With Mickey Rourke currently filming in Aegina and few more international projects lined up for the summer, Greece is in the process of making further improvements to its highly successful 2018 incentive scheme for audiovisual productions, with the aim of making it even more attractive to foreign filmmakers, and more effective for those who are local.
Several significant amendments and new laws are expected to be finalized by the end of August, two years after the scheme’s implementation, each targeting different weaknesses which had been noticed in its debut.
The news broke soon after Greece became one of the first European countries to resume filming international projects, thanks to its successful handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, under new guidelines set by the Ministry of Culture.
The first new bill, was approved by the parliament and became law last week. It focuses on two issues — first, the increase in the amount of cash rebates from 35 to 40% of eligible costs incurred in Greece, in conjunction with a drop in specific minimum spending, and second, the simplification of the application process.
“We are also raising the percentage of the ‘Above The Line’ eligible costs, which is the part of the budget that goes to the payments of the starring actors, the scriptwriter, the director and the producer.
“That was at 25% and we are raising it to 35%, to allow the rebate to cover a larger part of the expenditure, which is usually very high in big productions”, explains Panos Kouanis, President and CEO of the Greek National Centre of Audiovisual Media and Communication (EKOME).
The drop in the minimum expenditures has been a known request of local producers, who have long been asking for the incentive but were often limited by the market’s lower budget potential compared to international projects.
Minimum spending is accordingly being lowered from 30,000 to 25,000 euros per episode for fiction series and to €20,000 for documentary series and animation — with a further drop to 15,000 euros per episode only, for any single project which exceeds 70 episodes.
Although certain cultural criteria apply, there is still no cap on the budget, which is another major competitive advantage of the Greek incentives scheme compared to those of other countries.
Regarding the simplification of procedures, Kouanis says that significantly less paperwork and documentation will be required than had been previously, since they observed in practice that there simply was no need for some of these forms.
“On top of that, we are minimizing the application deadline. Until now, producers could apply for the scheme up to two months before they start filming in Greece, at the latest — and this we are chopping off to just ten days.
“That is because we saw that very often decisions are taken and budgets are finalized at the very last minute by filmmakers, and we want to give them the chance to come to us even then,” Kouanis adds.
A further incentive to be also introduced during this summer, is a tax return law for individuals or legal entities which invest in audiovisual productions in Greece.
“These alone are very powerful incentives to boost the industry, but we are still missing three things which we are trying to gradually build as EKOME; however, I believe that they will soon materialize, one by one. Some depend on us, others not,” Kouanis explains.
“First, there is a lack of human resources. International productions raise the demand for local, specialized crews to an extent that local supply cannot cover. If one or two big international productions are being filmed in the country simultaneously, we already run out of experienced crews.
“So, we have contacted the ministries in charge, such as the Ministry of Education, and we try to run various training and retraining programs to allow new professionals into the industry and to have existing ones better specialized to cover big productions. Right now, we are preparing an education program in collaboration with the producers’ union,” reveals the EKOME chief.
Second, the country needs big film studios, which most high-end producers, such as Netflix, expect to find. Fortunately, two separate initiatives by Greek-American businessmen show promise for the creation of state-of-the-art studio infrastructure in Greece.
The setup of the Thessaloniki branch of Bulgaria’s Nu Boyana Studios, headed by Millennium and John Kalafatis, is already underway, as announced last year. Then there is the Mirkopoulos family, owners of Cine Space Studios in Toronto and Chicago, who had also declared an interest in building studios in Athens.
“The construction of big filming studios would definitely skyrocket Greece as a filming destination, like we saw it happen in other CEE countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Czech Republic,” Kouanis notes.
Last but not least, EKOME is planning to start operating film offices across Greece, charged with facilitating the filming process in any given region. The necessary funding has been secured and is awaiting a double legislation act to become effective from two respective ministries, which will acknowledge film offices as entities and allow for fast track licensing.
Kouanis hopes that “when all the above fall into place, we will have the complete package to fully accommodate both the local and international industry.” He admits that competition with other countries offering similar incentives schemes is extremely tough, since they have spent more than two decades assembling the physical and legal infrastructure that brought them to the position they hold today in the international filming industry.
Since April 2018, when the scheme launched, 88 out of 110 applications have been approved, half of which were international projects. The total budget expected to be invested in the Greek audiovisual industry by all those is estimated at 83 million euro, with the respective cash rebates reaching 27.7 million. That translates into 25800 job openings in more than 100 locations across Greece.
“From the beginning, about two years ago, our job at EKOME was to create the necessary conditions to make audiovisual production a key industry for (financial) development in Greece, by combining local entrepreneurship with employment and foreign investment. Be it by servicing foreign productions here or by creating studios with capital from abroad, which will generate permanent job positions and keep bringing in more international projects.
For example, when Nu Boyana Studios launched in Bulgaria 15 years ago, 80% of staff were foreign workers and 20% locals. Today, it’s the opposite. And that’s what we aim to emulate in Greece,” Kouanis states.
Find out more about the incentives scheme for filming and post-producing in Greece here.