Cuba Film & Photography Production Services & Camera Crews
Are you a media company, brand, ad agency or production company looking for film / photography production support or shooting crew in Cuba? Contact us for trusted fixers, producers, directors, DoPs, videographers, photographers, and full shooting crews tailored for the specific needs of your project.
Filming in Cuba
For an introduction to shooting in Cuba see below notes on film locations, permits, when to shoot, unique local stories, costs, tax incentives, crews, talent, equipment, communications, art department, studios, post facilities, visas and work permits for filming, transport, film-friendly accommodation, and safety advice.
Cuba Film Locations
Cuba’s rich cultural and architectural heritage, pristine beaches, verdant hills, lush rainforests, and rural locations have seen visiting productions choosing Cuba since the earliest days of filming.
Pre-revolution, Cuba hosted films including Our Man in Havana. Since the revolution, talented international and local directors shot films such as Buena Vista Social Club and Strawberry and Chocolate. US recently filmed in Cuba include The Fate of the Furious, and Transformers: The Last Knight.
Film locations can be divided into the following regions:
Dilapidation and debauchery… Famed for its run-down colonial looks, Havana is one of the most vibrant and visually arresting cities in the world.
Perhaps one of Havana’s best locations is the Malecon, an esplanade stretching along the Havana coast where you can stop to watch 1950′s American Buicks and old Soviet Ladas racing by, or listen to a local musician practice their art.
Havana offers many unique locations.
Colonial locations of note include the Capitolio Nacional, Neo-classical Hotel Inglaterra, Havana Stock Exchange, Great Theatre of Havana, Fine Arts Museum, Revolution Museum, University of Havana, crumbling mansions, and beautiful town squares such as Plaza de la Catedral and Plaza de Armas.
1950’s American gangster era buildings of interest include the Melia Cohiba, Hotel Riviera, Habana Libre, and Fosca building.
Post-Revolution locations of interest include Revolution Square and the National Theater of Cuba.
As well as unique locations Cuba also attracts many productions that double Cuba for a range of international looks. Havana has an interesting Chinatown and a new Russian Orthodox Cathedral.
Within an hour’s drive of Havana you can find tropical forests, rivers, rural roads, plantations, and white-sand beaches with turquoise water such as can be found at Playa del Este, a 30min drive from Havana.
Outside of Havana, the Pinar del Rio region is home to Viñales with its lush green tobacco fields, limestone cliffs and caves. Viñales looks like it could be the north of Thailand. Pinar del Rio national parks of note include Punta Frances Marine National Park, Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra del Rosario, and Parque Nacional La Güira. Isla de la Juventud is a less explored film location and home to the abandoned Presidio Modelo prison. The historical Bay of Pigs is also located in western Cuba.
Trinidad is an old Spanish-colonial city with a large Afro-Caribbean community. Playa Ancon is nearby paradise beach. Outside of Trinidad, Topes de Collantes is a nature reserve park in the Escambray Mountains. Cienfuegos is a French-colonial city with beautiful architecture in Parque Jose Marti. Heading north, Cayo Coco is a tropical island with white-sand beaches and coral reefs. National parks of note in central Cuba include Caguanes National Park, and Parque Nacional de Cayo Guillermo.
Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city. El Tivoli is the city’s old French quarter. Holguín is known for its plazas, churches, colonial architecture, and beautiful beaches such as Playa Esmeralda and Playa Yuraguanal. Baracoa is a charming old city. Guantánamo is also located in eastern Cuba.
Throughout the country, Cuba also offers many agricultural looks such as coffee, cocoa, sugarcane and tobacco plantations.
