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Movie Tourism for Motion Picture Lovers
Setting the scenes for your film-related travels

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If you're a film buff, movie tourism is a great way to see the world - your way.

Beware, though - not every film is shot on location so first make sure those canals were  actually in Venice and not in a studio backlot somewhere.

I'm a movie lover (and despair for more time to see as many as I'd like) and my travels are often inspired by films. When I can, I do visit the locations at which my favorite films were shot. And if I can't, I live vicariously.

Here are a few I've visited.

Movie tourism Quantum of SolaceJames Bond's Quantum of Solace (photo Leyla Giray Alyanak)

The last thing I expected on my visit to Panama was to be obstructed by gigantic film trucks in the Casco Viejo, the Old Town, and much less to be asked to move a potted plant from my balcony because it would "be in the way". But there you go, the price of fame. The week I visited a scene in supposedly La Paz, Bolivia, was being shot down the street in this so-called hotel (I say so-called because it's actually the Cultural Institute and the only hotelish thing about it were these smart window dressings and logos).

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Movie tourism GladiatorAit Ben Haddou, the arena of Gladiator (photo Leyla Giray Alyanak)

Not my favorite film but Gladiator certainly had some spectacular locations, one of which I visited in Morocco, the fortified city south of Marrakesh. So you won't be surprised to know that many more films were partly shot here, such as The Man Who Would Be King, Jewel of the Nile, Kundun, The Mummy and many more. Morocco is just that kind of place.

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Movie travel Istanbul Grand BazaarIstanbul's Grand Bazaar, where part of From Russia With Love was shot (photo Leyla Giray Alyanak)

Istanbul is a visual feast wherever you look so it has unsurprisingly been the backdrop for many films including several James Bonds plus The Accidental Spy, Topkapi, Midnight Express and The International. Outside Istanbul, Turkey has often been substituted for nearby countries, for example Iran, where filming freely would be nearly impossible.

Why films are shot where they are shot

I often wonder why a film is shot in a certain place rather than another so I looked into it. It now makes better sense. Here are some of the criteria for choosing a film location:

  • Cost. Obviously. The less the better.
  • The story. Equally obvious. If it's about love in Paris, then showing a Mexico City backdrop won't cut it.
  • Availability of services. It helps if you can access things like cables and power packs when yours die, so proximity to these is a factor, although rarely a deciding one.
  • Light. It's a movie. You have to be able to see what you're filming and what will eventually end up on the screen.
  • The elements and the seasons. If you need bright sunlight all the time you may want to steer clear of Vancouver or the US Northwest. If you need snow you'll head North, and other common sense things.
  • Permission and politics. This is why Turkey pretends to be Iran and Iceland takes the place of North Korea. Film makers want to be able to film according to their scripts, not to a government's censorship laws. Also they need the proper permissions and even if a country is perfec as a film location the matter of filming certain buildings or indoors still needs to be resolved.
  • Transportation. How easy is it going to be to bring in all that bulky equipment? Can it be driven in? Will you need a fleet of private airplanes and if so, are there good runways? You can't shoot a movie without all the bits and pieces.
  • Safety. Political safety of course (risk of unrest or war) but physical safety too, both natural (potential for cyclones and tornadoes for example) and manmade (building codes, bridges and dams).
  • Entertainment. That's right, the talent and the crew must have something to do when they're not working or they might end up with cabin fever, stuck away in a desert for weeks. These days much of this entertainment can be found online so the lack of television or cultural events isn't as dire as it used to be. But you need wifi, or a satellite.

If you enjoy visiting movie locations, you'll find plenty of tours in cities popular with film directors, in Los Angeles of course but also London, Paris, New York and New Zealand, among others.

It's not quite the same as being in a movie, but it is a bit like being behind the scenes.

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