Tag Archive for: ‘House of Lies’


The actor Don Cheadle, right, during a shoot for the series “House of Lies” outside a cafe in Havana. Credit Desmond Boylan/Associated Press

HAVANA, Feb. 13th During a shoot for the Showtime comedy series “House of Lies” last month, Don Cheadle sat outside a cafe in Old Havana, puffing on a fat cigar and clinking glasses with three compadres.

It was a novel scene — an American actor filming an American TV show on a Cuban street — and one that, until last month, would have been illegal under the United States’s economic embargo.

But regulations published by the Treasury Department on Jan. 26 now allow Americans to shoot scripted movies and shows in Cuba for the first time in half a century. The rules opened the door to American projects — which could include scenes for the next “Fast & Furious” movie and an Ethan Hawke film — and to collaboration between Hollywood and the island’s underfunded film sector.

“The world just got bigger because Cuba has become accessible,” said Matthew Carnahan, creator of “House of Lies.”

As a location, Cuba was inspiring, if challenging, he said, but added, “I’m dreaming up reasons to go back.”

A stream of American filmmakers needing to hire Cuban equipment and crews would be a boon to the country’s independent production industry, which sprouted in the late 1990s as digital technology made filmmaking more accessible and state money for movies ran dry.

Some Cuban filmmakers worry, though, that their government will open its arms to Hollywood while continuing to give its own filmmakers the cold shoulder. Independent production companies in Cuba operate in a legal limbo, getting little or no funding from the state and often struggling to get their movies past the censors.

“It’s great that people from Hollywood want to come to Cuba, but it’s caught us at a bad moment,” said Carlos Lechuga, a Cuban director. “We have stories to tell, and right now we don’t feel that we can do that.”

The thaw between the United States and Cuba in 2014 prompted a swell of inquiries from Americans eager to shoot there. The next “Fast & Furious” installment may be partly shot in Cuba, a spokeswoman for its studio, Universal Pictures, said, adding that the company “is currently seeking approval from the United States and Cuban governments.”

And Cuban filmmakers have been fielding inquiries. “There isn’t a day that I am not meeting with a potential client from the United States,” said Oscar Ernesto Ortega, 29, whose El Central Producciones produces music videos, commercials and documentaries for clients like the Puerto Rican band Calle 13 and Red Bull Media House from offices in Miami and Havana.

Boris Crespo, founder of BIC Producciones, in Havana, said he had been working flat out for the past year, providing production services for Conan O’Brien’s four-day visit to Cuba last year and the History channel’s “Top Gear,” which filmed an episode in Cuba in January.

Mr. Carnahan, who worked with Island Film, another Havana production company, said he was struck by the “passionate” crew and the quality of Cuban actors. (The “House of Lies” shoot was planned before the new regulations went into effect, so producers had to get a license from the Treasury Department.)

What Cuba is missing, he said, are decent cellphone connections, fast Internet access and even “basic things — hammers — things that we don’t give much thought to.”

And the process of procuring shooting permits was extremely slow, he said.

Mr. Crespo said that the state-funded Cuban Institute of Cinematic Art and Industry “drowns in its own bureaucracy.”

Some Cuban filmmakers worry that American producers will steer clear of controversial themes in order to get permission to film from Cuban cultural authorities, who require all filmmakers to submit a synopsis or script of their project. Mr. Carnahan said that the “House of Lies” script was reviewed by the Cuban culture ministry, but that the authorities requested no changes and had “a sense of humor about the material,” which ribbed Cuban bureaucracy.

But Cuban filmmakers said the authorities were intolerant of works that touched on issues like the early treatment of H.I.V.-positive Cubans or the culture of citizens spying on one another, topics that have been covered in their films.

Mr. Lechuga said that his first feature, “Melaza,” about a destitute former sugar-producing town, which was shown at the Havana film festival in 2012 and won an independent critics’ prize, was not released in Cuban theaters for nearly a year, and then only in one cinema.

“The government doesn’t mind if you shoot ‘Fast & Furious’ here, but it doesn’t want the local industry to make movies about our reality,” he said.

