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Punta del Este Film Studios director: “We want Uruguay to be the region’s audiovisual hub”

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The world is in desolation. An epidemic is sweeping through it. People are blinded and there are no explanations. Solidarity among humans simply disappears and the structures of society cease to work, or better yet, crumble to pieces. People walk down the street aimlessly.

A woman enters a supermarket to get some food, but she can’t get out. The infected are all over her. They are dying to eat something. The woman becomes desperate, struggling to escape from the crowd without losing her food.

Punta del Este Film Studios, Uruguay’s first audiovisual free zone will cover a total area of 30 hectares. (photo internet reproduction)

Stop signs on street corners suggest that this is an English-speaking city. But nothing could be further from that. The scene takes place in Ciudad Vieja, on Calle Colón. The woman is actress Julianne Moore. And the story, albeit contemporary, dates back to 1995. Its name is Essay on Blindness, and it was written by Portuguese Nobel Prize winner José Saramago.

Punta del Este Studios director Nicolás Aznarez said that Uruguay has always had the potential to be the setting for productions, but this type of public space conditioning “is very expensive to develop such productions.”

Dirty streets, signs in English and the modification of facades are usually a big investment, which hinders the landing of international productions due to its high costs.

But nevertheless, Uruguay is elected by the audiovisual industry. In fact, in September 2019, Independence Square was adapted to film several scenes of the Conquest series, produced by the famous actor Keanu Reeves.

Commercials have also been shot in the country, as well as other types of material.

But one of Uruguay’s drawbacks in this area is that it “lacks infrastructure.”

For this reason, Aznarez has for years been promoting a project to develop productions, an audiovisual park, which will soon materialize. It is Punta del Este Film Studios, the first thematic free zone in the country that “he expects to be built early next year” (although it was originally planned to be built in the second half of 2021).

In 2001, Aznarez worked with director Quentin Tarantino, which allowed him to bring many of the American techniques to local cinema.

In 2004, the Uruguayan founded the audiovisual company El Camino. It was back then that Aznarez began to devise the audiovisual park approved by the government in 2019, which led to the modification of the regulations regarding free zones.


Punta del Este Film Studios will consist of 3,000 m2 of soundproof studios (i.e., acoustic insulation). These infrastructures will be built under international standards to meet the filming conditions required by large platforms and major foreign production companies.

The free trade zone area will also include 3,500 m2 of scenographic space in a residential neighborhood for the filming of audiovisual productions developed in the suburbs. A 4,560 m2 area with buildings or permanent outdoor constructions (backlots) and scenographic sets, intended for outdoor scenes. These spaces can recreate everything from medieval castles, to Wild West villages, to the neighborhoods of large cities destroyed by World War II.

In addition, the country’s first free trade zone will house 10,000 m2 of green spaces and 4,500 m2 of offices for production and other related services.

The infrastructure will include 5 screening rooms, 3 restaurants and a special effects workshop, with tools that will contribute to the development and application of techniques needed to create certain environments, characters or situations that are alien to real life.

The audiovisual park will feature a carpentry and ironworks facility to provide set designers with the necessary space to produce the scenery for productions, as well as a costume workshop for producing the characters’ clothing. The facility will also have its own nursery.

Uruguay’s first audiovisual free zone will cover a total area of 30 hectares. However, the project’s first phase consists of the construction of 10 hectares of the total. The first stage investment ranges from US$25 to US$30 million, according to Punta del Este Studios director Nicolás Aznarez.

The total investment is estimated to reach US$100 million, but given that the project is long term and may include modifications, this figure is only provisional.

Although it was initially confirmed that construction would begin during this semester of 2021, the pandemic and its economic impact led one of the free trade zone’s investment partners to abandon the project.

“There were no major complications because we were quickly able to find another investor,” Aznares said. In any case, the original project had to be modified, which caused the date set for the start of the project to be pushed to next year. “We expect construction to start in the first quarter of 2022,” Aznares said.


Punta del Este Film Studios is the first thematic free zone for audiovisual services in Uruguay. The project was approved by the Ministry of Economy with the aim of boosting audiovisual, leisure and entertainment services, with the exception of gambling and betting.

Free zones are specific areas within the national territory, defined by the government, for the development of all kinds of economic activities (industrial, commercial or services), according to Juan Panucci, an accountant specialized in tax consultancy.

The feature of free zones is that “these areas are exempted from any national tax levy created or to be created with respect to the activities developed within their limits,” Panucci explained.

The expert added that these areas generate “significant economic benefits due to their investment; this is reflected in the number of jobs that are created, for instance.” Regulations require that 75% of the total number of employees hired must be Uruguayan citizens, natural or legal. However, in the case of a free zone that provides services, as is the case of Punta del Este Film Studios, this rate drops to 50% should the activities so demand it.

Law 19,566, passed in December 2017, established the thematic service free zones. And in November 2019, the government authorized the installation of Punta del Este Studios, the first of its kind, intended to develop audiovisual services.

According to Resolution N° 674/019, the government authorized this audiovisual park, to be located behind La Barra, on the road to San Carlos (near Punta del Este), to be built on a 30-hectare plot of land. Portya Investment S.A. was the company that applied for the installation.


Punta del Este Film Studios will be able to develop, within its limits, pre-production, production and filming; image post-production (such as special effects, animation, augmented and virtual reality production, video game production, interactive developments) and audio post-production (editing, mixing, sound engineering).

It may also provide storage services; over the top media services (i.e., broadcasting of audiovisual content, without the need for traditional operators to control or distribute such content); video on demand services (broadcasting mode of multimedia content in which users can access content when they choose); streaming (e.g., Netflix or Amanzon Prime Video); platform management and IPTV (or Internet Protocol Television, i.e., distribution of content by subscription of pay TV channels through an Internet connection).

The thematic free zone is also allowed to rent its offices and related services.

In addition to the rental of scenographic square meters (backlots, sets and studios), with basic services such as camera and lighting equipment rental, energy and catering services, technological and digital support.

All these economic activities are specified in the aforementioned resolution, signed by the then president Tabaré Vázquez.


In addition to this free trade zone, the department of Maldonado is preparing to host two more. The construction of the Punta del Este World Trade Center, developed by entrepreneur Carlos Lecueder, is currently underway and started construction in September this year. It will consist of a 25-story tower and is expected to create 1,200 jobs.

The last free zone to land in this department will be located in the area of El Jagüel airport, in a 43 hectare area, belonging to the Municipality.

It was authorized this year to develop conventional commercial activities rather than services.

After the third free trade zone was announced in Maldonado, local mayor Enrique Antía said that this investment “will attract a diverse out-of-season labor force, because Maldonado provides the conditions to live and work.”

With information from El Observador

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