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Iceland, an open-air Hollywood studio

Iceland's dazzling landscapes makes it perfect for filming ethereal scenery

Crystal clear ice caves, glacial lakes, active volcanoes and crashing waterfalls framed by dark lava columns. Iceland's breathtaking landscapes have become a magnet for Hollywood moviemakers looking to conjure up otherworldly scenery.

In southern Iceland, the massive Almannagja gorge stretches as far as the eye can see.

Its spectacular setting was chosen as the location for an epic battle scene in TV series Game Of Thrones between the characters Brienne of Tarth and the Hound.

"The diversity is so big that you can create almost any kind of landscape," says Mr Leifur Dagfinnsson, president of the Icelandic production company Truenorth, which holds 90 per cent of the market.

"You can shoot Iceland for Iceland, or you can have Iceland double for other places like the Himalayas, the Mongolian tundra, Siberia or Greenland."

Located in the North Atlantic, Iceland's moon-like landscape has served as a film set for many science fiction films portraying other planets, Mr Dagfinnsson says.

From TV series such as Black Mirror to blockbusters including Interstellar, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Star Wars, James Bond movies and Fast And Furious 8, the list of films shot in Iceland in recent years is long.

The country's uninhabited landscapes offer moviemakers the opportunity to film everything from dramatic action-filled scenes to apocalyptic scenery and futuristic worlds.

Director Darren Aronofsky chose Iceland as a location for his 2014 biblical blockbuster Noah.

"The landscapes are surreal - practically of another world," Mr Aronofsky's producing partner Scott Franklin told the Los Angeles Times at the time.

The diversity is so big that you can create almost any kind of landscape.Mr Leifur Dagfinnsson, president of the Icelandic production company Truenorth

The sky can look as though it's on fire in the middle of winter, or teeming with roaring clouds trailed by black smoke.

These aren't caused by a volcanic eruption or a storm, but pyrotechnic explosions and swarms of helicopters from the movie sets.

And at the foot of a waterfall or on a beach of silvery pebbles, one might encounter a strange sword-carrying soldier on horseback returning from battle.

Iceland's economic collapse in 2008 made it an inexpensive country in which to work and it boasts strong infrastructure with easy access to shooting locations, according to Mr Kristinn Thordarson, president of the Association of Icelandic Film Producers.

The economy is once again growing, thanks to a booming tourism industry and a thriving fishing sector, but a dark cloud looms over its rising currency, the krona, which the heavily export-reliant country has repeatedly tried to tame.

As an incentive to film in Iceland, a tax rebate was increased this year from 20 to 25 per cent of the overall budget of producing a movie in the country.

Mr Thordarson said he hopes it will be boosted to 30 per cent within four years, just behind Ireland's 32 per cent.

PEAK YEAR

In the land of ice and fire, 2016 was a peak year for television and movie productions, with turnover for local companies of 20 billion kronur (S$267 million).

But Mr Thordarson wants to take it even further.

"If we build a studio here and if the filmmakers use the studio... (then) they would do more in Iceland than just film locations," he said.

Filming is strictly regulated, especially in the country's more than 100 protected areas, from nature reserves to national parks, where a licence from the Icelandic Environment Agency is required.

Shooting permits have been rising sharply since 2013 and "the conditions for obtaining (them) remain very strict", says Ms Adalbjorg Guttormsdottir, who leads a team that manages licence applications.

Disrupting the country's flora and fauna is strictly forbidden.

Even turning over a stone without putting it back in place is out of the question. - AFP

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