Greece, where the death rate due to the coronavirus outbreak has been among among the lowest in Europe, is looking to lure more international productions by raising its cash rebates from 35% to 40% just as cameras are already rolling there on what is being touted as the first post-pandemic European co-production to start up.
“Greece is quite a success story in these particularly difficult times because of (anti-coronavirus) measures that were taken early on,” said Venia Vergou, director of the Hellenic Film Commission during a virtual Cannes Market panel.
The country was on lockdown between March 3 and May 4, and just one week later shooting had already resumed on hit Greek TV series “Wild Bees,” a period piece about three farmer sisters who live in a small, fictional village in the Thessalian flatland in the late 1950s, which was the first Greek production that started filming after the pandemic.
The scheduled production output of “Wild Bees,” which is produced for Antenna TV, was “only one week ahead of the (TV) screenings, which is very common in Greece,” said its director, Lefteris Charitos. So basically its Greek fans had been left high and dry. But “when things started looking better…our producer came up with a plan,” he said.
“He saw all the protocols coming out of Europe…and bought thousands of masks and gloves; we were tested; and we basically decided to start shooting only a week after lockdown was over,” Charitos recounted.
A similar pro-active post pandemic approach is the one taken by producer Yorgos Karnavas who is shepherding German-Italian-Greek co-production Töchter (English translation “Daughter”) which is currently shooting on the island of Amorgos and which he touts as the first European co-prod to start filming post-pandemic.
“We brought international crew in with a private plane, so they didn’t have to be on the plane with other people; they were tested (for coronavirus) two days before…and the hotel is fully booked by us,” said Karnavas, of Greek company Heretic, who noted that for this feature coronavirus-related the extra costs “can go up to 2% of the budget.”
He added that they are shooting with very few scenes with extras, so in many cases the logistics are easy.” The Italian partner on the feature is Simone Gattoni, Laura Buffoni and Michael Weber’s Simila(r), while the German producer is Bettina Brokemper’s Heimatfilm.
Greece reopened its borders to travellers from Europe and some other low-risk countries on June 15.
The next international shoot expected to start filming in Greece is French director Francois Uzan’s comedy “Smile For The Photo,” starring Jacques Gamblin and Pascale Arbillot and co-produced by France’s Orange Studios and Greece’s Fenia Cossovista, who said the plan is for cameras to start rolling on July 13.
Cossovista added that she will be taking measures that go beyond those set by Greek protocols in that crew and cast will all be tested for coronavirus. She also said that Frances’s Fonds de Garantie which ensure that insurance companies are refunded “in case of COVID” were crucial in getting the green light to start shooting.
Meanwhile the Greek government in early June announced they will be soon increasing their cash rebate for productions shot in the country from 35 percent to 40 percent of eligible local spend, though the bill still needs a final green light, which is expected to happen in July. Besides the rebate increase, the bill also involves extending funding options to more beneficiaries than the country’s current scheme allows and also accelerating the rebate payback process.
Prior to the pandemic the most high-profile production shot in Greece was probably Micheal Winterbottom’s “The Trip to Greece” (pictured) shepherded by British producer Josh Hyams who was also on the panel and waxed positive about the experience.