New incentives to lure the film industry to shoot in Greece have resulted in three and a half times more applications. Athens is in the spotlight too.

By Stelios Bouras

The sun had just started to rise over Athens one morning in September 2018, when film producer Konstantinos Kontovrakis called it a day. He had been working through the night shooting a scene for his movie, Pari, at Plateia Theatrou, near the town hall in the city-centre. 

Two actors, 35 extras, 15 stuntmen and a 50-member film crew were needed to shoot the action scenes. A demanding set-up that required careful planning. Surrounding streets had been blocked off, shopkeepers and residents briefed, municipal authorities had given their approval and police supervision was secured. 

"We pulled it off without a hitch," says Kontovrakis, who will now qualify for new perks offered by Greece to local and foreign filmmakers.

The award-winning producer of Greek films such as Wasted Youth and Forever is among the growing wave of filmmakers from Greece and abroad looking to shoot their next big scene in the capital after incentives were introduced by the Greek government. Cash rebates, streamlined procedures, and potential tax breaks are among the changes Greece has pushed through to chase a piece of the $50 billion global film industry. 

In August 2018, the Greek parliament passed a law offering producers a 35 percent cash rebate with no strings attached. This means that producers can recoup a third of the money they spend in Greece to shoot the movie.

"We are trying to build a film-friendly culture. Two years ago, this was wishful thinking, now it is starting to happen," said the Deputy Minister for Digital Policy, Lefteris Kretsos, who has been heavily involved in Greece's push to attract filmmakers. 

Photo: © 2018 The Little Drummer Girl Distribution Limited. All rights reserved

Greece is setting up a system to serve the film industry. Producers can claim their rebate online, while a network of film offices is being introduced across the country's nine prefectures and its seven largest municipalities. Initial interest has been solid, with producers from Germany, France, Canada, Australia and the UK applying to shoot movies, television series, documentaries, animation and video games in Greece. The recently-opened Attica Film Office helps producers with locations and permits, and acts as a go-between for film crews and the local authorities. 

In 2018, Greece received 25 applications from film producers, most of which have been approved. This compares with 5-7 applications normally received every year. The Acropolis is the most sought-after film location, but the beaches and neighbourhoods of Athens are in demand, too.

Film makers also have their eye—and lens—on popular tourist destinations, including Mykonos, Santorini, Crete and Corfu, where the British television series The Durrells is filmed. A fourth and final series of the popular series began shooting on Corfu in September 2018. Its producers will be among the first to benefit from Greece's improved film incentive scheme. 

Series producer Christopher Hall said that he had expected more obstacles when filming in Greece, but few bureaucratic problems had arisen.

"Now that Greece has the cash rebate, I’m 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," Hall told Athens Macedonian News Agency. 

Attracting filmmakers is a competitive business; countries enter a bidding war in order to lure producers. Different incentives are offered to help save time and money, though experts say the rebate is the clincher. Financial considerations were the main reason why Greece missed out to Croatia as the location for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again in 2017 and the ‘Athens’ scenes in the Jason Bourne (2016) film were shot in Tenerife, Spain.

Photo: Warner Brothers Entertainment

Greece is paying more than just lip service to the rebate scheme: it has deposited 75 million euros in the Bank of Greece for the film business. If needed, another 375 million euros have been earmarked from the Public Investment Programme. 

"The new rate puts us in the top tier since most European countries, such as Italy, Malta and Hungary, offer a rebate of 25 percent," says Panos Kouanis, chief executive of EKOME, the state agency appointed the task of promoting Greece's audio-visual sector. 

The latest measures by the Greek government to boost its profile as a filming location have not been without their teething problems. A decision by the State Archaeological Service in 2018 to deny the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) permission to shoot parts of The Little Drummer Girl at the Temple of Poseidon in Sounion was quickly reversed.

But Kontovrakis, who has been in the business for some twenty years, believes that the archaeological services have sharpened up their act. “They know what needs to be done when it comes to filmmakers and do it," says Kontovrakis. “We had been waiting for these sorts of incentives for as long as I can remember.”