Argentina

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Last summer, Saatchi/L.A. writer Verner Soler and AD Sherry Hawkins had the ambitious idea to shoot a Toyota Tacoma trekking through Madre de Dios, a remote island off the coast of Peru known for its unusual glacier-like rock formations and sideways-shooting rain. However, the isle's legendary terrain is so inhospitably replete with natural obstacles that its exploration by daring spelunkers was worthy of an article in National Geographic, which helped to spawn the idea for the commercial in the first place. Luckily, the agency happened onto the more practical, but no less visually stunning Argentina, a rising hotspot for commercials production, thanks to its abundance of natural scenic wonders, good casting opportunities and, perhaps most important, its budget-friendly exchange rate.

Shot by Rock Fight's Daniel Barber with Buenos Aires production company Argentina Cine, the Toyota spot features breathtaking cinematography of craggy mountainsides against shimmering lakes, captured near the town of Mendoza, conveniently just hours away from the stunning backdrop of a second spot, a vast rolling sandscape that doubled as Libya's Murzuq desert. "We were trying so hard to find a place that we could do both of the spots and bring it within budget," explains agency producer Julie Shannon, who had also considered spots like Iceland, Australia and New Zealand. In addition, RSA recently shot three jobs in Argentina within two weeks, also with Argentina Cine, but first tapped into the country's wealth of locations when Jake Scott shot a campaign last fall for American Express International and O&M/New York, cultivating the country's urban and natural attractions. "I would totally recommend it," says Cheryl Gackstetter, Ogilvy senior producer. "The locations were amazing. Everyone's running to Australia or South Africa, but it was refreshing to discover a new place." Especially if that place can pose as several different others. The shops of Buenos Aires successfully stood in for those of an anonymous European city for one spot, notes Gackstetter.

The country is also well-equipped to satisfy typical nonspeaking talent demands. Gary Romano, executive producer at Urban Myth Media, and director Peter Martinez shot a pair of spots there for Breschetta Pizza and Campbell Mithun/Minneapolis. "The talent pool down there for a non-dialogue speaking spot is quite large," notes Romano. "Compared to Australia or Canada it was cost-effective, kind of a no-brainer because we had a cast of about 45 principal talent. We even had backup for every role. It was quite amazing."

As for production itself, reviews from agencies and production shops range from raves to reserved praise. Some loved the crews and production talent, yet others note Argentina still has some way to go to match more seasoned countries. "Things take a little longer compared to South Africa, Prague or Italy," notes RSA executive producer Fran McGivern. "You're not dealing with fully production-savvy people, but they're good." However, all attest to the great lengths the dollar will stretch. Shooting days were in abundance, as were unexpected production perks. "We got so much more," recalls Saatchi's Shannon. "We had multiple three-day shoots, plus all the bells and whistles you can throw in, including a helicopter, which you almost never have on a shoot."

Of course, Argentina's history of political and social unrest, as well as its precarious economic condition (the nation's troubled banking system shut down last spring) might make some apprehensive about shooting there. Urban Myth's Martinez attests, "I felt as safe there as I do in New York, and I feel very safe in New York." Saatchi's Shannon had a different experience. "I was robbed the first day," she reports. The perp managed to tear the watch off her wrist, but Shannon luckily held onto her even more precious production notes. Despite the episode, however, "I'd go back," she says. "You just have to be careful. It's just like any big city. You have to be on your toes."

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