In a long-awaited measure to bolster a country fighting to recover from an ongoing economic crisis and seeking to reposition itself in the world economy, the Greek government has introduced a 25% cash rebate it hopes will attract foreign film productions to the Mediterranean nation.
Greece’s new incentive is substantial. A total of €450 million ($547 million) has been allocated for the new program over the next six years, offering foreign productions a 25% rebate on all qualifying local spending, with a minimum spend of €100,000 (around $122,000) and a €5 million (roughly $6.1 million) cap.
“I think the impact will be huge,” says Venia Vergou, director of the Hellenic Film Commission, who explains that the rebate will offer Greece a chance to capitalize on its rich natural and historic bounty. “We have amazing archaeological sites that no other European country has.”
In the past decade, Greece has struggled to attract high-profile foreign productions that were drawn to neighboring countries with competitive tax incentives. The most recent setback came last year, when “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” chose to shoot in Croatia. Vergou says the failure to attract the sequel to the iconic 2008 musical comedy that lensed on the Greek island of Skopelos was a particularly tough blow to the local film industry. “After losing ‘Mamma Mia,’ many people actually felt … what that loss meant,” she says.
American writer-director Steven Bernstein, who moved to Greece in 2016 and is building a film studio on the island of Syros, sees the incentive as an important sign of progress. “This tax rebate is a huge step in the right direction,” he maintains.
Bernstein trains 400-500 film students a year in Greece as part of an effort to develop the country’s crew base, which he views as a major obstacle to growing the local industry. Another key hurdle to overcome is the stiff 24% value-added tax, imposed as part of Greece’s bailout terms with international lenders. “The government is well-intentioned,” says Bernstein, noting a willingness to work within the framework of the law to find solutions.
Greece will also have to clear up its notorious bureaucratic logjams. For starters, the Hellenic Film Commission is spearheading efforts to streamline the application process for shoots at archaeological sites and offer a more structured fee system for film permits. But stakeholders have to be on the same page. Just days after the Greek government formally introduced the rebate, a BBC One-AMC adaptation of John le Carré’s “The Little Drummer Girl” was denied permission from the Central Archaeological Council to shoot at an iconic ancient site. Though a compromise was eventually reached, one official called the incident “an international embarrassment.”
Vergou concedes there’s work to be done. “It’s not only the incentives. It’s not only the cash rebate. It’s actually changing the mentality all over the country,” she says. “There has to be a very coherent strategic plan at the national level.”
“The dialogue between the film industry and the [government],” she adds, “has to be far more productive.”