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Picture perfect

Picture perfect

Bahamian locations grace the pages of the world's top magazines

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The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 1, 2009
January 1, 2009
Gillian Beckett

Beautiful sun-drenched islands with powder-white beaches and turquoise waters may be a dime a dozen in the Caribbean, but there is a certain something about The Bahamas that many of the world’s top magazines can’t resist.

Bahamian locales have graced the covers of two consecutive issues of the highly coveted Sports Illustrated annual Swimsuit Issue. In 2006, a bevy of all-star supermodels including Elle MacPherson, Rachel Hunter, Carolyn Murphy and Rebecca Romijn posed along Harbour Island’s famous pink sand beach for the magazine’s cover.

The cover of the 2005 Swimsuit Issue featured supermodel Carolyn Murphy on the beaches of Kamalame Cay, a 96-acre private island near Andros. The same issue also featured photos of US gold-medal Olympic-athlete Jennie Finch, shot along the beaches of the Four Seasons Resort at Emerald Bay in Exuma.

In fact, Sports Illustrated’s love affair with The Bahamas spans decades. Supermodel turned talk-show host Tyra Banks posed on a Bahamian beach on the 1997 cover; sixties model Sunny Bippus was photographed on Norman’s Cay for the 1966 cover; and a family of four, paddling in waters off Nassau, was featured on the magazine’s 1958 cover.

Sports Illustrated is one of a long list of publications that have chosen The Bahamas as their ideal location for photo shoots. Glamour, Hello, OK, Travel + Leisure, Coastal Living, Self, Elle, Vogue, Town & Country, Nautica and Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine have all featured The Bahamas.

Bahamian benefits
But what is it about this nation of 700 islands that outshines its competitors in the Caribbean?

“Proximity to the US plays a major factor in determining photo shoots,” says Dake Gonzalez, president of Shake Productions, a New York-based production services company and co-founder of production company Island Services on Harbour Island. With access to The Bahamas only about a half-an-hour by air from Florida or approximately two hours from major American cities like New York, finding a beautiful, tropical location for photo shoots is easy.

The Bahamas Film Commission discovered first-hand the importance of proximity to the US when its members attended the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI) Location Expo in April 2008. Film Commission delegates found that many production companies are seeking closer locales due to high travel costs in light of today’s global economic downturn and unpredictable oil prices.

While proximity is key, Gonzalez adds that easy access to transport photo equipment and crew is also vital to a photo shoot’s success. “Customs is accommodating—it’s not very difficult to get equipment in and out,” he says, adding that charter transportation to the Family Islands is also relatively simple. “The positive attitudes of Bahamians also helps.”

However, Gonzalez notes that like many other smaller countries with occasional technological issues, shooting in The Bahamas is not without its challenges.

But he adds that with some foresight into potential problems, photo shoots of even the most demanding nature can go off without a hitch. “An example of difficulties working on the Out Islands is the electricity could suddenly go off,” says Gonzalez. While power outages can spell disaster for photo shoots, which can take anywhere from two days up to three weeks on average, such complications can be tackled effectively if production companies know what to look out for.

“Shooting in The Bahamas can be easy to do if you’re a local,” adds Gonzalez, a sixth generation Bahamian originally from Harbour Island. “It can be a bit daunting at times because people move at a little different pace. If you know what [the production’s] needs are going to be you can foresee things and prepare for whatever delays come up and let the clients know why. But most of my clients travel the world and they are used to adjusting to different cultures, places and ways of life.”

The client roster at Shake Productions, started in 2001 by Gonzalez and business partner Shane Hudepohl, reads like a “who’s who” of the world’s top magazines, fashion agencies and ad campaigns in North America and Europe. Their portfolio includes fashion houses such as Banana Republic, Lilly Pulitzer, Ralph Lauren Polo and Victoria’s Secret, and magazines including Condé Nast Traveller UK, Glamour, Globe, Marie Claire and Vanity Fair, to name but a few. “We’ve done hundreds of photo shoots in The Bahamas,” says Gonzalez, citing Harbour Island, Exuma and Nassau as favourites.

Business and pleasure
From concept to realization, a photo shoot is a highly involved process. Aside from location, other aspects must be considered. Before photo shoots can take place, production companies must adhere to a set of requirements and guidelines as stated by the Bahamas Film Commission, a branch of the Ministry of Tourism, which oversees the country’s film industry.

At least one week before the photo shoot commences, a letter of intent stating the name of the company and outline of the photo project must be submitted to the Film Commission. The types of locations required; a list of cast and crew; photographic equipment, props and wardrobe; estimated overall budget, including an estimated amount to be spent in The Bahamas; special requirements such as traffic control, helicopter permits or casino locations; and a list of required production personnel must also be submitted.

“We require an outline of the project to ensure that The Bahamas is portrayed in a positive manner,” explains Craig Woods, film commissioner. “We also request that any shot which represents The Bahamas be stated clearly.”

In addition to outlining permitting procedures, the Ministry of Tourism and Bahamas Film Commission also provides a comprehensive list of local production services to assist with photo shoots. This covers everything from catering and private charters to photographers and make-up artists.

The list also comes in handy for several international production companies who assist with photo shoots, including Miami-based ACT Productions, whose Bahamas portfolio includes German catalog OTTO, surfwear catalog Billabong, and Latina magazine, which featured a shoot of Colombian singer Shakira in The Bahamas.

“It’s always a pleasure to work in The Bahamas as the people are very welcoming and eager to help with whatever is needed,” says Barbara Goicoechea, ACT Productions’ director of operations. She recalls that during the Shakira photo shoot, which was held at A Stone’s Throw Away, a boutique hotel in western New Providence, the photographer missed his flight out of The Bahamas. “He needed to get back urgently to catch a connecting flight, so the owner of the hotel personally helped us organize a charter flight,” she explains. “Within 30 minutes, we got it all figured out.”

Woods notes that the Ministry of Tourism provides an essential tool for visiting film and print media projects. “The Ministry of Tourism is the one-stop shop for facilitation of all production projects coming to the country,” says Woods. “When production companies come to The Bahamas, before they arrive we encourage them to screen our website, www.bahamasfilm.com, to review the credentials of Bahamians listed on the site in various capacities.”

For example, Gonzalez explains that in terms of casting, The Bahamas has plenty of models to choose from thanks to the country’s multi-ethnicity. “Many other Caribbean islands don’t have as much ethnic diversity as The Bahamas,” he says.

Local contribution
While drawing on local talent can help trim a production’s costs, other expenses can mean big business for the local economy.

Woods explains that magazine shoots contribute about $1 million annually due to costs of crew accommodations, meals, transportation and telecommunication services. “Magazine shoots have a profound effect on the Bahamian economy,” he says. In addition to net revenue, “there is the visual exposure of The Bahamas to target the global audience in such publications. This [offers] great visibility for the country.”

Such valuable exposure has been highlighted in numerous travel magazines including Condé Nast Traveler, which named The Bahamas The Hot Destination in its May 2004 Hot-List issue. Travel + Leisure magazine also featured The Bahamas in its Red-Hot Bahamas cover story in the November 2004 issue.

While magazine readers are undoubtedly enticed to The Bahamas thanks to coverage of its picture-perfect beaches, azure waters and friendly locals,  the experiences of production crews working here also help ensure repeat business, and pleasure. “The crews who come to The Bahamas to work can recommend it as a location for future magazine projects. And they can always return on vacation and recommend it as a vacation destination to friends,” concludes Woods, underscoring the wide-reaching impact of photo shoots on The Bahamas.

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