As global producers continue to grapple with the logistics of filming in a Covid-safe world, Greece has emerged as one of the most attractive destinations for international film and television crews to set up camp. Thanks to the government’s prompt response to pandemic protocols after the hard lockdown last year coupled with an increase in financial and tax incentives, the European nation is in the throes of one of its biggest production seasons to date, with a raft of local and international projects all taking advantage of the nation’s beautiful and diverse locations.
“Right now, we’re basically full for the summer season,” says Panos Kouanis, President and CEO of EKOME, The National Center of Audiovisual Media and Communication in Greece. “We’re working with continuity and are currently in discussions for the fall projects – from end of August through to November. We’re also in discussions for 2022 and have set up a number of projects from the U.S., Canada and the UK already for next year.”
Indeed, Daniel Craig and the starry ensemble cast of Rian Johnson’s Knives Out 2 are currently filming on the Greek upscale island of Spetses (close to Athens) for Netflix while Millennium Media’s noir thriller The Enforcer with Antonio Banderas and Kate Bosworth is shooting in Thessaloniki, for a Miami-set script. Apple TV Plus’ series Tehran is shooting its second season in the territory and David Cronenberg’s upcoming sci-fi thriller Crimes of the Future is expected to begin shooting in the country next month.
Aaaaaaaand WE’RE OFF! Day one of filming on the next Benoit Blanc mystery. Thanks to all the lovely patient people here in Greece for letting us do all this murdering on their peaceful shores. pic.twitter.com/SUFptCpl3G
— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) June 28, 2021
The uptick in inward investment is a welcome turn for Greece, which is still recovering from a decade of economic torment. For the three-year period from April 2018 to April 2021, EKOME supported a total of 125 productions, 60 of which were international, with total investments reaching €127M ($150M). Kouanis set up the strategic state body in 2017 in an attempt to save a sector that had been hit hard in recent years. Ekome, which has three pillars – invest, digitize and educate – worked tirelessly with the Greek government to create two competitive funding incentives, a cash rebate and a tax relief, to lure in productions from around the globe.
The country’s cash rebate was recently upped from 35% to 40%, which has proved hugely popular thanks to the low minimum eligible Greek spend, which sits at €100,000 ($118,785) for feature films, €60,000 ($71,000) for documentaries, shorts and animations, €15,000-€25,000 ($17,818 – $29,700) per episode of TV series and €30,000 ($35,637) for digital games. To up the ante even further, the Greek government created a 30% tax credit which kicked off in January and can be used in combination with the rebate as long as the amount doesn’t exceed 50% of a project’s total production spend.
“Our aim, when we started EKOME in 2017, was to create an audiovisual ecosystem that would turn the landscape of Greece into an industry, which is wasn’t back then,” says Kouanis. “We have succeeded in doing this because we created the financial incentives, the cash rebate program and the new tax relief program. Last year, not only did we change the cash rebate up to 40% but we also changed the whole process so it’s a much simpler and faster process.”
He adds that the combination of these options has been “a game changer for us and has created a huge impact and that’s why we have all of these high-end projects coming to Greece.”
These changes to the somewhat outdated funding options that were previously offered in the region are, he says, crucial to building a solid domestic industry. He and his colleagues are keen that Greece isn’t just positioned as beautiful and natural landscape for purely Mediterranean-set projects. Rather, it’s a country that is creating an environment for a great level of services across a variety of settings.
EKOME has been active in supporting a raft of education programs and internships in order to raise the bar and build a solid, domestic industry that will be able to give a high level of services to local and international productions lensing in the territory. The agency is supporting internships through its partnership with Nu Boyana Film Studios, the Bulgarian production complex run by Nu Image and Millennium Films. Nu Boyana Studios plans on opening a branch in Thessaloniki in Greece to help build the local infrastructure.
Kapa Studios in Athens has the capacity of 10 soundstages (between 400 square meters and 1600 square meters) and Kouanis says that there are currently ongoing conversations with other local and international businesses to look to build a few more studios in the country.
“Everything we do, we do it with being mindful of how we can use the knowledge, experience and expertise that foreign productions bring to Greece in order to create our own local industry,” says Kouanis. “We want the local companies to become stronger and also the local crew and cast will gain more experience, more knowledge and will become more extroverted.”
Greece’s response to the pandemic has also helped to bring this flurry of activity to the region. The country managed to get a better handle on the pandemic compared to some of its European neighbors and it’s been working hard since to keep Covid numbers low. During the hard lockdown in the country last year, Ekome kept its funding program open and fully functional, allowing production companies to continue to submit their applications as usual. When lockdown ended and travel corridors began to open up, this meant that productions that had been approved could begin moving quickly to film.
“We were constantly keeping our local production companies and our international partners informed,” says Kouanis. “Once the local market opened up in the beginning of June , we were able to have our local protocols in place so that foreign productions could come to Greece in the summer. Local Greek productions also restarted. It was great because we were able to get all of these people to work during the summer.
“Because we had a very good handling of the Covid crisis, we had many unexpected productions from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East come to our shores last minute during the fall and winter season.”
For instance, Olivia Colman and Dakota Johnson starrer The Lost Daughter, an adaptation of Elena Farrante’s novel, written and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, also descended on Spetses last year, with the island posing as an Italian village for the movie. Ruben Östlund’s Triangle Of Sadness, starring Woody Harrelson also completed shooting in the country.
“We’re moving fast in order to be able to accommodate everything,” says Kouanis. “Right now, Greece has managed to become one of the most sought-after destinations for foreign shoots and this is just the beginning.”