Film Friendly Mexico / Production / Filming guide / Take 2: Scouting Locations in Mexico

Take 2: Scouting Locations in Mexico

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Location scouting in Mexico is just like in any other country, but we have the added value that very different environments for all production needs can be found in the same country.

The choice of location will depend not only on having found suitable places from the purely visual point of view, but also on verifying that the area has the infrastructure of essential services for the production. Once the most important locations have been chosen, the task will be to find the rest within a reasonable perimeter, in relation to the times and distances optimization. To avoid investing excessive time and resources in your location scouting Film-Friendly Mexico recommends you the following:

  • Engage the services of a Mexican production company or a Mexican production manager. They will do the research and will send you information and images of all possible locations, depending on the specific needs of your project. The more visual reference material you can send to your local producer the better results you will get in your initial search. In Mexico we have producers with wide experience in foreign productions.

  • To prepare an information kit about the production. Very often, during your location search different agencies, government institutions and members of the location's community will request you to provide printed material with information about your project: synopsis, work plan, setting sketches or storyboards of scenes. This will be useful not only to request permissions to use the locations but also to explain the specific actions that the shoot will demand at the site. Having copies of the information kit in hand will save a lot of time and will make the whole process more fluid.

  • Request specific information about the types of locations that you are interested in and let your associates in Mexico obtain it and, simultaneously, provide detailed information about your equipment, infrastructure and staffing needs. Request your local associates to collect all economic information and financial estimations related to every specific location so it can be reflected in your below the line budget of production expenses in Mexico.

  • Inspect the locations yourself, or send your location manager, or art director to examine the proposed sites. In this case, work permits are not necessary, tourist visas or cards are sufficient for this initial exploration stage.

  • Establish contact with a person from the area of each chosen location. Thanks to the knowledge of your location contact about the region and its people you will be able to organize pre-production details with fluidity and efficiency. Through COMEFILM you can establish contact with state film commissions.

Since in our country distances and transfer times related to existing routes of communication of the area are factors to be considered, the best way of initiating the location scouting process will be to plan a route or itinerary together with your producer in Mexico.

Relations with the Community and Neighbors

It is a fact that filming any audiovisual project on location is an event in itself for the location's community, but even though it receives direct benefits from the production, it is also affected by the presence and movement of the crew. Film-Friendly Mexico recommends the following:

  • From day one of the location scouting process it is advisable to establish contact with businessmen, merchants, local representatives and local community leaders in order to encourage a healthy relation that may in turn translate in the securing of support and ease of access. The information that you share with the community on the benefits derived from your economic activity in the area, like tourism promotion and employment opportunities, will boost their interest to collaborate with you.

  • Moderate your promises and pay special attention to the issue of working hours, especially when shooting away from cities where location shooting is seen as a routine activity. Mexicans are friendly and hospitable people, as long as they do not feel they are being deceived.

  • Once the definitive locations have been chosen, do not forget to communicate with the contacts established at locations that have been discarded to let them know that the project will not be filmed there. To leave the communities uninformed on any decision taken by the production provokes annoyance and disappointment, which may in turn have negative repercussions in the attitude towards those who come later with new projects. Leave the doors open, you never know when you will need to return to these locations.

  • If you wish to shoot on private property a locations agreement should be signed with the owner or manager of the property ceding all rights of the property shot to the production company. If the property is rented or mortgaged, the producer must have a written permission of the owner or mortgage holder in order to shoot. It is advisable to confirm with neighbors and land ownership or municipal authorities that the person you are dealing with is in fact the owner or holder of the building or land in question. In urban areas, this can be verified at the Public Property Registry.

  • It is very important to inform your location's contacts on the needs and the dynamics required for the production, as the times and rhythms of work of an audiovisual production have nothing to do with local everyday life, which may be significantly altered, and sometimes it can be a point of conflict with the community.

  • Maintain communication with the community, the COMEFILM and the states film office (if filming outside of Mexico City) during the production process, especially when the production plans to shoot scenes involving explosions, pursuits, shootings and action sequences that imply special attention and care.

Special Considerations for Filming on Location

  • In Mexico City (Federal District): the Federal District is divided into political delegations. To film in public spaces in the capital city you need to request a permit through the Mexico City Film Commission. Your Mexican production manager will manage the administrative process for your company.

