Greece’s movie industry receives incentives, enticing global film producers
The television series The Little Drummer Girl, based on John le Carre’s acclaimed novel, completed flming in 2018 after 24 days of flming in some of Greece’s most iconic landmarks such as the Acropolis. Copyright Courtesy of the Hellenic Film Commission: The Little Drummer Girl Distribution Limited. All rights reserved.

Film and Culture

  • Film and Culture Stats Icon 1
    35%

    Cash rebate offered to film producers

  • Film and Culture Stats Icon 2
    74

    number of films made in Greece between 2010-2017

  • Film and Culture Stats Icon 3
    65

    projects supported by new CGR film incentives (Apr. 2018 – Nov. 2019)

  • Film and Culture Stats Icon 4
    58m

    resulting investment in Greece through film production expenses (Apr. 2018 – Nov. 2019)

With stars in its eyes, Greece is heading for the silver screen. In a fresh move, the country has launched a series of incentives aimed at drawing the global filmmaking industry to its shores. And it seems to be working. Cash rebates and tax benefits are among the list of boons Greece now provides film producers. The stakes are high. Films help create jobs, boost spending, and cast a global spotlight onto the country.
Greece Movies Opener secondary image
© Copyright by James Steidl / Shutterstock.com

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It is common in New York. It is common in Paris. And it is common in London. But now it is also common in Athens.

Film productions are appearing on the streets of the Greek capital.

Actors, camera crews, and sound and light engineers can be found blocking off streets as their story unfolds in an Athenian neighbourhood.

In the past year or so, the Greek state has been making an ambitious push to create a more movie-friendly environment in a bid to draw more foreign films to its shores. And it's working.

The government has passed legislation introducing sizeable cash rebates and tax credits for film companies that shoot in Greece. Combined, these benefits make Greece one of the most competitive destinations in Europe for making films.

Panos Kouanis, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Centre of Audiovisual Media and Communication (EKOME), a state agency working to promote all kinds of initiatives in strengthening and promoting the Greek audiovisual sector, says that Greece is now considered a very attractive filming destination for a variety of reasons.

“We offer financial incentives which include a 35% cash rebate on eligible expenses incurred in Greece for the production of films, TV series, documentaries, animation, and digital games, and a 30% tax relief for audiovisual productions. This can be combined with the cash rebate, offering a benefit of up to 50% of the total production budget,” says Kouanis.

“Moreover, through EKOME and with the creation of the National Network of Film Offices in 13 regions and selected municipalities across Greece, we are offering a new approach to services focusing less on bureaucracy and providing a more inclusive stance on production needs,” he adds.

“The Greece cash rebate programme (GCR) started operating in April 2018. To date, 65 projects have been supported through the programme, resulting in a €58 million investment in Greece in production expenses, while the cash return to producers through the GCR system amounts to €19 million.”

Shooting in Greece

The incentives have been keeping film producer Konstantinos Kontovrakis busy.

An award-winning producer of Greek films such as Wasted Youth and Forever, Kontovrakis is among the growing wave of filmmakers from Greece and abroad who are shooting their next big scene in the country, with a Dutch movie shot in September on the tallest mountain in Crete, Psiloritis.

The story is about Dutch soldiers battling in an environment that looks like Syria, says Kontovrakis.

“The Dutch approached us as they were looking for somewhere in Europe to shoot the movie. They wanted to find a place that that looks like Syria and found it. They were encouraged to do this in Greece by the incentives,” says Kontovrakis.

“The fact that they can shoot the whole film in one country is a plus for them,” he adds.

Called Do Not Hesitate, the movie is a €2.1 million production that is being backed by Dutch investors, EKOME, and the Hellenic Film Commission.

Greece has also pledged to reduce notorious red tape and remove other bureaucratic hurdles that have plagued and discouraged many international production companies in the past.

There was a lot of noise last year about the BBC thriller The Little Drummer Girl, the award-winning British television mini-series based on John le Carré’s acclaimed novel.

Film production was initially turned away from the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion after objections from Greece’s archaeological authorities. The filmmakers were later allowed to shoot, albeit with more restricted filming times than initially requested in order to minimise disruption for tourists visiting the archaeological site.

This was an embarrassing incident for the Greek government that had just launched its fresh initiatives to draw in foreign films.

Although more work is needed, coordination efforts between state services and all levels of government have improved.

“In March we were able to shut down Syntagma Square, the largest and most central square in Athens, for two whole days for the purposes of shooting a foreign film, something that had never been done before,” says Kouanis.

