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Portugal Shoots for the Big Time With Bigger Production Incentives

A bevy of international productions are heading to Portugal, lured by its unique light, landscapes and a revamped 25%-30% cash-rebate scheme.

Terry Gilliam’s Cannes-closer “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” benefited from the incentives; upcoming productions include Ira Sachs’ “A Family Vacation,” starring Isabelle Huppert and Marisa Tomei, to shoot in Sintra and produced by Said Ben Said and Luis Urbano.

“The new scheme gives me greater chances to work with directors such as Ira Sachs,” Urbano says. “But for me, it’s important that the projects have an organic link with the locations.”

With its warm climate, beaches and long daylight hours, Portugal is positioning itself as the “California of Europe” — with a booming tourism industry, start-up culture and high-profile events such as the Web Summit.

In 2017, Portugal experimented with a 20%-25% tax rebate scheme, a minimum €1 million ($1.1 million) production spend and supported four projects, including “Don Quixote.”
The revamped scheme provides a cash rebate, a higher 30% maximum rate and lower minimum production spend.

The fund almost doubles public film funding in Portugal, with $12 million earmarked for 2018 and $14.4 million per annum for 2019-21.

In 2017, Portuguese productions using the incentives included “Parque Mayer,” produced by Tino Navarro, and animated feature “Nayola.”

With a 30% rebate, Portugal competes with territories such as the U.K., Hungary and France, and may expand to their levels.

“This is a game-changer,” says Luis Chaby Vaz, president of Portuguese film institute ICA.

“It is an important new window for Portuguese producers,” says Ana Costa, CEO of Cinemate. “Previous public support for minority co-productions was extremely limited.”

Adds “Quixote” co-producer Pandora da Cunha Telles: “For the first time Portugal has mechanisms that allow us to participate in films with budgets over €15 million [$18.5 million]. ‘Don Quixote’ has castles, feasts and banquets, and an exuberance that we’re not accustomed to seeing associated with Portugal.”

Cunha Telles is prepping two projects under the program, including “Esope” by French-Afghan director Atiq Rahimi (“The Patience Stone”).

Maria João Mayer, CEO of Filmes do Tejo and co-producer of Cannes-player “Diamantino,” says the scheme has increased interest from foreign producers. She is prepping a three-week shoot for Korean TV series “Vagabond.”

The 2017 World Travel Awards voted Portugal the world’s best destination, and filming of commercials is booming — with campaigns for Apple, Volkswagen, McDonald’s, El Corte Ingles and Yves Saint Laurent filming in the country.

The Lisbon Film Commission says film and photo shoots are up 22% compared to 2013, with 2,059 filming days in 2017, an estimated 60%-70% of which are commercials.

The commercials surge has spawned a cluster of post-production houses in Lisbon, including Loudness, Bikini, Ingreme and Kino Sound, hoping to use the incentives to attract film and TV post-production work.

To minimize red tape, the country’s network of film commissions is being relaunched as PicPortugal, coordinated by a task force involving the ministries of culture, tourism, trade, administration and e-government.

In conjunction with the cultural heritage department, access to key national monuments will also be facilitated, mirroring moves in countries such as France.

Producers Navarro and Fernando Vendrell consider the scheme a step in the right direction, but are concerned that increased demand for technicians may raise crew rates.

Paulo Trancoso, producer and president of the Portuguese Film Academy, downplays this risk. “I think this is an important first step, putting us on a par with our European counterparts. But we still need to reduce bureaucratic obstacles and raise funding amounts.”

This month, the academy is organizing a four-day event, Passaporte, to bring top casting directors from Europe, the U.S. and Brazil to meet with Portuguese actors, aimed at fostering acting opportunities and catalyzing co-productions.

Road shows publicizing Portugal’s incentives have been organized in Europe, the U.S., China and India, and on May 14, ICA will host a special session in Cannes.

“We’re not going for a one-shot success,” says Chaby Vaz. “This is part of a consistent, long-term strategy.”

Cunha Telles is convinced Portugal is about to make a major leap forward: “We have a wide diversity of attractive landscapes, experienced multilingual crews, a strong network of specialized technical infrastructures and a very favorable climate. When it’s cold and raining in most of Europe, the sun’s shining in Portugal!”

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