CLUJ, Romania–A year after introducing a cash rebate of up to 45% to keep pace with neighboring countries in an increasingly competitive region, Romania is seeing signs that the incentive scheme is paying off.
“This year seems to be quite busy—much busier, I would say, than last year,” says Bogdan Moncea, of Castel Film Studios in Bucharest, which recently serviced the fifth installment in Universal’s “Dragonheart” fantasy franchise. “Romania was fairly competitive even before, but many producers would go to a country that had a rebate, even if the cost of doing business in Romania was very competitive.”
He adds: “Now it’s become a lot more attractive in terms of production costs and efficiency. Significantly better than Hungary, significantly better than Czech Republic.”
A €50 million ($56.3 million) annual fund has been set aside by the government to woo foreign productions to this scenic corner of Eastern Europe. The 35% cash rebate is available to feature and short films, documentaries, TV and web series, and animated projects, with a minimum spend of €100,000 ($113,000) and a €10 million ($11.3 million) cap per project. At least 20% of the budget must be spent in Romania. If the project explicitly promotes the country, the rebate rises to 45%.
Recent projects to lens in Romania include Corin Hardy’s “Conjuring” spin-off “The Nun,” Season 1 of Netflix’s “Killing Eve,” and Amazon Studios’ “The Romanoffs.” Upcoming productions include “Voyagers,” a “Lord of the Flies”-style dystopian space thriller from Stuart Ford’s AGC Studios, directed by Neil Burger, which will begin shooting this summer.
The rebate, which had been bandied about in industry circles for years, arrives at a time when regional players are all jockeying to get a slice of the pie that has transformed countries like Hungary and the Czech Republic into major international production hubs. Poland introduced a 30% cash rebate earlier this year, while Croatia recently bumped its rebate to 25%, and Lithuania raised its own to 30%.
The Romanian business sector is nevertheless confident that its country has more than just a generous cashback scheme to offer. “From all the countries around, I think Romania is the country with the biggest potential,” says Iuliana Tarnovetchi, of Alien Film, which serviced “Killing Eve.” “We have the sea, we have the mountains, we have the Danube Delta. In terms of locations, it’s very difficult to beat us.”
Though losing out to regional competitors in years past, Tarnovetchi says Romania stands to benefit from the production boom in neighbors like Hungary and the Czech Republic. “Most of our crews migrated and worked for these countries,” she says. “Now they’re coming back home, and they’re coming back home with more experience.”
Skilled, English-speaking crews are one of the upsides to shooting in Romania, which has a strong infrastructure and several world-class studios, including Castel and Bucharest Film Studios, which is investing heavily in refurbishing its facilities. Castel’s Moncea estimates that the country can service two or three medium- to large-scale productions simultaneously—a belief that will be put to the test later this year, with several big-budget international projects lined up.
Heightened interest, however, means heightened scrutiny. “With a higher increase in demand, we have to be able to deliver,” says Moncea.
After approving more than 30 projects in the 2018 funding cycle, the government has already given the greenlight to two dozen more in the first half of this year alone. A number of major U.S. and U.K. productions are circling.
“We have to take advantage of all these resources. We have to create more jobs for people that they want to work again in the film industry,” says Tarnovetchi. “It’s a land of opportunities now.”