Copyright: l.lika / Shutterstock.com - Athens, Greece, April 2019. The oldest temple on the Acropolis, built in honor of the divine patroness of the city Hekatompedon. Athens. The film crew records an interview about the attraction.

Syntagma Square and surrounding streets in central Athens were cordoned off for a whole weekend in early March to allow the cast and crew of the upcoming movie Born To Be Murdered to film their scenes. And filming in Thessaly’s picturesque Meteora region and Epirus’ Zagori region had already taken place.

John David Washington, the son of Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington, is among the cast members of the film, which portrays what happens when an American tourist finds himself in the middle of a dangerous conspiracy in north-western Greece and later in Athens.

The Durrells is another critically acclaimed British television series that was filmed in Greece despite initial reservations about potential bureaucratic obstacles.

The Durrells was shot on location on the lush Ionian island of Corfu, and has been much praised as a sunny, moving story that “captures an age of innocence” and “recreates an authentic sense of innocent exoticism”.

Talking to state owned Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) in an interview, the producer of the series, Christopher Hall, said that he had insisted that it be shot on Corfu despite the difficulties presented at that time. And he felt vindicated by the result.

“Now that Greece has the cash rebate, I am certain that more and more foreign productions will come to Greece and that it will be inconceivable for someone to consider using another location for shooting as a substitute for the real set,” he added.

The shooting of The Durrells in Corfu also had some immediate results for the country.

Copyright: Balate Dorin - View at Agios Georgios Pagon beach in Corfu island, Greece

In June, Corfu was crowned as the best European film location of 2018 by the European Film Commission Network (EUFCN) and Cineuropa. The island was chosen from among 12 European locations in recognition of the key role it played in The Durrells. Other film locations Corfu beat in the race for the award included the Teide National Park in Spain and Italy’s Valle dei Calanchi, Viterbo.

“The 2018 Best European Film Location Award is very rewarding, as it communicates to the entire world how unique Greek locations are. They have inspired writers, directors, and producers for many years,” says Venia Vergou, Director of the Hellenic Film Commission.

“It also showcases the impact that cultural heritage and monuments have on audiovisual works – the Old Town of Corfu island, which contributed to the success of The Durrells, is one of the many UNESCO-protected monuments in Greece,” says Vergou.

It is hoped this new momentum for the Greek film industry will not only continue but also encourage a multitude of other foreign films and TV series to be shot in the plethora of idyllic, cultural, and historic locations that Greece and its many diverse islands have to offer.

As well as European co-productions, which tend to have smaller-to-mid-sized budgets, Greece has also been actively targeting major international production companies in Los Angeles that make big-budget movies.

EKOME has made contacts with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the American trade association representing the five major film studios of Hollywood, and streaming service giants Netflix and Amazon. Washington-based MPAA’s members include Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Netflix Studios, Paramount Pictures Corporation, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal City Studios, and Warner Bros. Entertainment.

Across Greece, a network of 13 regional offices have been set up to help international production companies overcome any obstacles, including finding desired locations and obtaining any required permits.

A recent deal also means that Thessaloniki in northern Greece will get new film stages.

Greek-American John Kalafatis, CEO of New York-based York Studios, has partnered with Bulgaria’s Nu Boyana Studios to open brand new state-of-the-art film stages in Thessaloniki.

Copyright: By Alessandro de Leo / Shutterstock.com

The Money Makers

Among the highest profile movies filmed in Greece over the past decade was Mamma Mia! The musical romantic comedy was made in 2008 and starred Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, and Colin Firth among others, and it had a budget of $55 million. Yet only a relatively small part of this, amounting to about $1.5 million, went directly to Greece.

The film that made the biggest direct contribution to the Greek economy was Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, made in 2001 and starring Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz.

It was the most expensive production to be filmed in Greece, with direct spending in the country amounting to about $6.5 million. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin also provided an added boost to tourism and the local economy of Cephalonia, where it was filmed, as thousands of extra foreign tourists came to visit the Ionian island in the years after the movie was released.

The latest big budget film being shot in Greece is The Legend of Sinbad, a co-production of Millennium Films and Eagle Films, which is filmed in Bulgaria and at a number of locations in Greece including Thessaloniki and Crete.

The Legend of Sinbad is expected to involve direct spending of more than $10 million in Greece, with money going to local film professionals, locations, hotels, transport, and catering, as well as raising the bar on future foreign big-budget movie productions in Greece.

Next time you see a street being blocked off in Athens, take a second look. It could be a favourite movie star preparing for their next scene.

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