Why Hollywood Loves Shooting in Eastern Europe
Generous rebates, shooting incentives, versatile locales and state-of-the-art facilities were designed to attract high-profile, big-budget projects — and the strategy is working.
Plans by the Polish government to introduce a 25 percent cash rebate for domestic and international features, documentaries and high-end television dramas this year will bring Eastern Europe’s biggest filmmaking territory in line with most of its neighbors.
The drive to boost film production and attract foreign shoots has long been a key race in the region, sparked in 2004 when Hungary fired the starting shot and introduced a 20 percent tax rebate, which it upgraded in 2014 to allow a potential total 30 percent tax kickback, making it one of Europe’s most generous schemes. The Hungarian move attracted a lot of new business, drawing major Hollywood productions, including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Munich. Poland’s move levels the playing field, giving international producers wide choice when making location decisions.
Here is a closer look at key incentives in six Eastern European countries:
The Czechs offer 20 percent for qualifying Czech spend and rebates of up to 10 percent on foreign cast and crew. Launched in 2010, the scheme made around $37 million available this year. Prague’s Barrandov Studios and other facilities have an international reputation for quality. Recent shoots in the country include the wartime assassination thriller Anthropoid and the upcoming actioner The Adventurers, starring Jean Reno.
The importance of maintaining its position as a key budget location was highlighted last summer when a fire that caused $4 million of damage at the Barrandov backlot threatened to disrupt the production schedule of History’s U.S.-Czech television series Knightfall. Swift action by local co-producer Stillking Films ensured not a day’s shooting was lost. Last year, two other top-end TV series also shot in the Czech Republic: Amazon Studios’ Britannia and the Albert Einstein drama Genius starring Geoffrey Rush. A total of 330 shooting days were taken up with filming the three series, all period pieces, using dozens of locations and generating $106 million in production spend.
One of Europe’s smallest filmmaking territories, Estonia introduced a system of cash rebates in 2016, with incentives worth up to 30 percent via the Film Estonia fund. In September, the Culture Ministry unveiled plans to boost the funds available to films and series involving foreign financing from $530,000 to $1.06 million. Industry support for all production channeled through the Estonian Film Institute last year was around $8 million, with cultural endowments and other government money bringing the total to nearly $11 million, the most generous state support in the three Baltic states.
With up to 25 percent rebates available to eligible productions, its system ranks alongside Holland's and Estonia’s as among the most generous in Europe. Last year, the scheme attracted at least $200 million in incoming production spend. Around $48 million is held in an official collection account to ensure money is available to be paid out when rebate applications are approved. High-profile projects expected to shoot in Hungary this year include Fox’s spy thriller Red Sparrow, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Irons; Colette, a biopic about the famous French novelist, starring Keira Knightley; and Paramount Television’s miniseries The Alienist, an adaptation of the Caleb Carr novel starring Dakota Fanning and German star Daniel Bruhl.
Latvia has two funding schemes, one run by the National Film Center and the other, the Riga Film Fund, specifically for productions shooting in the capital city. Both have around $1.6 million available to spend in 2017. The national scheme offers international productions 25 percent cash rebates. Recent international shoots include Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa’s The Gentle Creature, produced by French company Slot Machine. Domestically, producers are preparing 16 feature-length films to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Latvian independence in 2018, something that is being done across the Baltic region.
Last year, Lithuania attracted the highest number of foreign productions since the introduction of its 20 percent tax incentive in 2014, demonstrating the success of a policy designed to lure international productions and investment to the country. The Lithuanian Film Center issued 29 investment certificates, confirming that nearly $2 million had been granted to private investors involved in 22 productions and co-productions that aimed to capitalize on the tax exemption. Apart from the BBC’s adaptation of War and Peace, shot in 2015, other major recent projects that used the incentive scheme, include Tokyo Trial, starring Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman, and the Finnish TV series Bordertown. In 2016, a total of 10 foreign, six co-productions and six national projects shot in Lithuania taking advantage of the tax incentive scheme.
Poland is ramping up competition with its neighbors as its Ministry of Culture prepares a 25 percent cash rebate scheme, with an annual budget of around $23 million. Historically, Poland only offered support to productions (including international co-productions) via the Polish Film Institute’s revolving door system of grants, rather than tax breaks. The new system will be in addition to the PISF fund that subsidizes up to 40 features a year and a further 160 documentary and animated projects.