With 40% Cash Rebate, Greek Industry Hopes for Post-Pandemic Rebound

With a second lockdown looming amid a spike in coronavirus cases across Greece, Giorgos Karnavas, of production outfit Heretic, knew it was a race against time to wrap shooting on “Triangle of Sadness,” a satire directed by Oscar nominee and Palme d’Or winner Ruben Östlund.

Production on the Woody Harrelson-starring feature was postponed for three months earlier this year due to COVID-19, and principal photography was underway on the island of Evia and on a yacht in the Ionian sea when bars, restaurants, cinemas, and non-essential stores across this Mediterranean nation were shuttered on Nov. 7 for at least three weeks. (Harrelson, who has already filmed his scenes in Sweden, did not travel to Greece.)

The production team nevertheless received a special permit from the government to continue the shoot, which wraps Nov. 13. “We had the support of multiple Greek authorities during the whole way through,” said Karnavas, who last week also wrapped Marcel Barrena’s refugee crisis drama “Mediterráneo,” an ambitious co-production with Spain’s Fasten Films, Lastor Media and Arcadia Motion Pictures. “We had to do everything in a new way, which was also more expensive due to the COVID-19 costs, but it seems we managed very well.”

Though Greece had been spared much of the worst that the coronavirus pandemic wreaked on neighboring countries before the current wave of infections, the film industry has nevertheless scrambled to adapt to measures including local lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Yet producers and Greek officials say the country remains open for international film business. “From our side of things, we remain fully operational under lockdown, especially when it comes to the running of the cash rebate program,” said Vasiliki Diagouma, of the National Center of Audiovisual Media and Communication (EKOME), the government body tasked with administering the incentive scheme.

The 40% cash rebate on qualifying spend is available to feature films, documentaries, TV drama series, animated films and digital games, with a minimum spend of €100,000 ($119,000) for features, €60,000 ($71,400) for documentaries, and €15,000-€25,000 ($17,900-$29,800) per episode of TV series, with no cap per project. A new 30% tax relief for incoming film and TV productions can also be used in combination with the rebate.

Recent productions to take advantage of the cashback scheme include “The Trip to Greece” (pictured), the fourth installment in Michael Winterbottom’s acclaimed comedy franchise, starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon; the John David Washington starrer “Born to Be Murdered,” a political thriller directed by Ferdinando Cito Filomarino and produced by Marco Morabito and Luca Guadagnino, which was acquired by Netflix last month; and “The Lost Daughter,” an upcoming adaptation of the Elena Ferrante novel, written and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal and starring Olivia Colman and Dakota Johnson.

Maria Drandaki, of Homemade Films, who wrapped shooting on Christos Passalis’s “The Dragon Has Come” soon after the country reopened from its first lockdown this spring, said the rebate is “a great tool to attract co-productions that might not shoot in Greece otherwise,” or might otherwise spend less.

“It was very useful for me to be able to finance the film ‘The Grandson,’ directed by Nely Reguera and produced by Adrià Monés Murlans of Fasten Films (Spain), which will be shot entirely in Greece,” she said. The summer increase of the rebate from 35% to 40%, as well as a number of provisions to streamline the application process, have “made the scheme more appealing,” she added.

“The rebate is definitely helping, and the industry is growing,” said Fenia Cossovitsa, of Blonde Audiovisual Productions, which this week will present Giorgos Georgopoulos’s “Patty Is Such a Girly Name,” produced with Skartouli and Christos V. Konstantakopoulos of Faliro House, during the Thessaloniki Film Festival’s Crossroads Co-Production Forum.

Cossovitsa and others credited changes at the beleaguered Greek Film Center, which has suffered from years of mismanagement, for bringing “new hope” to the industry. “The board of directors and the president of the board, together with the general manager, are heading in the right direction,” she said. “The right people are in the right positions. We’re confident that they’re going to lead the Greek Film Center toward a new and better era.”

Still, she acknowledged that financing in Greece is limited, and the pandemic downturn underscored the need for more state-level support for the industry, which she said needs a “large injection of money.” Drandaki credited the center-right government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for making important revisions to the rebate introduced by its leftist predecessor, but she said its pandemic response is “still very far from meaningful measures that other European countries adopted from every early on.”

She believes the government needs to stand behind “the adoption of measures that would support the film workers and the production companies and would create multiple sources of financing for films.” That would include a range of options including the Greek Film Center, the cash rebate, public and private broadcasters, streaming platforms, as well as private equity. “And finally there needs to be a strong cash flow support through banks or other mechanisms,” she added.

Skartouli remains confident of a 2021 rebound for the industry, bolstered by the rebate and evergreen interest in the country’s sun-splashed locations. Meanwhile Cossovitsa, who expects to begin servicing season two of the Apple TV Plus series “Tehran” in May, said, “I don’t think one year is enough.”

“We need to wait and see what will happen with the [Greek Film Center] and its funding,” she said. “I believe that 2022, yes, we will recover. But 2021, it will be an effort to catch the lost time of 2020, and to heal our wounds.”

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