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Romanian Production Incentives Take Final Shape With Industry Help

The film and TV industry in Romania is close to realizing a long-held dream to see the country introduce a production incentive to match those in rival locations like Hungary and the Czech Republic, which have attracted scores of international shoots while Romania has been left virtually empty-handed.

After years of lobbying, local producers’ sense of frustration has been exacerbated in recent years by a string of announcements from the Romanian Ministry of Culture claiming that the introduction of the sweeteners was imminent. This time around, with a draft proposal circulating, the prime minister openly urging passage and the U.S. embassy said to be strongly backing, industry-ites seem convinced it’s happening.

“We are expecting it,” says Alex Traila of the Romanian Film Center, the country’s major film support body, noting that a petition signed by 4,000 working film professionals has added new urgency. What’s more, lawmakers approved a memorandum in April acknowledging the need for passage.

Although the government has not committed to a clear timeline, says Traila, if the incentives pass soon, so that they can be factored into the fall budget, “we could already put it to work in the autumn.”

More than one draft is in circulation but top Romanian producers have urged a few key points to make the sweeteners effective, including Tudor Giurgiu, head of the Transilvania Film Festival, and producer at Libra Film.

Ada Solomon, executive producer of “Toni Erdmann” and producer of “Aferim!” and Berlinale-winning “Child’s Pose,” has recommended the incentives be accessible to all, not just targeted at foreign shoots with budgets that eclipse Romanian ones.

“The lower the level of spending requirements, the more opportunities are created,” she says, noting that Hungary’s system, with no minimum spend required for a production to qualify for a rebate, makes for an ideal model.

She adds that “Toni Erdmann” was a tough sell without incentives to persuade German and Austrian producers to film in Romania.

Incentives, offered throughout Europe and the U.S., generally require productions to spend a certain amount in order to qualify for cash back in the 20-25% range, provided they partner with local companies and often that they hire local crew and/or cast, use local sets or meet other criteria such as cultural checklists.

The Czech Republic’s incentives, passed in 2010 and modified since to make them easier to use, require feature productions to spend $670,000 locally in order to qualify for rebates while TV productions can get in for about half of that per episode.

“The incentives law would definitely give a burst to the industry and collateral factors (tourism, freelancers, etc.) if applied wisely,” Solomon says.

By contrast, incentives that only apply to productions spending 1 million euros ($1.17 million) would help only one or two production houses in Romania she estimates. More accessible sweeteners would also allow smaller local companies to be minority partners with foreign shoots and not be so dependent on state film support funds.

Currently small- to medium-budget foreign films are most interested in filming in Romania, Solomon points out, arguing that these should be able to benefit.

“Steady construction is built with small steps, not with big, risky jumps.”

The most likely final shape of the incentives, says Traila, is a 35% cash rebate on spending with an extra 10% possible if the production is “explicitly promoting” locations, cities and landmarks in Romania.

The amount that any one project can receive is expected to be capped at 5 million euros ($5.83 million), with applications open year-round, not tied to the calendar year. Within 60 days of the shooting wrap, says Traila, the production have its rebate in the bank.

As with similar rebate schemes, foreign productions would be required to partner with a Romanian company but local producers would be eligible to participate directly.

The deal is expected to signify a major boon to Romanian lots such as Bucharest Film Studios, formerly known as Media Pro, where topper Bobby Paunescu has estimated that the 19-sound stage facility could be eligible for big refunds on 200 million euros ($233 million) in production spends.

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