a local production company. That’s encouraged locals to enter the industry, with many universities adding film studies to meet rising demand.

Elsa Turull was among the first to seize the production opportunities. A decade ago, she created Larimar Films, named for the semi-precious stone native to the Dominican Republic that has a light-blue color like the Caribbean Sea. She got help through a Dominican friend in Hollywood, California.

Besides assisting foreign productions, Larimar Films now has made several movies of its own, including “Quien Manda?,” a comedy about an independent woman, and “En Tu Piel,” a drama about infidelity (available on Amazon Prime). Dominican films now show in such festivals as Cannes and Venice, she says.


Turull cites five reasons – beyond tax breaks – as to why her country is ideal for filming. The first is location, being two hours by jet from Miami and 3.5 hours from New York. Second is the diversity of locales near one another – beaches, deserts, the Spanish colonial zone, mountains, factories, and more. “You can drive two or three hours between locations, not seven as in some countries. And that makes for big savings,” she says. 

Tourism and connectivity also help. With ample hotels nationwide, crews can readily find lodging near film locations. Actors and crews can easily fly in and out, with its abundant flights for tourists, says Turull. Plus, costs are cheaper than Hollywood, even as local crews earn good wages by Dominican standards.

Still, there are challenges to growth. The government tackled a key stumbling block in 2018 by slashing the withholding tax on pay to non-residents, down from 27 percent to 1.5 percent. That’s helped draw Hollywood stars who earn mega-salaries like J.Lo. There’s also a need to train more local talent. Salaries are rising because of limited supply, shrinking cost savings compared to such rivals as Atlanta, Toronto, and Colombia, says engineer Antonio Alma, Turull’s husband who recently left a corporate job for film.

Meanwhile, look out for the upcoming adventure movie “Arthur the King,” starring Mark Wahlberg, filmed partly in Santo Domingo’s colonial zone.

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