Movies

Hollywood has eyes on Havana as U.S./Cuba relations thaw

Musicians choose controversial vacation spot

 

Hollywood and Havana are getting to know one another.

The musical “Rent” opened in Cuba on Christmas Eve for a three-month stint, becoming the first American musical to debut in Havana since the start of the U.S. embargo in 1960.

Director Bob Yari also wrapped production of his Ernest Hemingway biopic “Papa” at the end of 2014, making it the first Hollywood movie shot in Cuba since that fateful year.

“Papa” reportedly received approval from the U.S. Treasury Department as it was classified as a documentary. The Discovery Channel received a similar designation from Treasury for its show “Cuban Chrome,” a reality series that has also begun filming there.

Each of these deals presaged President Obama's announcement on Dec 19 that the U.S. was moving to “normalize relations” with Cuba, but are still likely harbingers of many movie and TV projects to come on the previously off-limits island.

More On This...

“With its warm climate, beaches and lower costs, the country will draw film and TV producers,” Gene Grabowski, partner at communications firm kglobal, told FOX411. “Moviemakers will be looking for easier places to set up their shots without traffic, interfering onlookers or rigid environmental restrictions. In addition, the Cuban climate is very hospitable and the cost of food and support personnel will likely be much cheaper than in the United States.”

The nation’s picturesque scattered mountain range and its rolling limestone plains dotted with tropical trees will no doubt draw Hollywood location scouts. Plus the country looks like it did 60 years, which makes it unique. There will, however, be challenges.

“Certainly Hollywood could benefit from this new relationship with Cuba. An inexpensive location site, and I'm sure that at least initially the Cuban government will bend over backwards to accommodate the American film industry. They would welcome the dollars that would flow in as a result of any productions taking place in Cuba,” said foreign policy expert and former federal intelligence official Del Wilber. “But the Cuban infrastructure is dilapidated and would present some serious challenges to filming there.”

Wilber notes that the electrical grid is outdated and could cause delays during filming. The close oversight and scrutiny of Cuban authorities could also present problems.

“Graft and corruption would be pervasive with every Cuban official standing with an outstretched hand between a film company and the successful completion of a project,” he said.

According to producer Madison Jones, another big con is a lack of skilled crew in-country.

“But any new country is a challenge that filmmakers would have to get around, but everybody would love to go and film there,” he said.

The Cuba embargo originated in 1960 as a partial export ban and was expanded to a full prohibition under the John F. Kennedy administration two years later, following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Although President Obama has claimed that the isolation inflicted on Cuba “has not worked,” it will still require an act of Congress to revoke the embargo.

Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay