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Romania Looking to Attract Big-Budget Foreign Productions

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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