Tiny Island Malta Hosts Big Productions

Competitive incentives are a major part of the Mediterranean island's appeal to international filmmakers

Real Life, Real Oscar Potential

When oscar-nominated director paul greengrass wanted “an authentic ocean experience and look” for his hijack hostage thriller “Captain Phillips” (pictured), he headed to the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta, joining a long list of top helmers and high-profile productions that have filmed here. Among them: Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”), Angelina Jolie (“By the Sea”), Steven Spielberg (“Munich”), Wolfgang Petersen (“Troy”) and Marc Forster (“World War Z”).

Highly competitive incentives are part of the appeal. The Malta Film Commission offers a cash rebate of up to 27% on all eligible expenses incurred in Malta; 25% is available for all eligible productions, while an additional 2% is given to productions that shoot Malta as Malta. Value added tax, currently 18%, is fully refundable.

Its Mediterranean location, authentic architecture and stark landscapes are also part of Malta’s appeal for productions ranging from swords-and-sandals epics to war movies. “Malta is able to double as myriad classical and historical periods, including Rome, Greece, Egypt and other ancient civilizations,” says Josephine Vassallo Parnis, film commission coordinator. “In addition, there’s been increasing in attention from productions seeking to use Malta to stand-in for Middle Eastern countries.”

“Malta has this kind of Mediterranean hodgepodge of culture where we could find areas that look like southern European locations in one spot, and areas that look like Israel or Beirut in another,” says Rick Carter, production designer on “Munich.”

“Lots of people come here because of the incredible stone structures,” says Kevin Reynolds, director of the biblical production “Clavius,” with Joseph Fiennes and Tom Felton, for LD Enterta inment. “(With) all the amazing forts and streets … it’s reminiscent of Jerusalem. You can find looks here that you can’t find anywhere else in the world, even in Jerusalem. (That’s why) we shot the Jerusalem portion of the film here.”

Malta, which next year celebrates 90 years of film history, has serviced around 300 productions of all sizes, including such recent films as Alejandro Amenabar’s historical Roman-Egypt drama “Agora” (Mod Producciones), Iraq-based political thriller “The Devil’s Double” (Corsan) and Norwegian historical drama “Kon-Tiki” (Nordisk Film).

Malta is also home to world-class water tank facilities, enabling productions to shoot large- and small-scale water-based scenes. “It’s the best water facility I know of,” said Ridley Scott when he first used it.