Cuba Film Location Permits
Cuba film location permits can only be obtained through a state approved production company. Firstly, the project needs to be authorised to film. Permission to film projects of a politically sensitive nature is generally not granted. Once the project is approved, general film permits for guerrilla style shoots take about two weeks to process. Depending on your locations, separate permits may be required from different government departments, which will affect permitting times. Larger shoots involving road closures, pyrotechnics or traffic control usually take up to three weeks to permit. Allow extra lead time for permitting locations outside of Havana. Please note, if you try to film without appropriate permits you may be arrested and have your gear seized. Productions with a light footprint can try to film as tourists but you run the risk. Please contact us for location specific information.
Aerial Filming. At present there are no commercial helicopters in Cuba. The closest option are in South Florida, The Bahamas or Grand Cayman. Helicopters coming from the US need to have a US Commerce License to fly to Cuba. There are only a few that have this. As such, this approach for aerial filming is quite expensive. The turn-around time for Cuban FAA and Military clearances of flight path is 30-days. Drone filming is a far less expensive approach for aerial shoots. Temporary import of drones is currently illegal to import. That said, there is a Phantom 3 and the Inspire drone currently in Cuba available for filming.
When To Shoot?
The Cuban climate is mild and sub-topical with cool trade winds that temper the heat and humidity. The rainy season is from May to October. May and June are the wettest months whilst August and October is the hurricane season. November to April is the dry season marked by sunshine and puffy white clouds. This is the best time for Northern Hemisphere clients to film summer looks. For monthly weather statistics please see here.
For filmmakers looking for interesting events the Havana Jazz Festival takes place in February and Havana Carnaval takes place in July.
Public holidays may affect timing, availability and costs. See here for public holiday dates in Cuba.
Unique Local Stories
Brands are looking for local stories that match their brand narrative. Our local teams are a great lead for sourcing those unique stories and characters.
If you are looking for stories for your next shoot, send us your brief and we will pitch you ideas.
If you have a unique story you would like to pitch to a brand anywhere in the world, pitch us your idea. We have well-established processes to ensure that your ideas are properly seen and protected.
Costs & Tax Incentives
Costs. Cuba is generally a cost competitive place to shoot. Depending on the shoot some key crew and equipment may need to be brought in, which will add to those costs. Our Cuban fixer / service producer will negotiate local deals and provide the appropriate level of production support to match every budget. As far as payment is concerned, most local service companies will have foreign bank accounts. Many visiting crews bring in cash. Up to US$5000 can be brought in undeclared.
Tax Incentives. There are no tax incentives for foreign commercials or films shooting in Cuba.
Film Crew & Talent
Crews. Cuba has a small pool of local directors, directors of photography and stills photographers suitable for smaller projects such as b-roll work.
Most key crew such as 1st ADs, grips, gaffers, camera department work at European standards, speak good English and do not need to be brought in from abroad. Depending on the project critical key crew may need to be brought in, such as stylists for a fashion photo shoot. It’s estimated the current depth of Cuban crews can handle around 3 large shoots.
Contact us if you are looking for a Havana based director, DP, photographer, videographer (cameraman / camera operator), camera assistant (focus puller), sound operator, grip, gaffer, stylist, hair and makeup, PA / runner, production driver, or any other film crew in Cuba.
Talent day rates and buyouts are negotiable. No dedicated casting agencies. A local casting director covers this. Cuba has some of the most beautiful people in the world with a strong selection of International-Latin, African and Caucasian looks. Some Chinese looks also exist. All other talent such as Nordic or Indian looks are best cast abroad. Unfortunately, most talent does not speak English. Cuba also has shortage of high-end models.
Cuba Film Equipment
Equipment. Cuba has all of the standard equipment available locally including Alexas, Red Epic, grip and lighting packages. At present there are 2 local equipment houses. More specialised equipment can be easily brought in from Mexico or Europe.
Cuba is not an ATA carnet country. Our local producer deals with all customs clearance including arranging a government customs liaison to meet you at the airport. Temporary import of equipment documentation usually takes about a week to organise.
Light footprint productions bringing in small handheld equipment might be able to get away with coming in as tourists, but there is always the risk of customs seizing your gear.
