It is where the jubilation and colour of Carnival dazzle the world, from where the tantalizing rhythm of sweet Soca music hails, and where the fine sound of steel-pan – the only acoustic musical instrument to be created in the 20th century – had its birth. This place of endless creativity is Trinidad and Tobago and these are but three hallmarks that attest to the creative spirit infused into this twin island republic that lies to the south of the Caribbean archipelago. The many achievements of its sons and daughters throughout its young history – from the literary works of world renowned Nobel Prize winner, Sir Vidia Naipaul to the magnificent costume creations of legendary “mas-man” designer Peter Minshall, has enshrined this tiny nation of 1.3 million people as a country with immense creative capital. It comes as no surprise that in its strategy to diversify its economy away from oil dependence, to one that adds value to its other endemic resources, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago identified this vast resource of creativity as one of the country’s key areas of focus for development and expansion.
It is well known that because of its very nature the creative industries reflect the cultural capital intrinsic to a country and as such vary from country to country. Though its political independence has been enjoyed for little more than half a century, this tropical jewel boasts a rich cultural heritage that is fashioned not only from its forefathers who hailed from Europe, Africa, India and China, but also through its continued inclusion of world cultures of those who are still drawn to its shores and who make it their home. The result is a uniquely blended bastion from which the creative industries draw their essence. Through fashion, film, performing arts, music and fine arts, this cultural fusion that characterizes Trinidad and Tobago is brought to the international stage.
Key amongst the creative industries for Trinidad and Tobago is Film. It has been touted as one of the fastest growing income generators in Trinidad and Tobago with an estimated US$ 5.6 million for the period 1999 to 2010 and approximately US$1.4 million in revenue generated during the period 2005 to 2006 alone. The Trinidad and Tobago Film Company, established in 2006 to spearhead the development of the industry, recorded that an estimated 85 film crews from major studios around the globe came through the country during the period 2011 to 2012.
Lights, camera, action! – the international adage can now be applied to the film industry of Trinidad and Tobago thanks to recent incentives introduced to accelerate its growth and development. The film sector of Trinidad and Tobago may have been obscured in the past by its dominant oil sector but it has enjoyed steady growth and since “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison”, a Fox War Classic, was shot on site in 1957, this twin island republic has been the location for a number of feature films including, “Swiss Family Robinson (1960); Men of Gray (1990); The Mystic Masseur (2001); Contract Killers (2007); Dulha Mil Gaya (2010); I’m Santana: the Movie (2012); Home Again (2013) and Girlfriends Getaway (2014). The film Home Again, which starred Trinidad born Tatyana Ali, was based in Jamaica, but filming was done in both Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, with Trinidad and Tobago substituting for Jamaica. The capacity of this tiny nation to provide backdrops of many other countries, has helped Trinidad and Tobago position itself as a rival to its Caribbean counterparts, such as Jamaica, whose history in the film industry stretches as far back as 1915.
Imagine picturesque beaches, thriving mangroves and teeming reefs; traditional Hindu temples, magnificent mosques and colonial castles; classical plantation houses, mysterious caves and lush rainforests. Imagine all of these vastly different backdrops, readily accessible within a few minutes of each other. A producer’s dream, come true. This is exactly what the two islands of only 5,128 square kilometres offer to the international film market. An anomaly to its Caribbean counterparts, Trinidad and Tobago does not only offer the sun, sea and sand backdrop. It provides sites that can double for places in Asia, Africa and South America to name just a few. Each backdrop remains unique to its elements, providing different worlds all packaged into one.
Trinidad and Tobago boasts talent in abundance not only in its native troupe of actors and actresses – who have demonstrated their ability in locally produced theatre and film – but also in the areas that comprise the sub-sectors of the film industry. Sound technicians, musicians, film producers, screenwriters, photography directors, editors and animators all thrive within this cultural montage and increase on an annual basis through programmes available from the country’s three resident universities and additional technical institutions. The Animation sector in particular has developed to an international standard and now boasts specialized training in animation both at a tertiary level and for those at the Secondary level of education. The sector also boasts an annual animation festival, “Animae Caribe” which features animation and new media productions from the Caribbean region. In October 2014 the festival celebrates its thirteenth year of animation.
For Trinidad and Tobago, one key advantage to tap into the niche market of on-location filming is the ability to provide attractive incentives to producers. The country offers a Production Expenditure Rebate which applies to on-location expenditure incurred in Trinidad & Tobago, including the rental of local equipment, location fees, employment of local cast and crew, accommodation, catering and transportation costs. Regional and international producers stand to benefit from rebates for on-location costs incurred, that fall within the range of USD $100,000 – USD $8,000,000 on a three tier scale of 12.5%, 15% and 35%. Coupled with a 20% rebate on labour costs if nationals of the islands are hired for the production of the film, producers have the opportunity to benefit from a whopping 55% cash rebate. Added to the attractiveness of this incentive, the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company (Film TT) also has in place an efficient administrative structure that provides assistance with securing travel documents for film crews, as well as permits required for the importation of equipment.
Opportunities for investment abound in this small country that is determined to make its mark in the world, as it strategically builds its infrastructure and capacity to establish itself as a viable player in the international Film industry. In 2011 Trinidad and Tobago established its national investment promotion agency, InvesTT Trinidad and Tobago (InvesTT) which is charged with sourcing and managing foreign investment in the country. Through the organisation’s expert resources, assistance is provided to investors from the enquiry stage right through to set-up and aftercare. InvesTT provides a one stop solution to investors through its vast knowledge base, its networks and direct linkages with other state agencies such as, the Trinidad and Tobago Creative Industries Company (CreativeTT), as well as the country’s regulatory organisations.
Fifty-seven years after its first on-location film shoot this mesmerizing twin island republic can be placed on the investor landscape as an ideal destination for on-location filming. It offers all of the quintessential elements for the industry coupled with attractive cash incentives and a versatile landscape, populated with a bevy of qualified and talented human resource. The focus of the international producer’s lens should definitely zoom in on the opportunities that abound in Trinidad and Tobago.
Visit www.investt.co.tt for more information on Trinidad and Tobago’s creative industries.