The Ethics of Filming Abroad


Moviemaking has shifted over the decades.

When thinking of the land of movies, the automatic first response is, ‘Hollywood.’ It’s where the glitz and glamour happens! However, Hollywood is a bit of a façade. No doubt, films are imagined, produced, and sold here, but as time goes on, Hollywood isn’t the only place where you can find movie magic.

“Clearly, ‘globalization’ refers to the many economic, political, cultural, and technological processes, the effects of which seem to be greater integration, interdependence, and interconnection between countries” (42).  This is what Tanner Mirrlees, says in Global Entertainment Media. For example, Mirrlees talks about ‘runaway production,’ in which, movies are shot outside of the city that the scene is supposed to be taking place in. This is due to production costs. It’s more expensive to film in city, such as Los Angeles or New York, but cheaper to film in a place like Toronto and call it LA. “Entertainment production also runs away from LA to media capitals with favorable currency exchange rates” (157). While it’s always nice to save money on your film project, shooting abroad creates disillusionment of living spaces. They aren’t representative, but rather a substitute in the exchange for a lower production cost. “Co-productions between two or more non-US states also put distinctive local and national cultures and places under erasure too” (171). By filming in a representative area versus the actual location, it is creating a dangerous environment for the country of the film location.

By filming elsewhere, culture and people of the region are being diminished. They are a commodity to the industry, rather than a place of interest for a film. Filmmakers are more interested in keeping the production costs low, rather than having an accurate representation of their scene.

The American version of Ju-On.

The American version of Ju-On.

While some may not see this as a huge issue (because that’s the way the business works!), I think that it could turn into a bigger issue with equity-co-productions. For example, the movie, The Grudge. This film is an adaptation of the Japanese movie, Ju-On, and similarly, takes place in Japan. The film was shot in Japan and featured a predominately all-American cast, but talked very little about Japanese culture. So what was the reasoning for having the film take place in Japan? Could it possibly be a monetary motivation? The film would have made just as much sense if it was supposed to take place in the US (and there were some name changes) and it wouldn’t have belittled the Japanese culture and people.  I’m afraid that if US productions film i
n other countries, we will see this (The Grudge incident) happening more frequently. Sooner or later, the European and Canadian countries used to represent cities in the US will become more expensive to film in and companies will look elsewhere to shoot. They may be filmed in places that have distinctive looks to them, and can’t be pulled off as a US city. Movies will be shot in other countries, but have very little connection to the culture.

Rather than having halo effect (film production bringing crowds to local businesses and temporary jobs to those in the area) be the only positive aspect to filming abroad, companies can choose to represent cultures, when filming in other counties. If they want to keep their film located in a US city, then production companies should be willing to pay the extra amount to keep locations as accurate rather than sacrificing another city’s identity.

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