In L.A., trying to woo film business from L.A.

Standing next to a large flat-screen TV showing an image of a toucan, Claudia Trujillo was doing her best sales pitch, rattling off all the reasons to consider Costa Rica a prime film location.

Costa Rica doesn't have a film incentive, she explained, but it does have something else of value.

"We have one of the most beautiful countries," said Trujillo, an executive with Costa Rica's investment promotion agency. "In one place, you can shoot waterfalls, rain forests, beaches. We have 5% of the world's biodiversity."

Costa Rica, which has hosted such movies as "Jurassic Park," "Congo" and the recently released "After Earth," was the latest of dozens of countries to participate in the annual Locations Show, held at the Los Angeles Convention Center last week by the Assn. of Film Commissioners International.

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Since its debut nearly three decades ago, the expo has grown into the largest of its kind, an L.A.-based event that is also a stark reminder of the rising competition the region faces to keep its home-grown industry from leaving the state.

This year's three-day event drew more than 100 film commissions, including those from Shreveport, La., and Seoul. Although traffic was down from last year, organizers said the show drew an estimated 2,060 location scouts, producers, studio executives and others searching for the best locations and tax breaks for their projects.

"You have to know what they are, who offers the best ones and which ones will last," said Richard Middleton, an executive producer of the Oscar-winning "The Artist" and "Hitchcock," both of which filmed in L.A.

These days, Middleton is mostly scouting for movies that will shoot outside California. On Friday, he visited the Costa Rica, Panama and Puerto Rico booths, all possible locations for his next movie, a Warner Bros. project to be directed by Sean Penn. "I always learn new information that I didn't know before," he added.

Association Executive Director Kevin Clark added that filmmakers still need a central place to meet film commissioners in person and keep up with changes in government film programs.

"There's a multitude of information available online, but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, you really need to have that face-to-face meeting with the people who manage the incentives," Clark said.

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Azania Muendane, head of marketing for South Africa's film office, headed a large delegation at the expo that included film commissions from South Africa's four regions. South Africa offers a rebate of up to 35% to filmmakers and has drawn some high-profile movies, including last year's "Safe House," a thriller starring Denzel Washington.

"We've been coming here for seven to eight years," Muendane said. "As much as it is a schlep to get to South Africa from L.A., once you get here it has everything you want in terms of crews, facilities, postproduction credit and great locations. South Africa is a miracle place to be."

At the Britain booth, Samantha Perahia, senior production executive with the British Film Commission, was touting a new credit for television production and animation.

Even though Britain already attracts plenty of Hollywood business, Perahia said it's important to have a presence.

"Every major country has a film incentive," Perahia said. "We need to make sure that we remain at the forefront of people's minds when it comes to producing high-end film and TV."

Along with the usual attendees from big film states such as Louisiana, Georgia, New York and North Carolina, the expo attracted some new players.

Among them was Nevada, which last month enacted a 19% film tax credit.

"As the next state over from California, Nevada was missing out because we didn't have an incentive," said Chris Baum, president of Reno Tahoe Studios. He was joined by representatives of the Wynn Las Vegas, which was touting its resort as a film location.

"We knew that if we could get in the middle of the pack in terms of incentives we'd be able to compete for production," Baum said.

California also had a sizable contingent at the conference, with commissions from Fillmore, Kern County and Huntington Beach staffing booths.

"I always feel it's important that California has a presence here," said Amy Lemisch, executive director of the California Film Commission, which had its own booth. "It does demonstrate how widespread the competition is and the high stakes in drawing production to other regions outside of California."


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