Hollywood A-listers Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham will be filming in Greece next month for the fourth movie of The Expendables franchise, Greek-American John Kalafatis, CEO and co-founder of York Films in New York City, revealed recently.
Speaking at the special forum “Hollywood in Greece”, organized by the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce and ICC Hellas in collaboration with the Greek National Center of Audiovisual Media and Communication (EKOME), Kalafatis elaborated on his plans to build state-of-the-art soundstages and film studios on the outskirts of Thessaloniki.
The gigantic project, which is a joint venture with Millennium Media and Nu Boyana Studios Bulgaria, was first announced in 2019. Although still in construction, it has already attracted interest from major Hollywood productions to film in Greece.
Last summer, Thessaloniki doubled for Miami, Florida, in Millenium Media’s thriller The Enforcer, starring Antonio Banderas and Kate Bosworth. The star-fronted movie is currently in post-production, lined-up for a 2022 premiere.
“We are moving to producing films of high caliber,” Kalafatis asserted.
The leap from construction to film production
A successful construction entrepreneur, Kalafatis first ventured into the film industry in 2012 as a parallel business activity. He established York Studios, with campuses in Queens and the Bronx, driven by the habit of always challenging himself professionally, he told the “Hollywood in Greece” forum.
It was the respective success of the new business and the excitement of watching other people’s productions renting space in his studio, that made him consider pursuing a more active part in the filming industry and getting involved in co-producing as well — and so he did.
And his next film studio construction project is in Thessaloniki.
“While New York City is in high demand for productions for all the right reasons, and York studios is in place to accommodate these professional needs, Greece is a challenging effort right now with great potential,” he commented.
A new studio for Hollywood projects in Greece
“I wouldn’t be able to make an attempt to establish and invest in Greece, particularly Northern Greece, without the support of the government of Greece, particularly EKOME and its CEO Panos Kouanis, who is the force behind these financial incentives,” Kalafatis acknowledged.
However, he explained that the catalyst in deciding to create a new state-of-the-art complex of soundstages and film studios in the area in the first place, was the Lerner family in Los Angeles. Established Hollywood film producers, they are the owners of the Millennium Media film company.
“Together with Yariv Lerner, CEO of Nu Boyana Films in Sofia, Bulgaria, and co-partner at Millennium productions, we are in the process of constructing this project which I am very optimistic about.
“I believe in this, not because I am Greek-American in my roots; it’s also the respective infrastructure, the quality of the people, the locations, the attractiveness to Hollywood that makes it a much easier task,” Kalafatis added.
The ambitious plan for the new studios was first made public following a meeting of John Kalafatis, Avi and Yariv Lerner with the then-Deputy Minister of Digital Policy, Lefteris Kretsos, in Spring 2019.
The succeeding government proved eager to embrace the venture.
In Kalafatis’ personal opinion, EKOME and the Greek state have done enough in setting up financial incentives for international productions, and it’s now up to the private sector to challenge itself in order to attract more Hollywood productions to Greece.
“We all have to get together and work together,” he stressed.
International producers’ experience in Greece
Some of the first high-profile international producers who filmed in Greece with the support of EKOME shared their enthusiasm from the experience during the forum.
For Joseph Samaan, President of Tanweer Group, Greece’s offering to foreign producers extends far beyond the generous cash rebate incentive of 40% on eligible costs which they made use of in the making of Greek movie Eftihia.
He listed sunshine, locations, climate, limitless monuments and friendly, welcoming local people, among the benefits.
“In addition, most people in Greece speak English. If you travel, (you will notice that) in many countries in Europe it is very hard to find people, mainly in the young generations, who speak English fluently. And this is a big help for producers who come here to shoot their film,” Samaan opined.
Alexander Potter, producer of the film “Man of God,” starring Mickey Rourke, which was shot in Greece recently, argued that Greece’s cash rebate scheme is one of the most reliable in terms of bankability.
“When you talk to financiers or banks that are in the business and they are specialized in financing international cash rebates, their question is always, first, has the program been proven? Has money been paid out, and on time? Is there a way for the cash rebate program and the audiovisual center to sign that cash rebate to us, as a security?
“All of these details I know have been addressed by Panos Kouanis and his team, and so I believe that Greece is offering a fantastic program. Apart from, obviously, the locations, the sets etc, from a financial perspective, 40% cash rebate is massive, especially in this day and age -and you don’t have many places that offer this,” he observed.
The film’s director, Yelena Popovic, spoke of a “fantastic experience” and “wonderful people.
“I was very well received. People were extremely professional, showed great support, and there was great energy on the set. We worked in the middle of the pandemic, on top of everything. It was extremely challenging on that level, but with everybody’s help and hard work, we managed to pull through,” she recalled.
It is her belief that “Greece can definitely become, and should be, a place where we can bring international productions to make films or TV shows.”