In the office of the Fiji film commission there is a map of the 330-island archipelago and dotted across it are miniature movie posters and the very recognisable logos of some of the world’s most popular reality television shows.
It’s a record of the productions that have been shot in Fiji and just how far their crews have ventured across the Pacific Island nation.
Seasons of Survivor, Love Island, and Bachelor in Paradise as well as the films Castaway, Adrift and Blue Lagoon have all been shot in Fiji.
For Fijian crews and film students, the productions are helping to develop a local industry.
And for those who look after Fiji’s national budget, enticing more of the global film industry to the country’s shores presents a very good opportunity to put its natural assets to work.
Remote, but accessible
“Fiji has a unique characteristic when it comes to that tropical location scenario,” Films Fiji chief executive Ramiro Tenorio said.
Fiji is a direct 10-hour flight from Los Angeles, with commercial flights arriving every day.
From there, crews can be in locations that appear very remote on screen pretty quickly.
On top of the geographical advantage, Fiji’s world-famous tourism industry is experienced at housing, feeding and entertaining large groups of visitors.
So some of the practical challenges that can come with running a television or film set in a remote location are made a little easier.
“Fiji has incredibly pristine locations and it’s very well connected for where it is,” Mr Tenorio said.
“It’s very easy for productions to find the infrastructure that they need.”
Accommodation for visitors to Fiji ranges from family resorts to luxury villas on private islands, so if you did need to house a superstar, there are options.
From 2016 to 2019, Mr Tenorio estimates about 15 major productions a year were being shot in Fiji — most of them reality television.
Survivor the only 2021 production
One of the original reality television shows is, of course, Survivor.
The United States version of the show aired the finale of its 41st season in December, proving that even in the cutthroat television industry, it’s possible to outwit, outplay and outlast.
Both the 41st and 42nd seasons were filmed in Fiji throughout 2021 and were the only international productions to shoot there that year.
Fiji’s international border shut in March 2020, but its COVID Risk Mitigation Taskforce (CRMT) worked with Survivor to get crews safely into the country.
When the Survivor crews and cast arrived, Fiji was COVID-free and had been for a year, but halfway through filming, the country experienced a deadly second wave of infections.
Fijian authorities helped to keep the cameras rolling.
“A lot of rethinking had to be done very quickly on how to help them finish the show safely,” Mr Tenorio said.
“There are a lot of logistics involved in how you move crews and equipment, not just internationally, but nationally when you have restrictions in place for the safety of the country.”
The Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Health, the national COVID task force, Fiji’s national airline, as well as its navy were all involved.
“They provided continuous support to the production trying to figure out the best procedures … making sure that everything was as safe as it had to be at that very high-risk moment — both when they came in, but [also] at the height of the outbreak,” Mr Tenorio said.
Mr Tenorio said the navy was very involved in helping establish a safe corridor so Survivor crews could move around and filming could continue.
It might seem like a lot of effort for a government to go to for a reality television show, but Fiji is a small country looking for big investment.
There are ambitions for the film and television sector to become “a main pillar of the economy”, according to Mr Tenorio.
He says being known as a location that will help keep productions on schedule and on budget, even in the most trying of circumstances, will work in Fiji’s favour in the long run.
Even in the short term, the 2021 Survivor productions made an impact.
In a year when the tourism industry — a business that usually employs 150,000 people and brings in 40 per cent of Fiji’s national revenue — was forced to close, the cash injection from Survivor was a welcome one.
The two seasons of Survivor shot in Fiji in 2021 brought in a direct local investment of $25 million.
It is estimated that for every dollar a production spends in Fiji, another $1.50 is generated simply by the engagement of local staff and businesses, eating at local restaurants and buying locally sourced items and produce.
For last year’s Survivor productions, 408 local staff were employed.
“That’s how important one production can be,” Mr Tenorio said.
“When you have a location that’s not necessarily going through the best economic time, and then that group of villages receives a lot of investment in a very short amount of time, it’s tremendously valuable.”
Shooting in Fiji is also a very good deal for shows like Survivor.
Attorney-General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said despite the advantages there was still a need to lure productions to Fiji, and part of the government’s effort included a significant tax rebate.
“One of the things we probably lack in Fiji is we don’t have readily available post-production services, we don’t have equipment. A lot of production houses need to bring it all in,” he said.
But once in Fiji, productions like Survivor are entitled to a 75 per cent tax rebate on the costs they incur locally.
To get the rebate, there is a list of conditions productions have to meet.
Fiji’s government also needs to approve the scripts. And the film commission is conscious of keeping some of the country’s most pristine beaches and secluded spots as exclusive locations, so they are careful to ensure these aren’t used too often.
A lasting impact
One of the requirements for any production shooting in Fiji is that it engages with film and television students at the national university.
“We are hoping to build local capacity so [productions] don’t have to bring in every member of the crew from overseas,” Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said.
And with rumours of some big-name productions heading to Fiji later this year, as well as ongoing relationships with Survivor and Bollywood producers, that puts film and television students very close to some of the world’s biggest productions.
“I think there’s an opportunity for producers from overseas to not only bring stories to Fiji, but also to find the stories in Fiji and help those stories be told,” Me Tenorio said.
“I think what’s incredibly interesting about this region of the planet is the unique way of looking at life, sustainability, interconnection, communal living … hopefully we see more of those stories being told soon — hopefully from Fijians.”