Hollywood Goes to Cuba

On July 20, the Obama Administration restored diplomatic relations with communist Cuba, officially ending a Cold War era stalemate that the United States arguably gained very little from ending. But, as Americans begin to travel to the island nation, Hollywood is already cultivating roots.

Despite the country’s atrocious human rights record, and total censorship of expression and outside entertainment, Secretary of State John Kerry took an August 16 victory lap, by saying he felt “very much at home” in a country known for its oppressive policies.

Oppressive as they might be, Hollywood’s interest in filming in Cuba has piqued, and there is money to be made by American film and TV studios, who, after 54 years of being banned from entering the country, are taking advantage of the new opportunities.

In March, comedian Conan O’Brien filmed an entire episode of his show in Cuba, becoming the first American late-night show host to broadcast from the island since Jack Paar interviewed Fidel Castro at the Havana Hilton for “The Tonight Show” in 1959.

O’Brien and a team of writers, producers and other crew members flew into Havana with no plans for a show, and spent four days getting to know the people, culture, music, and of course, the authentic mojitos.

While Conan’s “let’s see what happens” itinerary was both groundbreaking and entertaining, other projects are much more methodical, and one TV producer hopes to establish a new filming community.

Deadline reports Stone Village TV announced Friday it will produce the series Cuba, which will be filmed on location in Havana and elsewhere on the island.

The show will “explore the relationship of a wealthy business family immersing itself in Cuban society and how the cultures clash, blend and ultimately learn from each other,” according to the industry site.

Producer Scott Steindorff created the series, and is currently securing additional partners, as he ties up loose ends behind the camera.

He told Deadline Friday, “I’m thrilled to explore a rich culture and a story of a father going home to his roots to teach his family about their heritage… I have had the opportunity to film in places like Brazil, Colombia and Las Vegas when no one from Hollywood was filming there…”

The producer also said he loves “the process of helping start new film communities.”

Location scouting and casting for Cuba will begin next month, with production set to start sometime this fall.

In March, Cuba announced it was welcoming a “U.S. filmmaker invasion,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.

“We just brought in Conan O’Brien,” Cuba Film Productions chief Michael Pacino told the site, while also announcing several other projects, including Cuban Chrome, a Discovery Channel series about the country’s appreciation classic American cars.

With more projects announced for Cuba, it might seem as though all is well, and Americans are free to roam the country with cameras, while taking in the rich culture.

That is true, aside from the many restrictions placed on filming by the Asociación Cubana del Audiovisual (ACAV), which is “dedicated to the development of the independent film industry in the Cuba.”

While the ACAV promises to assist in expediting permits that may be required for production, there are rules. Many, many rules.

The “General Requirements” for obtaining a filming permit are as follows:

A letter of intent with company information, along with a script, storyboard or synopsis of the project.

An estimated time period for your production in the Cuba.

An estimated budget and indication to the amount to be spent in the Cuba.

Permits will not be granted if the script content is detrimental to the image of the country and the people of the Cuba.

Permit requirements for filming only grow more complicated from there. Read them in full here.


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