Serbian Production Incentives Boost Foreign Shoots

In the heyday of the film industry of the former Yugoslavia, silver-screen icons including Kirk Douglas, Sophia Loren and Anthony Quinn could be spotted ducking the paparazzi at Belgrade’s historic Hotel Metropol, a five-star redoubt that hosted royals, statesmen and the New Year’s soirees of then-President Josep Broz Tito.

Four decades later, Serbian officials are trying to bring some of the swagger and star power back to what was once the capital of the republic of Yugoslavia. This summer the government gave a boost to the 25% cash rebate it introduced in 2016, offering 30% cash back to productions with budgets over €5 million ($5.5 million). The move underscores a concerted effort in recent years to make the Serbian industry the anchor for the wider
Balkan region.

The gambit seems to be paying off. Since the rebate was introduced through the end of 2018, the government estimates that investors have spent more than $95.7 million on production in the country. Among the recent productions to take advantage of the incentives are Paramount’s thriller “Crawl”; the forthcoming indie drama “Minamata,” starring Johnny Depp; Season 2 of the CW fantasy series “The Outpost”; and Season 3 of the CBS military drama series “SEAL Team.”

Industry players are hoping that Serbia can follow in the footsteps of a regional success story such as Croatia, which has become a major production hub. Local officials are establishing a film office in Belgrade to aid incoming projects. To address the shortage of studio space in the capital, the recently launched production company Firefly is preparing to break ground on studios that will include three soundstages, a water tank and an extensive backlot — facilities that will only add to the strengths of an industry that, in spite of its size, is known for its skills and professionalism, according to Firefly’s Boban Jevtić.

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The incentives, meanwhile, are opening new doors for international co-productions. Milan Stojanović, of Belgrade-based Sense Production, said that local producers are increasingly looking beyond the Balkans for partners in countries such as Bulgaria, Greece and Romania. Sense is a minority co-producer on Cristi Puiu’s “Manor House,” while the Netherlands’ Lemming Film (Alejandro Landes’ “Monos,” Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Lobster”) has boarded “The Users,” the sophomore feature of Serbian director Ivan Ikić (Karlovy Vary player “Barbarians”).

Stojanović sees a clear upside for foreign producers coming to Serbia. “We have stability, and we have a good reputation internationally,” he says. “The system works.”

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