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Being the birthplace of Bjork, we already knew Iceland was pretty cool, but we wouldn't have guessed it was becoming a hot commercials location. Consider the launch campaign for the Nissan Altima, out of TBWA/Chiat/Day/L.A., directed by Go Film directing team Rad-ish. Shot in the town of Vik, the spots feature the car zooming along a misty and slightly eerie ebony road, surrounded by ultra-lush greenery, everything captured in-camera. "We just knew we had to have some whacked-out, spectacular signature place, since every location you go to in the U.S. has got gaffer's tape from the previous crew that was there," notes AD Jason Stinsmuehlen. "When you looked around, you never felt that anything was familiar. There were these crazy mosses that grew on these volcanic rocks, 600-year-old growth that had never been messed with, and it just looked like this neon green carpet. You mix it with these black rocks and it was just nuts. In the transfer, we didn't really tweak it, we just maximized what was there and we tried to be honest to the terrain." Headquarters' Agust Baldursson, who happens to be a native Icelander but has shot all over the globe, chose to shoot a pair of New Balance spots (see p. 20) in his country for similar reasons: "I just thought it would give it another dimension," he notes. "The idea was to shoot it in the middle of nowhere." An ad that aired during the NFL playoffs, from FCB/Chicago and John Deere, features a breathtaking scene in which the John Deere Gator drives across a vast white horizon, along a blue iceberg-filled lagoon. "Conceptually and executionally, it was a perfect place for us to shoot," says GCD Kurt Fries, who says the spot sought to illustrate John Deere's ubiquitousness throughout the world.

"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."

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