"You only have to step outside the airport to get to a lava field," notes Beggi Jonsson, executive producer at Solidarity 4, the Icelandic production service company that helped to execute the John Deere production, in collaboration with ILM director Bill Timmer. "It's all very surreal. You'll have a long black beach and in the middle of it you'll find a huge lava rock, the size of an apartment building." Even more impressive is that the various landscapes, which also include hot springs, gushing geysers, waterfalls and glaciers, are just hours apart by car. The stunning visuals are undeniably the foremost reason to shoot in the country, though it surely helps that in the summer months days are long and nights are pretty nonexistent. Shoots, however, can get complicated. The weather is unpredictable, although Baldursson notes such problems can be easily remedied by simply driving a few hours to another spot. Also, the long daylight hours coupled with crews that work on a day fee can make up for time lost due to weather. With a population of just 270,000, casting is also pretty limited - unless you're looking for a Bjork type.
Technically, the equipment in the country is, understandably, not up to par with the States or Europe, but "it was easy to shoot there," says Chiat's Stinsmuehlen. "It wasn't like we had to reinvent filmmaking. We definitely had a lot of toys out there, but I think that most of them were shipped. There were a few technical compromises. They didn't have the same helicopters we would have used here, but it was all adequate." Be forewarned: Shooting in Iceland is not relatively cheap - if you figure in the high cost of living and shipping for specialized equipment or extra crew, the Czech Republic or South Africa might be easier on the wallet. But getting permits to shoot in the indisputably great outdoors, much of which is on land officially classified as a nature preserve, is not a problem. The government isn't much of a watchdog and "fees are peanuts," Baldursson notes.
As for important concerns like food and accommodations, "you have to be prepared," he adds. "This is not America. We have mostly old school buses that are converted into kitchens. The luxury is not there." Adds Stinsmuehlen, "It's a little bit more raw. The catering is different, the bathroom facilities are less than ideal. It's not the RV experience out there. It's a little bit like roughing it." Going with a middleman who knows the country helps to avoid the kinks in shooting. Two of the country's biggest production service outfits are Panarctica and Sagafilm, both of which have an extensive roster of film and commercials projects. The production crews also happen to be a surprising bonus. "We don't have a big stock, since we have such a small population," says Baldursson. "But you could have an AC on one shoot and on the next shoot he may work as a location manager or grip. They're talented and specialized, but they're also flexible." Stinsmuehlen concurs: "They get it. It's not like they hired their nephews to be the PAs. There's a community that films there. You just don't get your ass kissed like you do in the U.S."