Romania Looking to Attract Big-Budget Foreign Productions

Romania seeks to become attractive destination
Courtesy of Bucharest Film Studios

Receiving a lifetime achievement award at the Transylvania International Film Festival earlier this month, producer Iain Smith fondly described his time shooting “Cold Mountain” in Romania in 2003 as “one of the happiest filmmaking experiences I’ve ever had.” He remembered the warmth and generosity of the local crew, and the moody landscapes that served as a backdrop to the film’s tale of love and loss during the U.S. Civil War.

Romanian officials and entertainment executives want more foreign producers to follow in Smith’s footsteps. Hopes are high that the local servicing industry will be revived by the splashy relaunch of a sprawling studio complex and the expected approval of tax rebates that would put the country on equal footing with its neighbors in a competitive region.

Interest in Romania was reportedly high last month in Cannes, where Romanian director Cristian Mungiu won an award for “Graduation.” At the festival, producer Bobby Paunescu announced a new management team for Bucharest Film Studios. Formerly known as Media Pro, the studio includes 19 sound stages, a 110-acre backlot, and one of the largest water tanks in Europe.

Paunescu says that the studio reboot has already borne fruit, with a Hollywood production committed to what he expects to be “the second-largest budget” for a film in his country after “Cold Mountain.”

“It’s a new chance for the industry,” he says, an opportunity to “relaunch Romania.”

Outside of the sophisticated production facilities in Bucharest, the door could also be opening for regional production centers to emerge as well, says helmer and Transylvania festival founder Tudor Giurgiu. Last year, Radu Mihaileanu’s “The History of Love,” based on the international bestseller by American novelist Nicole Krauss, was filmed in Bucharest and Cluj, a bustling medieval city where Eastern European film pioneers like Jeno Janovics, Alexander Korda, and Michael Curtiz built a thriving industry a century ago.

In the 13 years since “Cold Mountain” was filmed there, Romania has serviced a string of foreign film and TV shoots, including the History Channel’s “Hatfields & McCoys” and Terry Gilliam’s “The Zero Theorem.” But nothing has matched “Cold Mountain’s” $80-million budget, and Bogdan Moncea, of Bucharest’s Castel Film Studios, notes that while business has been “growing slowly but steadily after the recession years,” it’s yet to reach pre-recession levels.

That could change with the introduction of tax rebates, which are expected to be put in place later this year. Romania is one of the only countries in Europe without an incentive scheme, but industry insiders say that crafting a rebate plan is a top priority of the young, technocratic government that swept to power last fall.

The details haven’t been finalized yet. But Alex Traila, of the National Film Center, says that officials are trying to “do a bit of analysis in the neighborhood” to determine what would work best for Romania. The country might take a page from the Czech Republic’s playbook, where the tax break currently covers up to 20% of production spend, or from neighboring Hungary, which offers a 25% rebate.

The incentives would add to the appeal of a country that already boasts varied locations, skilled crews, and some of the lowest production costs in the region.

“Romania remains one of the most attractive places to shoot in Europe, even without a tax incentive program,” says Moncea. “But we are convinced that the introduction of such a program will boost the industry,” allowing it to reach its “full potential.”

Moncea’s Castel, which has serviced more than 250 features since opening its doors in 1992, has already had a busy year. The studio is just days away from wrapping Discovery’s six-hour miniseries “Harley & the Davidsons,” as well as Universal’s “Dragon Heart 4” — Castel’s sixth project for the studio in recent years. The company is also working on a four-episode police procedural for HBO Europe.

Romania’s entertainment industry is eager to make up for lost time. Paunescu estimates that, in the past 10 years, the country’s economy has lost out on $3 billion to $4 billion from direct spending and from the trickle-down effect of hosting big-budget foreign shoots.

“It’s obvious opportunities were lost,” says newly appointed Culture Minister Corina Sateu. “But now what we have to focus on is how to create legislation that makes it stop.”

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  1. Jerry says:

    Romania has a much healthier political climate today than Hungary or Poland, where far-right political parties are in power. There is no influential right-wing party in Romania at all. (An ethnic German / Transylvanian Saxon was even elected president !) And it’s not an authoritarian state like Turkey, China or Russia. It’s still a young democracy, that needs to improve the laws and institutions, but it works better than in many other states. The fight against corruption continues and there is progress, more so than in Bulgaria. Since all the film production companies have no problem whatsoever to shoot a lot of big productions in Hungary, Poland, Turkey, China, Russia or Bulgaria, I don’t see any problem with Romania ;-) It’s actually the better choice, if you really want to support democratic values.

  2. Frank says:

    Phillip, you’re missing the point…If the US can’t provide the right environment for certain productions, then why shouldn’t they look for a more cost-effective environment? Sometimes a few millions of the budget can make or break a film project. The film community in Romania is always grateful for every foreign production. They create jobs and the opportunity to gain professional experience on an international level. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

  3. Dan says:

    Seems like the competition is VERY scared of the new tax rebates ;-) We had actually a great time shooting in Romania. The crews are top notch & the local talent pool is big. You have a vast choice in wonderful locations (mountains, sea, castles, modern architecture within short distances) and skilled, experienced film professionals working for about 20% of what we pay in the US. Labour costs are even lower than in Hungary or the Czech Republic, so even without any rebates it makes economic sense to shoot especially films that require a lot of extras, time, locations or construction work in Romania. Of course there is corruption because the people don’t earn enough, but the Romanian economy is rising fast now. It didn’t matter to us anyway: We had no problems whatsoever shooting our film & it was a fun experience. Actually our film probably wouldn’t have been made without the cheap labour costs in Romania, so I’m grateful. If you don’t believe me, ask the crews of “The Wave”, “Toni Erdmann”, “War Dogs” or many, many others. SEE: . Check it out.

  4. remy says:

    In Romania if you are a corrupt or under investigation politician you still can run for office the whole system is rig.

    • Dan says:

      They need to fix that. But did it matter for us as a film production ? No. I’ve never met a politician in my life…

      • Ben says:

        Actually, they fixed the problem last week: Corrupt mayors must quit now. Romania is changin’ fast…

  5. remy says:

    I gets come back from Romania and i am from Romania but if i wanna invest in Romania is a bad idea the corruption is the name to Romanian politician, the system is against business, the infra structure is a disaster, for every thing you have to filler up tone off paper, nothing can by resolve in the spot, every thing take fore ever and the government employers they are the worst ,very nasty and unprofessional,they not up to modern standards . Every thing is a night mare don t waist time and money.Romania is a beautiful country with a lot of potentials but the idiots in the government is the big problem in Romania .

    • Dan says:

      That’s your POV as a citizen…Sure, infrastructure still needs to improve, but they are building right now new highways. Bureaucracy was O.K., not much different than anywhere else. I never met government people, but Romanian people in general are very nice. They are all very religious and there is very little crime actually, much less than in the US. Bucharest is one of the safest capitals in Europe. They still don’t earn enough to make a good living, but the salaries are rising slowly. The Romanian economy is now rising faster than anywhere in Europe. In 20 years it will be like in any other Western country, so now is the best time to invest.

      • Phillip Ayling says:

        I find it interesting that film companies and stars are more than willing to make demands about the kinds of laws and social policies which might exist in places like North Carolina and Georgia, but then turn a blind eye or even embrace the social and labor practices that exist in foreign countries.

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