Film office lures 'Mamma Mia!,' other productions

With year-round sunshine, gorgeous seaside vistas and affordable artists and crews, mamma mia!, how can Greece fail to win suitors? But whether even assets like these can stack up against newly cautious spending plans and competing countries from Eastern Europe with even cheaper crews and sometimes substantial cash-back offers is another question.

Greece, like most countries in the region, offers VAT refunds for non-European companies, which can help knock 19% off the goods-and-services tab, points out Markos Holevas, director of the Hellenic Film Commission Office.

The office itself represents a boost in marketing for the Balkan country. The Greek Film Center established it 18 months ago to create parity with neighboring nations’ film commissions dedicated to aiding foreign productions. Though the commission is still overseen by the GFC, it will soon be operated independently.

Its results are evident already, with six foreign features shooting in Greece since the commission’s founding, including, of course, “Mamma Mia!” along with the romantic comedy “My Life in Ruins,” a U.S.-Spanish co-production, and other French and German projects.

In fact, says the genial Holevas, his office already has assisted 27 projects and fielded some 50 serious inquiries. The Greek tourism authorities are also on hand to help, he says, and can arrange to offset local expenses. “We know when you are shooting in another country you must pay all this from your budget,” Holevas says.

Another challenge is Greece’s lack of a major production/studio facility, which means the focus is on helping with locations. As for the inevitable tax credit question?

“Soon we will have from the Ministry of Culture a new law on cinematography policy,” says Holevas, adding it’s expected to have tax-break provisions.

As for the current rise of Greek filmmakers, some of the explanation for the 29 features finished this year, up from an annual average of 20, is in the falling cost of good technology. But co-productions, as in the rest of Europe, also are paving the way forward.

One such recent deal led to drama “Athanasia,” a Greek-Belgian-Netherlands-U.S. venture helmed by Panos Karkanevatos. On such projects, Greek rules are flexible, and the GFC, which is funded by the ministry, can kick in a portion of its E10 million annual funding so long as there are local locations or crew used.

Funding also comes from a 15-year-old revenue tax of 1.5% on television stations — though enforcement is weak and only cabler Nova and national station ERT actually kick in their share, bizzers say.

The leading Greek distrib, Odeon, is a major player in the development of new talent, says the company’s head of acquisitions, Jacques Kruger.

Odeon, which controls 40% of the country’s 430 screens, is involved in development from screenplay onward and has produced some 25 pics in the last 20 years.

Odeon releases five films per year, a rate that looks to be steady for the future, Kruger says. And because of its long-standing relationships with local crews, the pics look like they cost much more than the typical e1.5 million maximum.

“One reason why I imagine Greek audiences react so well to Greek productions is that production values have improved markedly. These are real feature productions,” Kruger says.

The country has seen a rise in theatrical auds since falling numbers were reversed after 1999, Kruger says.

The key is keeping a sense of humor, Kruger adds: Locals are particularly into lighter fare in warm months, when the number of screens jumps thanks to open-air cinemas.

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