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More shows and films are made in Mexico, where costs are low and unions are few

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Lots of consumer goods, from washing machines to electric cars, are made in Mexico. But there's another industry, one you might not expect, that's increasingly moving its operations to Mexico. James Fredrick has this report from Mexico City.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And roll to you. Roll camera, roll sound.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Three, four - ready for take 13. Mark.

JAMES FREDRICK, BYLINE: Through the director's monitor, I'm watching a familiar American scene. A millennial couple is in their neat middle-class kitchen feeding their baby. Dad gets distracted by his phone. But take a step back from the camera - this commercial is being filmed in an art deco house in Mexico City's Condesa neighborhood. Dozens of Mexican crew members buzz around an American photographer and Australian director leading the show.

What's happening behind me right now is that the production designer is moving some spices off a spice rack - their labels are in Spanish - and is replacing them with little plants.

The Mexican production designer Monica Bidault's job is often to make Mexico City look like anywhere USA for commercials like this one.

MONICA BIDAULT: I don't want to say that there's nothing we can't do, but we've done pretty wild things to make it match.

FREDRICK: More and more, American and European production companies are ditching Los Angeles for Mexico City to shoot commercials, TV and films. You've probably seen some of these ads. Six Super Bowl commercials from this year were filmed in Mexico. I'm not allowed to say which company this commercial is for, but trust me, you know the company. It's the second project in Mexico for Australian director Fiona McGee. She said she expected it to be bumpy at first.

FIONA MCGEE: The language barrier for me, being Australian and not speaking Spanish, even though I wish I did, was a challenge. But the support is pretty amazing here.

FREDRICK: Glued to McGee's side on set is Rodrigo Urbano, her first assistant director and translator.

MCGEE: Putting the phone and spoon down a little bit.

RODRIGO URBANO: (Speaking Spanish).

MCGEE: Dropping the spoon down. Now stay in that position.

URBANO: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: McGee loves working in Mexico and says some things are easier here.

MCGEE: So you have rolling sets. So if you're shooting multiple days, you're walking into sets that are already dressed and already lit, which is kind of unheard of in a lot of other places.

FREDRICK: Behind this advantage and behind moving any kind of production to Mexico are lower costs and fewer regulations.

AVELINO RODRIGUEZ: We tend to be a third of the cost of a comparable LA production - non-union, union.

URBANO: That's Avelino Rodriguez, CEO of the production services company The Lift and president of Mexico's National Film Chamber. He said they've been working to bring the country up to global standards.

RODRIGUEZ: So we've made a concerted effort to train up the talent, and we grew the talent in the company, you know? And it paid off for the company and now for other companies.

FREDRICK: On this particular shoot, 97% of the crew was Mexican. But as with any outsourcing, the lingering question is what this means for American film workers who are heavily unionized in stark contrast to their Mexican counterparts. NPR reached out to several U.S. film industry unions and none responded to our questions. The other draw is the city itself, which became a destination for artists during COVID quarantine.

RODRIGUEZ: Now you have directors that have stayed here, production designers that have stayed here, from all sorts of jobs from the creative industries that are now permanent residents in Mexico.

FREDRICK: With a business-friendly film commission that makes permitting easy, the film industry in Mexico City is running at all-time highs as more productions come in from abroad. Different labor standards are sure to be an issue. But regardless of what happens in Hollywood, more and more of what you see on your TV will be made in Mexico.

URBANO: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: For NPR News, I'm James Fredrick in Mexico City.

(SOUNDBITE OF CITY OF THE SUN'S "SPAGHETTI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.