The sun, the sea and the mild climate are perennially advertised as Greece’s strongest assets when it comes to attracting foreign investment. During a 2013 event in London for the promotion of state-owned property in Greece, organizers based their campaign on the country’s climate and weather. In recent years, these assets have managed to attract investments in a previously untapped sector: audiovisual production.
At the same time, Greece offers one of the world’s most generous cash rebate programs, attracting an increasing number of Hollywood projects, most recently the fourth installment of “The Expendables,” an action thriller that will be shot in the northern port city of Thessaloniki. When it was launched in April 2018, the cash rebate amounted to 35 percent on the eligible expenses incurred in Greece. By September 2021, that figure had been raised to 40 percent. Over that period, a total of 171 applications were included in the cash rebate program (92 domestic and 79 international productions), whereas the total invested capital in the country amounts to €255 million. The program led to the creation of an estimated 42,130 new jobs. Production companies have spent around 60 million euros on services during shooting in Athens.
During a recent online conference, experts in the field said they believe there is a lot of room for improvement. The event was organized by the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the National Center of Audiovisual Media and Communication (EKOME).
Joseph Samaan, founder and president of Tanweer Group, said Greece is capable of becoming a hub in content creation. “If we all work together, Greece could in a few years be the Hollywood of Europe,” he said, adding that the country’s 40 percent cash rebate is very attractive. “Greece is like an open-air studio,” he said, stressing the combination of sea- and mountainscapes, picturesque island settings and abundant sunshine. “Furthermore, it’s hard to find countries [in Europe], besides Britain, where most people speak good English,” said the head of Tanweer, which will soon release “Smyrna,” a drama based on a play by Mimi Denissi. The film’s 4.5-million-euro budget is one of the largest in the history of Greek cinema.
John Kalafatis, CEO of New York-based York Studios, said that Greek efforts to attract film productions show a lot of promise. York Studios has partnered with Bulgaria’s Nu Boyana, which is owned by Millennium Media, for the construction of a state-of-the-art film set in the Thessaloniki suburb of Thermi. Work on the 20-million-euro project is expected to begin next year. The 20.5-acre plot recently hosted the shooting of “The Enforcer,” a thriller starring Antonio Banderas, and is currently the location for the making of the fourth installment of “The Expendables” franchise, starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Megan Fox and Andy Garcia. A giant model of a frigate was made for the movie.
“Given the high demand for productions in New York, Greece offers great prospects in the area of audiovisual production. Aside from the backing of the Greek government and EKOME, a catalyst for implementing our investment in northern Greece was my meeting with Yariv Lerner, CEO of Nu Boyana,” Kalafatis said. “Greece has well-developed infrastructure, attractive locations and high-quality human resources,” he said.
Speaking at the same event, Giannis Karagiannis, CEO of J.K. Productions and owner of Kappa Studios, said the Greek strategy of attracting foreign productions is yielding fruit. Filming for “Greek Freak,” a film based on the real-life story of the family that produced a trio of brothers who became NBA champions – Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks and Kostas Antetokounmpo of the Los Angeles Lakers – and “Crimes of the Future,” a horror movie starring Viggo Mortensen, Lea Seydoux and Kristen Stewart, took place at the firm’s studios.
Speaking about Greece’s poor progress in the area of post-production and visual effects, Dimitris Evangelopoulos, general manager of Studio Alfa, said the industry will only grow in response to demand from audiovisual productions. “We believe that this will happen with the productions set to take place in Greece,” he said.
“Greece is possibly the world’s best location for hosting cinema and television productions,” said Yelena Popovic, director of the 2021 drama “Man of God,” which received 414,200 euros in funding from the cash rebate scheme.
The funding scheme is not without its problems. These are not the ones usually mentioned by Greece’s leftist opposition, which claims that the incentives are not coupled with a comprehensive strategy for the country’s audiovisual industry. Rather, they mostly have to do with red tape.
“The fact that we have to produce physical invoices of our expenses is a problem. We need to make a copy of every expense receipt, which is a lot of work and means we end up with boxes of papers,” said Samaan.
The Tanweer founder also recommends raising the 900,000-euro limit for funding audiovisual production companies can apply for from the loan guarantee fund.
Right now, this funding instrument, which can potentially issue loans worth a total of 62.5 million euros, foresees bank loans of 25,000 to 900,000 euros for covering startup capital and financing projects. The fund guarantees 80% of the loan, while the banks are not allowed to demand collateral for loans of up to 50,000 euros.
Speaking on the issue of infrastructure, Kalafatis said it is important to improve the speed of wireless internet, “which is poor in Greece.”
Meanwhile, people who work in the sector say Greece needs to improve its status in international show business with the aim of supporting a number of projects at the same time. But in order to achieve this, you need skilled staff, who are often hard to find, as well as new state-of-the-art film studios, given that Greece’s present facilities cannot meet the demand for Greek and international productions for television and the big screen. Also, more needs to be done in the costly business of post-production and visual effects.
According to a study by the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE), the direct contribution of these audiovisual productions to the Greek economy stands at 108 million euros, while the contribution to Greece’s gross domestic product amounts to 686 million euros. It is estimated that 25 million euros in investments will lead to more than 755 jobs, 233 of which are directly related to production, and increase GDP by 35 million euros.