Long known to Hollywood for its water tanks, generous incentives and wide-ranging architecture, the Mediterranean island nation of Malta is making an effort to lure more international production. Whether it will succeed remains to be seen.
This year started well, with shoots of the third season of USA’s “Queen of the South,” National Geographic’s “Genius: Picasso” and Sky Germany’s “Das Boot.”
New film commissioner Johann Grech, who was appointed last December, has announced plans for a sorely needed revamp of studio space, which has yet to materialize. When it does, it could be the clincher that Malta needs to establish itself as a haven for long-running productions.
Grech, the Maltese government’s former head of marketing, says he’s not only working on adding soundstages but also busy “building a rapport with producers in China and India” to expand the tiny country’s customer base. Bollywood blockbuster “Thugs of Hindostan,” toplining Aamir Khan, made a splash when it arrived last year for some sea-based filming but appears so far to have been a one-off from that market.
The bulk of productions that are tapping into Malta’s 27% cash rebate are high-end scripted series from Hollywood and Europe that need to do specific things that are difficult to accomplish elsewhere — for example, shooting in a water tank or capturing particular periods — says Malta-based line producer Malcolm Scerri-Ferrante.
Case in point: “Queen of the South,” which came to Malta in January for a six-day quickie at the 16th-century Fort Saint Elmo to shoot a scene reportedly involving a confrontation between its main character, runaway drug cartel leader Teresa Mendoza, played by Sonia Braga, and hit men sent by her rival.
“Genius: Picasso” showrunner, director and executive producer Ken Biller says that production went to Malta for nine days in February “to fill in some holes” of scenes it was not able to shoot in Budapest, its main location, in the middle of winter. Because of the island’s diverse topography, he says the crew was able to get “an extraordinary variety of locations in a very short period of time,” including stand-ins for the South of France, Spain, exteriors of Paris streets in summer and “a gigantic French-style chateau that stood in for Villa La Californie, the huge estate that Picasso lived in late in his life.” By and large, he says, the local crew was professional and relatively experienced, though not particularly numerous.
“Das Boot,” which is produced by Bavaria Fiction for Sky and mainly films in La Rochelle, France, also shot on Malta for 12 days — both on the open sea and in the tank. Producer Holger Reibiger says he picked the island nation primarily because location scouts found a 210-foot German U-boat replica built in 1999 for Universal’s Jonathan Mostow-directed “U-571” languishing in a shipyard there.
Reibiger says that while in Malta, he met Grech and told him that what’s lacking in the nation is soundstages. “They don’t have to be big,” he says, “but with some soundproof studios, then we could stay longer than just 10 or 12 days.” He was told such soundstages would be built by 2019 — when “Das Boot” is planning to return to the island for its second season.