    In Mexico City, the Secretariat of Public Safety of the Federal District provides support to production companies shooting on location taking all the necessary measures to avoid disruption of day to day activity. All location shooting permits in Mexico City must be submitted by means of a written request. To obtain on-site support of police officers and patrol cars during the filming it must be requested at least with a week in advance. Your Mexican production manager will oversee the permit issuance process with the support of the Mexico City Film Commission

  • In the States: the state highways, roads and streets are under the jurisdiction of the state and municipal governments. In this case, the permissions for location filming must be requested by your production manager through the municipal authorities, with the assistance of COMEFILM and the states film commission office. If you need to shoot on highways and roads of federal jurisdiction, your production manager must request a written permission from the Federal Highway Police to block or detour roads, as well as to cover or temporarily retire any road sign. The Federal Highway Police may also be able to provide with personnel support and patrol cars during the shoot.

All over the country and especially in Mexico City there are companies that rent airplanes and helicopters of different types. However, it is advisable to approach pilots and companies with experience in aerial filming. In Mexico City you will find companies that rent equipment with all the different camera mounts for this sort of filming.

If you are planning aerial filming or location shooting in airports in the country, Film-Friendly Mexico recommends you take note of the following considerations:

  • In general no permit is necessary for aerial filming in rural areas. However please verify this with the aeronautical authorities as there may be airspace security issues.

  • In urban areas, airspace regulations prohibits flight over these populated areas below 2,000 feet. Should your production require landing in public places, it is necessary to have your local production manager obtain a permit from aeronautical authorities.

  • There are also restrictions that apply to areas close to refineries and gasoline and fuel deposits as well as for limits on the distance which can be flown out over the sea, depending on the type of helicopter or aircraft used.

  • The flight range for helicopters that are normally used for the filming is two to three hours, depending on the type of helicopter and the altitude above sea level where scene is filmed.

  • The minimum altitude that any type of aircraft is permitted to fly at is 1,640 feet above ground level. It is possible to fly below this level with the authorization of the local airport authority. Landing within the site limits of historical and archeological sites is prohibited.

  • Any airship to be airborne for aerial filming must have a flight plan. When the aircraft takes off, the whole national civil aviation network is informed about its route, type of airship and number of passengers, among other data.

  • If you need to film in any airport in the Mexican Republic your production manager must first obtain a permit from country authority, Airports and Auxiliary Services (ASA). For personnel and shooting equipment to have access to the location, the airport manager must be notified well in advance, as this officer will determine the activity schedule depending on air traffic conditions, and provide notification to the control tower and air traffic services involved.

For further information on aerial filming or airport location shooting we suggest you to contact COMEFILM first for counseling and contact with the appropriate authorities.

If you are planning to do sea and/or underwater filming in the country, Film-Friendly Mexico recommends you take note of the following considerations:

  • Mexico's beaches and coastlines are under the jurisdiction of the Navy Secretariat (SM). For filming at sea permits, simultaneous notification is required by both the Port Authority and Military Naval Zones. The former depends directly from the Communications and Transport Secretariat (SCT) and it deals with anything related to navigation, the transportation of personnel and equipment in their jurisdictions and the use of beaches as locations. Which are also considered as Maritime Federal Zone.

  • It is responsibility of the Port Authority to issue navigation permits and sea charts/maritime charts for the crew boarding any given vessels.

  • A special permit is needed for staging explosions or building sets on beaches. Communication with all location authorities and the community is of critical importance so they are all informed of activities taking place during the location shoot.

  • For filming in seaports, a permit from the Communications and Transport Secretariat (SCT) is necessary. A permit must also be requested from the local port authority. A shooting schedule and lists of personnel and equipment involved in the shoot must also be submitted.

  • All activities that involve sea bound vessels of any kind must be coordinated and programmed with the local port authority, who reports to the SCT.

These locations demand special preparation by experts. In case of underwater filming, tides are of fundamental importance. Visibility and transparency are best, immediately after high tide, when the coasts are bathed with clean new water. It is essential to take this factor into consideration for diving plans, since tidal movement in certain places creates strong currents which sometimes make diving or necessary maneuvers impossible.

If you are planning to shoot at sea or underwater it is important to contact COMEFILM first for counseling and they in turn will connect you with the appropriate authorities or agencies, such as the Mexican Federation of Underwater Activities. COMEFILM will work with your production manager, the state film commission and pertinent authorities to assist you in every aspect of your production.