Communication. Internet is available in hotels but connection speeds are still very slow. Special fast internet access can be arranged by local producers for the purposes of web posted casting and scouting. Internet and international phone calls in Cuba are very expensive. 4G mobile internet is available as of 2019.
Communication is key. Our agility and global experience allows us to customise the right communications systems for every shoot.
Web posted casting, scouting, and videoconferencing.
For clients that are unable to attend set we offer a virtual video village solution. This dedicated and secure high-resolution video streaming platform allows clients from one or multiple timezones to view setups without compromise and to participate in real-time with the team on set. Separate systems can be set up for the discrete conversations that are required to make a job run right. Working remotely with our local teams reduces your content production costs, turnaround times, carbon footprint, and risks associated with unpredictable global events.
Art Department, Studios, Backlots, & Post Production
Art department is strong for local looks such as 1950’s Buicks. More modern looking props, dressing and wardrobe will need to be brought in from abroad. Set construction crews are hard working and talented.
Studios and backlots. Local TV has some basic studios. No dedicated film backlots at present.
Visas & Work Permits
Entry is subject to regulations from country of origin. Work permits are required for visiting crew.
The process for permission to film from the Cuban side remains somewhat opaque.
If the project is not of a political nature, such as a TV commercial or travel show, the process is generally quick and easy. Our local state approved producer will require project information, flight details and a photocopy of your passport information page. They will lodge your application inside Cuba and the work permit approval will be handed to immigration officials awaiting your arrival. The process usually only takes a few days.
If you are planning to shoot a film or documentary of a politically sensitive nature, work permits can take months to process and are often rejected altogether.
Note, if you try to enter Cuba as a tourist and are bringing apple boxes full of film gear, you will most likely be refused entry.
The laws from the US side regarding General Licences and Special Licences have changed. Professional media or artistic productions, including the filming or production of non-journalistic projects such as music videos or commercials, are now fully legal under US law.
Crew intending to enter as tourists need to obtain a visa before travel or a tourist card from one of the Cuban diplomatic missions, travel agencies or authorized airlines, unless they come from one of the visa exempt countries. A tourist card grants a maximum stay of 30 days (90 days for Canadian citizens).
Transport & Accommodation
Transportation Infrastructure. Main roads are up to international standards and once on the highways the lack of cars means traffic moves quickly. Several international airlines service flights to Cuba. Direct commercial flights from the US to Cuba are now available.
Accommodation. Top hotels in Cuba are not quite up to the standard the average client or director might expect.
Our favourite place to stay in Havana is La Rosa de Ortega B&B. This grand old home, located in the once affluent neighbourhood of Vibora, offers a calm, friendly environment to base your team after a day of hectic Havana. Tell Julia you’re an Emerge Film Solutions client for a 10% discount or a special package rate if you’re planning to stay many days.
If you have a larger team and are looking to stay more centrally, some of the better known Havana hotels include:
Safety. Cuba is a very safe place for foreign productions to visit. See here for up to date travel advice.
Down Time. The unique culture and vibrant nightlife makes Cuba a country that clients love to return to.
Projects. For an example of TV commercials, stills campaigns, online content, corporate videos, virtual reality 360 content, feature films, TV series and documentaries shot in Cuba, please see below:
Hire Cuba Production Support & Shooting Crew
When choosing a service company there are several additional factors you will need to consider: What service company’s overseas bank account will it be easier to send payment to? Would my project be better off with a governmental service company or a non-governmental service company? What company is going to accept liability?
If you are looking for a film or photographic production service company, line producer or fixer for your shoot in Cuba, please contact us.
If you are looking for a shooting crew for your shoot in Cuba, such as a director, DoP, photographer, videographer (cameraman / camera operator), camera assistant (focus puller), sound operator, grip, gaffer, stylist, hair and makeup, PA / runner, production driver, please contact us.
We are able to provide you with answers, references and bids quickly.