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Poland’s Pending Incentives Escalate Rebate Arms Race in Region

Poland’s pending film incentives law, offering filmmakers both foreign and domestic 30% cash back on production spends, has been the subject of intense scrutiny of late.

Polish producers, who have been at a disadvantage in a region of Europe where others have long had incentives, are concerned that Poland’s package be competitive, say industry insiders. Meanwhile, finer points in the law are still being negotiated, says the Polish Film Institute’s Anna Dziedzic. The organization, charged with leading the incentive formulation efforts, serves as a keystone in Poland’s film production sector.

“The bill is now in the final stage,” says Dziedzic. “Parliament is working on the last corrections.” Final adjustments are now being drafted, she adds, but says the PFI is urging that the law be as user-friendly as possible.

In addition, the PFI, under the administration of Radoslaw Smigulski, is taking on new roles. “Some changes in the operational programs are going to be introduced that are aimed at supporting the international distribution of Polish films,” Dziedzic says.

The PFI, a key promoter and facilitator for Polish productions hoping to break out into international arenas, remains committed to that process.

Meanwhile, business has been brisk even without the incentives in place — indeed, for years, Polish producers have been advancing the notion that the country’s locations, internationally experienced crews and execs are essentially on par with Western equivalents, making the lack of incentives less than crucial. But now that sweeteners are imminent, film sector experts are predicting the country will gain more of a competitive edge than ever.

As Film Commission Poland’s chief Tomasz Dabrowski puts it, “The new incentives will not only enable us to keep up the successful development of Polish cinema, but also help to strengthen the local production sector, Polish talent, crew base and infrastructure.” Added to that, of course, the plan is “to make Poland an attractive film destination for international productions.”

Smigulski adds: “We care about the development of the whole audiovisual industry in Poland. The incentive system was designed to create the best possible conditions for Polish producers, and service and infrastructure providers, keeping in mind the ease of use for partners from abroad, and at the same time providing an offer which is competitive compared with schemes set up in other countries. I hope that the proposed solution will live up to our expectations, but we are ready to modify it to further improve the conditions of film production in Poland if needed.”

Dabrowski notes that the success of incentives in Hungary, the Czech Republic and elsewhere have proven the system’s worth in the past few years.

“Cash rebates are an established mechanism for countries to increase their share of the growing global production market in film, TV and OTT in particular,” he says. “Poland is very much interested in benefitting from that and becoming one of the leading European production hubs.”

The Polish incentives may lead to other countries in Central and Eastern Europe upping the ante. Prague-based producer Kevan Van Thompson of Czech Anglo Prods. (“The Musketeers” season three), who also speaks for the Czech Audio-Visual Producers Assn., has advocated the Czech Republic upgrade its own incentives from the current 20% rebate to 25%.

“The Polish incentive was a surprise given their political situation there at present,” says Van Thompson, “but that aside, we will have to wait and see just how effective the new rebate will be and how they will back it financially.”

Observers have acknowledged that the proposed Polish rebate rate of 30% is high by regional standards and clearly part of an ambitious plan to up the country’s game.

And it may already be having follow-on effects in other countries.

As Van Thompson points out, the Czech prime minister Andrej Babis, along with the country’s ministers of culture and finance, “seem to be very positive about raising the incentives to 25% here next year.”

The stakes are high, Van Thompson points out, saying he has “never known so many projects, not just here but throughout Central and Eastern Europe.”
Many, he observes, are TV series, but “there are more indie producers looking for a [production base] here than I can ever remember before.”

Western producers will consider the incentive as just one part of a formula determining where to shoot. Some remain skeptical about the true effectiveness of Romania’s recently announced 35% rebate, for example, and whether the relatively poor country will be able to sustain that rate into the future.

Others express concerns about a rebates arms race in which countries will compete to give up increasing shares of their revenue by returning it to foreign productions via rebates.

Some who have worked with large-scale productions for streaming platforms Netflix and Amazon, such as “Carnival Row,” which recently wrapped in Prague, counter that the size of the projects ensure there is still plenty of revenue to go around.

A more likely issue in a high-growth scenario is the availability of well-trained crews in sufficient numbers to fill out new or newly expanded studios.

About those incentives:

The final shape of the Polish incentives package is the subject of hot debate among film professionals, who are keen to ensure that the rebates be as user-friendly as possible.

Pawel Lewandowski, the parliament minister charged with the process, which is now being finalized in the lower chamber of the legislature, says the Culture Ministry has been careful to include input from bizzers to craft a law that be in force in the first quarter of next year. Among the specific features, he reports, are several points in addition to the 30% rebate of eligible costs to make the package competitive in the region:

» Streamlined procedure for approving applications in 28 days or fewer.

» A flexible list of eligible costs.

» The establishment of a new Polish Film Commission with a higher budget to be used for assisting foreign producers.

» Streamlined procedure for verifying the final report on location spends in 90 days or fewer.

» Financing of documentary series.

» A minimum budget for cash rebates on animation projects.

» Project involvement by publicly owned production companies as co-producers “if necessary.”

» A trial version of the cultural test, which considers factors such as historic relevance of scripts, number of Polish locations, cast and/or crew, to help producers determine whether they will meet the criteria to qualify for rebates.

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