Frances Lausell (left) with director Diana Valentine

September 27, 2021

Puerto Rican Proud

A local pro keeps productions humming on her island home.

Ann Farmer

As a producer with bona fide Puerto Rico cred, Frances Lausell has proved invaluable to film and TV projects on the Caribbean island. "I'm making fantasies every day," says the Puerto Rico native, who is currently working on Fox's Fantasy Island. The production, from Sony Pictures Television, Gemstone Studios and Fox Entertainment, has installed its entire operation on the island's shores, taking advantage of the natural beauty, economic incentives and skilled crews.

"Financially, we have a solid incentive program," Lausell says. Created a decade ago, Act 27 offers a 40 percent tax credit on payments to local resident companies and other local expenditures, and a 20 percent credit on nonresident above-the-line payments. "On top of that," she says, "you have to add the human value of having a crew that has the experience to use these settings and tell these stories in a visually interesting manner."

A beautiful and secluded beach on the isle's eastern coast serves as Fantasy Island's primary location. It's where each episode's characters arrive by seaplane for their custom-made fantasy adventures. Hacienda Siesta Alegre — an elegant, airy Spanish-style hotel set in a nearby rainforest — serves as Elena Roarke's residence. Roselyn Sanchez, who plays Roarke, is also one of the island's own.

"It's my first time on a series where my number one is also a Puerto Rican woman," Lausell says, proudly adding, "She's really killing it." The crew constructed a dock where the seaplane taxis up and lets out its passengers. The area is also within easy reach of San Juan, the capital, which offers a profusion of location prospects.

"Each fantasy can take you in any direction," Lausell says, noting that some require a modern setting, while another time-travels to an18th-century castle. "That is always fun when we get to recreate other periods."

Lausell, who has served as a producer for other series shot in Puerto Rico — including Netflix's StartUp and Crackle's The Oath and Cleaners — says that while Spanish is the official language, most people in the local industry speak and understand English.

Thus she was able to fill many of Fantasy Island's key production positions with local talent, including the director of photography, assistant directors, gaffer and production designer slots. "You can go to some other jurisdictions," she says, "and you have to bring your heads of departments."

Puerto Rico was devastated in 2017 by two fierce consecutive hurricanes, Irma and Maria. "I lost my house. So did several other crew members," says Lausell, who was helping to produce The Oath at the time. Production halted but returned in a relatively short time. "The entire country was dark. But we were lighting sets and providing showers for our crew," she says. "We have developed a really resilient spirit. It has only made us stronger."

For more on Fantasy Island, click HERE

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 9, 2021

For more stories celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, click HERE

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