Ob­sta­cle of high taxes, red tape

For­eign film pro­duc­ers at­tracted to Greece are put off by com­pli­ca­tions and costs

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY STRATOS KARAKASIDIS

Re­ports late in Novem­ber that Amer­i­can cin­e­matog­ra­pher and di­rec­tor Steven Bern­stein was in­ter­ested in es­tab­lish­ing a film stu­dio on the Cy­cladic is­land of Sy­ros caused a stir on so­cial me­dia. How­ever, few peo­ple seemed aware of the con­di­tions set by the Cannes Golden Lion win­ner.

Speak­ing to Kathimerini, Gior­gos Leon­tari­tis, deputy re­gional gover­nor of the Cy­clades, says that for the in­vest­ment to go ahead, Bern­stein has asked that Greek leg­is­la­tion on this is­sue be har­mo­nized with EU stan­dards.

Pro­duc­tion firms are usu­ally af­ter two types of in­cen­tives be­fore they de­cide to start shoot­ing in a par­tic­u­lar coun­try: tax re­bates or cash re­bates af­ter the wrap, which ac­count for about 30 per­cent of pro­duc­tion costs. There is strong com­pe­ti­tion be­tween coun­tries want­ing to at­tract pro­duc­tions over this per­cent­age.

“Bern­stein was in Er­moupoli this sum­mer and he was struck by the beauty of [Sy­ros], which he de­scribed as a nat­u­ral stu­dio,” Leon­tari­tis says, adding that the di­rec­tor was shown around the is­land’s cap­i­tal by a lo­cal busi­ness­woman. “We agreed to move ahead af­ter we had re­ceived a de­tailed study about the in­vest­ment. A few weeks later, he sent us the study, which was, of course, ap­proved by the re­gional author­i­ties,” he says.

Ac­cord­ing to Christina Pi­gaki, a copy­right lawyer, Greece is not a com­pet­i­tive des­ti­na­tion for film pro­duc­ers as it of­fers none of the afore­men­tioned in­cen­tives. In fact, it re­quires ad­di­tional out­lays that send pro­duc­tion costs through the roof. Greece’s Cen­tral Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Coun­cil (KAS), for ex­am­ple, charges 100 eu­ros per sec­ond for shoot­ing in places of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal or his­tor­i­cal in­ter­est. “This be­ing Greece of course, most pub­lic spa­ces have some ar­chae­o­log­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal in­ter­est,” she says. Pi­gaki, a le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the com­pany that pro­duced “Cap­tain Corelli’s Man- dolin” on the is­land of Cephalo­nia in 2001, re­calls the many ob­sta­cles that the pro­duc­tion team had to over­come while shoot­ing. Those ob­sta­cles al­most killed the pro­ject.

Ac­cord­ing to a study by the As­so­ci­a­tion of Greek Pro­duc­ers for Cin­ema, au­dio­vi­sual projects com­prise one of the 10 fastest-grow­ing sec­tors of the global econ­omy. Greece now makes be­tween 2-3 mil­lion eu­ros per year from the shoot­ing of for­eign films. How­ever, more po­lit­i­cal will and a few leg­isla­tive re­forms could turn the coun­try into a more ac­ces­si­ble, less bu­reau­cratic and more friendly des­ti­na­tion for film projects. It is es­ti­mat- ed that rev­enue could rise up to an an­nual 30 mil­lion eu­ros.

“There is no more di­rect in­vest­ment than cin­ema,” says Panayi­o­tis Pa­pachatzis, the chair­man of the as­so­ci­a­tion, adding that Greece has all the nec­es­sary re­quire­ments (hu­man re­sources, know-how, tech­ni­cal in­fra­struc­ture, nat­u­ral beauty and cul­ture) to be­come an in­ter­na­tion­ally com­pet­i­tive des­ti­na­tion for au­dio­vi­sual projects. “Un­for­tu­nately, Greece is not con­sid­ered a film­mak­ing-friendly coun­try. It is the only coun­try in the world that has not in­tro­duced in­cen­tives for at­tract­ing for­eign pro­duc­tions,” Pa­pachatzis says.

In Greece, re­spon­si­bil­ity for of­fer­ing the above in­cen­tives and stream­lin­ing the le­gal frame­work for film pro­duc­tions is split be­tween four min­istries (Fi­nance, Cul­ture, Tourism and Devel­op­ment). Co­or­di­na­tion was in the hands of a work­ing group that was set up early 2015, bring­ing to­gether rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the four min­istries un­der the su­per­vi­sion of then deputy min­is­ter Ter­ence Quick. The team was tasked with pre­par­ing a bill that was ex­pected to be tabled by late Novem­ber, but the whole thing was pushed back due to the gov­ern­ment reshuf­fle.

“The bill is ready, but there are still a few pend­ing is­sues re­gard­ing the is­su­ing of per­mits. Th­ese should be solved soon,” says a mem­ber of the team, speak­ing on con­di­tion anonymity, adding that the bill was slated to be tabled within Jan­uary.

“We want to have it passed as soon as pos­si­ble,” the source says. The bill, ac­cord­ing to the same source, not only fore­sees eco­nomic in­cen­tives, but also the sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of spe­cial per­mits from the ser­vices of the Cul­ture Min­istry. It also fore­sees the es­tab­lish­ment of re­gional of­fices that will un­der­take the im­ple­men­ta­tion of pro­duc­tions.

Steven Bern­stein was ‘struck by the beauty’ of Sy­ros, says Gior­gos Leon­tari­tis, deputy re­gional gover­nor of the Cy­clades.

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