Lázaro González González, whose documentary about cross-dressing performers, “Máscaras” (2014), has had a very limited release in Cuba, said he hoped the new rules would make it easier to distribute work in the United States.

Currently, only a few organizations, like the Vermont nonprofit Americas Media Initiative, distribute Cuban independent films in the United States. Broader, commercial releases would generate more income, Mr. González said.

Claudia Calviño, executive producer at Producciones de la 5ta Avenida  said she was disappointed that Americans, so far, did not seem interested in co-productions. Her company has been involved in a handful of such films with European producers, like “Hotel Nueva Isla” (2014), a feature-length portrait of life in an abandoned hotel that she produced with El Viaje Films of Spain. She said no American filmmaker had asked what 5ta Avenida was working on or talked about developing joint projects.

Still, the détente has spurred exchanges. During Havana’s film festival in December, a delegation of actors, directors and writers organized by the Sundance Institute’s feature film program offered workshops on screenwriting, production, documentary editing and scoring for film.

Ethan Hawke, who was part of the group, told reporters at the time that he wanted to film an adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s “Camino Real.” He confirmed his plans in a statement to The New York Times, and said he been scouting Havana.

Michelle Satter, director of the Sundance feature film program, said the détente was a chance to exchange ideas with, and help train, the next generation of Cuban filmmakers.

“We’re listening,” she said by telephone from Los Angeles. “We want to hear these stories.”

Mr. Carnahan said that he was pondering a Cuban project — to improve access to equipment, say, or to help them tighten up scripts.

And there were plenty of stories in Cuba, he said.

“It’s so interesting there right now,” he said, “I wish I could just sit there with a bag of popcorn and watch.”


In this Jan. 15, 2016 photo, “House of Lies” actors Don Cheadle and Josh Lawson, right, sit at the bar counter in Bodeguita Del Medio during the filming of an episode, in Havana, Cuba. The producers of Showtime’s dark comedy “House of Lies” had $3 million and a mission: shoot the first episode of scripted American television in Cuba in more than half a century. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

HAVANA, Jan. 22th. (AP) The producers of Showtime’s dark comedy “House of Lies” had $3 million and a mission: shoot the first episode of scripted American television in Cuba in more than half a century.

With less than a week to shoot the entire fifth-season finale on the chaotic streets of central Havana, director Matthew Carnahan told his just-hired Cuban crew that they’d be skipping their full lunch break to make up time the first two days.

“You know what? That’s not going to work,'” the assistant director responded. “You don’t do a walking lunch here.”

The full lunch breaks got taken. And the shoot starring Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell wrapped up last week as part of a once-unimaginable surge of interest that could transform communist Cuba into a regular Hollywood location or fade rapidly due to the difficulty of working on the island.

A year after Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama declared detente, the mega-franchise “Fast and Furious” is awaiting U.S. and Cuban permission to shoot its eighth installment in Havana. There’s talk of a major U.S. car commercial shooting here. Actor Ethan Hawke said he wants to make a film in Cuba. “Papa,” an Ernest Hemingway biopic approved before detente was announced, premiered in Havana in December.

Until recently, Hollywood shooting in Cuba would have likely set off outrage among anti-Castro Cuban-Americans who say trade with Cuba feeds repression on the island.

The productions coming to Havana this year say White House staff have explicitly encouraged them as part of Obama’s new warming with Cuba. Preparing for anger in Miami was never part of the planning.

“It just didn’t factor into it,” Showtime president David Nevins said as he watched the shooting in Old Havana last week. “We’re slowly renewing relations and I think this show and the attitude that you’ll see within the show towards what’s going on with Cuba I think reflects where mainstream America is right now.”

Producers of “House of Lies” and other productions shot in Cuba said the 55-year-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba posed the primary obstacle to U.S. entertainment companies’ hopes to turn the island into a tropical backdrop. But particularly Cuban difficulties could also prevent U.S. productions from regularly working on the island.

“There’s a lot of stuff coming here,” Carnahan said. “Whether Cuba becomes a viable location on a regular ongoing basis rather than a novelty is up to both countries.”

The Cuban government demands script approval, only accepting productions that put the country in a good light. Charter flights from the U.S. remain unreliable, although regularly scheduled flights are slated to start soon.

