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Runner, Runner: A film about Costa Rica that is not being filmed here

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Playing a Tica: Zuleyka Rivera on the set of Runner, Runner

A big-budget Hollywood production based on a script about the ostentatiously shadowy world of offshore gambling in Costa Rica -starring Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Brad Furman- is expected to hit the box office about a year from now. “Runner, Runner” is currently in production, and it is expected to inject $35 million to the local economy and boost the film industry -but not of Costa Rica.

Production and filming of Runner, Runner is currently taking place in the United States territory of Puerto Rico. The film crew is busy making the scenes filmed Enchanted Island look like they took place here in Costa Rica with the right amount of movie magic. According to San Juan-based newspaper El Nuevo Diario, the production of Runner, Runner is not pulling any punches; a recent scene recreated a carnival in Costa Rica -a ‘turno’- complete with music provided by famous DJ DeadMau5.

This is what is known about the Runner, Runner thus far: It has been a pet project of actor and producer Leonardo DiCaprio for a couple of years. As previously reported by The Costa Rica Star, Mr. DiCaprio has ties to Costa Rica, and at one point he may have considered filming here. Ben Affleck plays the role of multimillionaire Ivan Block, a nefarious American businessman who runs an online poker site based somewhere in Costa Rica, perhaps in a nondescript office building in La Sabana or a dusty industrial warehouse in Rio Segundo.

Justin Timberlake plays the part of Richie Furst, a clean-cut American Ivy League college student who uses his tuition money to gamble. He plays on Mr. Block’s poker and promptly loses. This scenario is not too far-fetched; wagering on sports and gambling are common activities in college campuses across the United States. Author Ben Mezrich has written a couple of books on the subject of students of U.S. universities, particularly math and science majors, who leverage their smarts on gambling and games of chance -and often lose (Mr. Mezrich has also written about moon rock traffickers). For Runner, Runner, Mr. Furst comes to Costa Rica to try to get his tuition money back from Mr. Block and ends up staying here and working for him, another young American employed by the online gaming industry.

Puerto Rico Transformed Into Costa Rica

The cameras have been rolling and director Brad Furman, known for his work in last year’s “The Lincoln Lawyer”, has been calling the shots in Puerto Rico since the beginning of July. The island has been transformed into some of Costa Rica’s most iconic and picturesque locations for Runner, Runner: the mansions in the upscale neighborhood of Dorado stands in for the gated complexes of Escazu or Santa Ana, another mansion in Rio Grande is used to film scenes that will look like any of the haciendas of the rich and famous in Guanacaste, and the neighborhoods of La Perla and Old San Juan will look like parts of San Jose once Runner, Runner hits theaters.

Even cast members of Runner, Runner are not from Costa Rica. Aside from the big Hollywood names, the script calls for a few Tico characters; for example, Diputado Herrera, a corrupt Tico legislator who helps Mr. Block stay one step ahead of the law, and a number of attractive female characters who are part of Mr. Block’s rotating harem of smoldering Ticas who always seem to wear skimpy attire around him. The actor playing the Costa Rican legislator is Cuban-American Yul Vazquez, and a number of Miss Puerto Rico pageant winners and actresses, including Zuleyka Rivera and Laura Aleman, play the role of the Ticas in Mr. Block’s charmed life.

Costa Rica is no stranger to hosting big productions; after all, director M. Night Shyamalan was recently here filming scenes in the Arenal volcano for the upcoming After Earth movie starting Will Smith, and Jurassic Park can’t be ignored (though it was filmed in Hawaii, thanks to reader feedback for the correction). Surely the burgeoning film industry could have accommodated production of Runner, Runner. If a small-budget independent production like The Librarian films here for the sake of authenticity, why can’t Runner, Runner?

It’s All About Business

The Costa Rica Star turned to Miami-based financier, social media author and business consultant Reid Mack for an insight into why Runner, Runner is filming in Puerto Rico. Mr. Mack is the director of the Business Plan Institute, and he has provided financing for many industries -including film production:

“There are business environment differences between Puerto Rico and Costa Rica that have caused productions to pick the former. Numerous business issues, including having a U.S. banking and accounting system, the business and the financial incentives provided by Puerto Rico are a big factor. On a government level, Puerto Rico has gone out of it’s way to inform and ‘get the word out’ about the film incentives available. Film production companies are taking note. Johnny Depp filmed The Rum Diary in Puerto Rico in 2009. He later returned and filmed Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in 2010.”

Mr. Mack also mentioned other factors that are keeping Runner, Runner away from home:

“Furthermore, Costa Rica is on the on the watch list of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). In the eyes of the USTR, Costa Rica allows too much pirating of illegal film copies, although in 2011 it enacted legislation to provide for criminal remedies for violations of performers’ rights and of other related rights, but it is still on the list.

As the situation stands now, I would advise to film in Puerto Rico instead of Costa Rica from a business point of view. I think the positives of the economic environment and financial incentives outweigh the scenic authenticity, this could very well be why Runner, Runner picked Puerto Rico. This is how film production business plans and film offering memorandums are structured; investors benefit from as many financial incentives as possible without hindering the artistic value of the production. Film makers will be facing keen competition for funds not only other filmmakers but other investments in general.

It’s a shame, really. Costa Rica has the natural backdrop and surroundings to shoot beautiful movies but the economic environment is keeping some productions out. Authenticity often takes a backseat to business interests.”

Puerto Rico is not the only location that is luring film producers with financial incentives to bring their film crews and give a boost to the local economy. In fact, a recent article in the film industry journal Variety indicated that various island nations are offering attractive incentives to serve as production locations.

Runner, Runner is not the first film to choose Puerto Rico as a stand-in for Costa Rica. The plot of the 2011 action film Act of Valor, featuring actual U.S. Navy Seals, calls for a scene that is based in the Costa Rica rainforest that was filmed in Puerto Rico instead. At this rate, it looks like trade officials in Costa Rica might have to start looking into the possibility of offering financial incentives in order to keep from losing all film productions to Caribbean locations.

If there is any consolation, the script of Runner, Runner also calls for snowy scenes based in New England, which somehow were also filmed in Puerto Rico.

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