Call it peer pressure or just common sense, but the Czech parliament finally heeded the advice to adopt foreign production incentives late last year.
By early February, the incentive proposal was waiting on approval by the European Commission, but no serious hurdles were expected since the proposal was drafted to conform with similar rules in Germany, Hungary and other European territories that offer 20% back for shoots that meet certain criteria, including local involvement and cultural factors.
What’s less certain is how effective they will be in reversing the dwindling fortunes of Prague as a star location in the region.
George Lucas, who is exec producing WWII action adventure yarn “Red Tails” in Prague, told a local daily newspaper last May that he would consider shooting his long-gestating “Star Wars” TV series in the Czech Republic if the country had incentives.
Bizzers at Barrandov, the country’s largest studio complex and host to “GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” “Wanted” and “Casino Royale” in recent years, are upbeat about the expected rebates.
Most foreign observers are awaiting the details of the cash-back plan before counting the Czech Republic in again — details that the Czech Culture Ministry has not released pending the EC stamp of approval.
“When does it pay out?” asks American producer Jonathan Weisgal. “Is it something I can take advantage of before I start shooting? What are the restrictions placed on productions? Can they bring their own crew?”
Whether the rebates are competitive with those in neighboring territories will be the real test, he says.
Prague producer David Minkowski, whose Stillking shingle stumped for the incentives for years, has been privy to the terms and says, “I think we have to wait and see how it works in practice. On paper, it’s just as good (as the others).”
As for limits on foreign crews, he says, “There are no restrictions in that sense — they can do whatever they want.”
Even before the incentives bill passed, Barrandov had adopted a proactive strategy to keeping up production inflow, developing its first major deal for a foreign TV series, a 10-parter of hour-long episodes based on the “Station Quartet” books by British author David Downing. That pact, with Pearblossom Entertainment, was announced in September.
Yet the rebates, Prague’s established record of technical talent and infrastructure and studios like Barrandov who are ready to make a deal may not be enough in the realities of the recession-hit production biz.
Karl Baumgartner, a co-founder of Germany’s Pandora Film, a longtime backer of Czech work such as Bohdan Slama’s “A Country Teacher” and the upcoming animated “Alois Nebel,” says the rebates are bound to help, but at the same time, he cautions: Many producers on the fence between, say, Prague and Berlin, may well go with Berlin even once the Czech incentives go online.
The reason, he says: “Regional funds.”
With German provinces stepping up to sweeten the pot with substantial deals still unheard of in the Czech Republic, a foreign production in Bavaria can do much better than even the 20% Czech plan.
What’s more, Baumgartner says, even in a pricey locale such as Italy, some provinces such as Piedmont offer tax breaks that act as steady cashflow, trumping even the German system, which, like most, pays a third of its rebate at the start of a foreign shoot, a third on completion of rough cut and the rest on finish.
Helena Frankova of the Czech Culture Ministry, which co-funds the Czech Film Commission, says the state is trying to sell provinces on the concept of setting up such funds. The focus for now, though, is getting the rebates up and running.