There are so few international-quality hotel rooms that Cuba-based producers regularly cancel shoots due to lack of beds for cast and crew. “House of Lies” stars good-naturedly described missing sheets and paper-thin pillows at the hotel where they stayed, and shooting in the streets of Old Havana without the usual amenities.

“We don’t have trailers, which I really enjoy, because it strips down the production to just its bare necessities,” said Bell, the star of the teen detective series “Veronica Mars” and the voice of princess Anna in the mega-hit “Frozen.” “Our green room, per se, is usually someone’s house, someone’s home … We just walk. We go into shops and sit with people. You just sit down with people and talk to them.”

Weighed against that are actors and production staff that “House of Lies” producers described as impressively trained and well-prepared. The Americans are also thrilled at the backdrop of thousands of colonial and Art Deco buildings, most dilapidated from years of neglect, although Old Havana’s core is being painstakingly restored.

“Everywhere you point the camera is the most photogenic place you’ve ever seen,” Carnahan said.

“House of Lies” is about a team of ruthless management consultants who zip around the world making fortunes at the expense of their greedy, hapless clients who run major corporations.

Last summer, as its writers plotted out its fifth season, they realized that the wave of post-detente U.S. business interest in Cuba make it a natural subject for the show.160121121824-cuba-us-tv-location-2-exlarge-169

“They come down thinking that if they can be the pioneers to land the business deal that they see Cuba as, that it will be this unparalleled victory,” executive producer Jessika Borsiczky said. “They come down to really take over how Cuba’s going to run its business.”

In the script, which was reviewed and approved by the Cuban government, head consultant Marty Kaan and his team end up realizing the error of their hyper-capitalist ways.

“As they’re here their assumptions get stripped away and they realize there’s a lot more to the change in Cuba than just taking advantage of it,” Borsiczky said.

A “Fast and Furious” shoot would dwarf the “House of Lies” single episode, and could prove more ideologically tricky for Cuba. One of the most successful movie franchises in history, it has grossed billions worldwide with films that pay tribute to souped-up street-racing cars and carefully planned multi-million dollar heists.

Cuban officials did not respond to requests for comment. But ordinary Cubans watching the “House of Lies” shoot said they were happy to see American entertainers at work in Havana.

“It’s strange but good,” said Hilga Jimenez, a 58-year-old health worker who works for a state campaign against disease-carrying mosquitos. “They want to get closer to us, we want to get closer to them, and this way we get to know each other’s culture.”

havana'live'don-cheadle-house-of-liesHAVANA, Jan. 6th Don Cheadle’s Showtime comedy “House of Lies” will film one episode of its fifth season in Havana, making it the first U.S. scripted series to film in Cuba since the countries’ diplomatic relations were restored last summer.

The dramedy stars Cheadle as a fast-talking and cunning management consultant who heads the firm Kaan & Associates. This season, he has his heart set on global domination as he tires with landing the fat-cat clients who have made him a mogul. This results in a trip to the City of Columns for him and his coworkers (aka his “Pod”) made up of Jeannie (Kristen Bell), Clyde (Ben Schwartz) and Doug (Josh Lawson).

The shoot is done in compliance with the U.S. Department of Treasury pursuant to an Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) license and follows all appropriate U.S. laws.

“Marty and the Pod have traveled the world to land clients,” said Cheadle. “But this historic trip to Cuba is definitely Kaan & Associates’ biggest and wildest adventure yet. It’s sure to be one for the record books, for both our characters and for our cast and crew. We’re grateful to Showtime, our production team and everyone who worked so diligently to make this trip happen.”

The fifth season of “House of Lies” premieres later this year. The series is produced by Showtime and was created by Matthew Carnahan, who exec produces along with Jessika Borsiczky, Cheadle and David Walpert.

This isn’t the only Showtime show to build bridges with foreign locations. Last year, spy drama “Homeland” filmed in Berlin after receiving a $1.1 million grant from German film and TV fund Medienboard.

Discovery Channel’s automotive-themed docu-series “Cuban Chrome,” which premiered in July, was the first U.S. series to film in Cuba since restored relations.