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Finnish Rebates Lure Shoots to Northern Wilderness

Finland’s Arctic landscapes have an almost otherworldly beauty, and the country is spoiled for natural riches. Along its spectacular Baltic coastline, visitors can access the world’s largest archipelago, while the interior boasts fairy-tale backdrops of crystal lakes, brooding forests and unspoiled wilderness areas brimming with reindeer, elk and other wildlife.

Turning that natural bounty into an asset has been a priority of the Finnish government, which introduced a 25% cash rebate for film and TV productions last year. Designed to make the country more competitive with its neighbors, the system is a marvel of Finnish efficiency.

“Our goal was to make a very lean system,” says Merja Salonen of Business Finland, the innovation funding, trade, investment and travel promotion organization owned by the Finnish government and tasked with administering the cash rebate. “We tried to be very straightforward and with very flexible minimum requirements,” she says.

Finland’s incentive scheme is open to a yearround application process.

It offers a cash rebate of up to 25% on qualifying local spend for feature films, fiction series, animated productions and documentaries, provided they meet certain financial and artistic criteria, and use a Finnish co-producer or production service. No cultural test is required.

The minimum spend per film is €150,000 ($170,100) and €250,000 ($283,600) for TV and toon projects. Qualifying spend can be a maximum of 80% of the total production budget. The rebate can also be applied to projects doing post-production in Finland, even if they were shot entirely outside the country.

Hardly two years after it was introduced, the system has earned a reputation for user-friendliness. Payments are made directly to foreign production companies and can be disbursed while production in Finland is still ongoing. While the rebate might be smaller than in some of its competitors, turnaround is swift.

“We can make the decisions in 40 days, and we can pay in three weeks,” Salonen says.

The rebate has already had a dramatic impact on local production, particularly among TV series, where Finland has in recent years struggled to keep pace with its Scandinavian neighbors. Salonen projected that the Finnish film and TV industries could double within six years, from a current revenue of roughly €400 million ($451 million) annually, with demand to access the rebate already outpacing the €10 million ($11.3 million) per year budgeted through 2019. “We are working hard to get the cash rebate budget higher in the coming years,” she added.

One country that could serve as inspiration for the Finns: Iceland, another northern European nation with dramatic, Arctic landscapes, a highly educated, English-speaking population and a determination to use its business-friendly rebate as a competitive advantage for a small but growing industry.

Within the span of roughly a decade, says Salonen, the Icelandic film and TV industries tripled their revenue, while wooing big-budget studio movies including “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” The impact of the rebate has been profound, and Salonen says, “I like to compare us to Iceland, because they started from baby steps as well.”

Photo: “Bordertown,” set on Finland’s border with Russia, is a Nordic noir with a twist: It is a crime drama centering on a family.

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