Offering some of the best film crews and production facilities in the world, the United Kingdom’s track record makes it a filming Mecca of Europe. Constantly enticing producers outside the highly competitive incentive regimes of the United States, the studios based in Twickenham, Ealing, Shepperton and Pinewood are fully geared to deal with massive franchise projects and small art-house films alike. "The best places to shoot are where producers have a track record and where infrastructure and capacity are the deepest, and clearly in Europe one of the top choices is the U.K.," reports Dama Claire, production executive of The Incentives Office. Intimately involved with finding the best locales for films throughout Europe, Claire says that producers greatly enjoy the U.K. studio experience.
Tina McFarling, head of industry relations at the U.K. Film Council, states "We recently published production statistics for the first six months of this year which show that 51 films with budgets of £500K or more have gone into production in the U.K., and, with a total U.K. production spend of £643 million, the second-highest spend on record for the first half year." Benefiting from an array of strong co-production treaties, which allow European countries to qualify for greater incentives, and the ongoing softening of the British pound, there’s also a solid tax-rebate system of 25 percent for films budgeted at 20 million pounds or less (and 20 percent for films with larger budgets). Claire notes that currency rates and VAT rates are a “key factor” in location choice, and films with larger budgets are more able to shoulder these costs in the U.K.
Major U.S. feature films shot in the U.K. this year include Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Captain America: The First Avenger, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, X-Men: First Class, Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, Martin Scorsese’s Hugh Cabret, Guy Ritchie’s sequel to Sherlock Holmes and W.E, directed by Madonna. Films in preproduction include U.F.O. and Clash of the Titans 2.
McFarling states that a key factor driving this level of vibrancy in U.K. production for both inward investment and home-grown films is the competitive and user-friendly Film Tax Relief, which gives film companies certainty in planning their finances. Furthermore, continued investment by production and post facilities alongside the high level of state funding pumped into training through the U.K. Film Council over the past 10 years has helped maintain the U.K.’s reputation for world-class production crews and facilities. "The box office and critical success of U.K. indigenous films over the past eight years has proven that the U.K. has got the creative and technical expertise and the talent to make internationally successful films, and that has helped draw international finance and talent to the U.K.," says McFarling. “Quite simply, as a film destination the U.K. is hot.” McFarling’s view is backed up by the record number of British films shown at the Toronto Film Festival where the U.K. film The King’s Speech is being touted as a major award contender.
Whether it’s the draw-dropping beauty of Prague's ancient castles or the winding rivers of Cesky Krumlov, the Czech Republic is a country that revels in scenic splendor. Recognizing the potential to better utilize exquisite location gems, the Czech Republic released its first-ever Film Industry Support Program in June 2010, offering producers rebates of up to 20 percent of eligible local spend. According to Ludmila Claussova of the Czech Film Commission, this has resulted in a higher turnover in 2010 than in 2008 and 2009, and estimates a potential spend of at least CZK 1 billion. "This is quite a bit below the banner year of 2003, when direct spend by international productions alone was more than CZK 5 billion," Claussova explains. “However, from 2004 the Czech Republic was losing business to other countries which already had or just introduced an incentive system, including Hungary in 2004 and Germany in 2007.” The incentive program has attracted interest from scores of productions, and 16 projects have already been approved to receive a combined total of nearly CZK 224 million ($11.7 million) in grants.
The Okko Production and Mandarin Cinema co-production of Philibert was the first film to register for the Czech Republic’s Film Industry Support Program and was approved for the rebate. A swashbuckling comedy in the grand tradition of Errol Flynn adventures of the 1930s and ’40s, Philibert is produced by Okko’s Marc Jenny, who likes the new rebate program. "Compared with places like Ireland, Spain and California, the system is very transparent,” says Jenny, adding that the incentive systems also offer a lot to Europe. “It establishes much stronger cultural cooperation.” This is especially true for the production of Philibert. “French producers would have difficulty producing a movie like this in France, where the costs are higher,” Jenny states. “So the relationship also helps the French reputation and is good for European cinema overall.”
Initially shooting Philibert at Barrandov Studios, Jenny also praises the Czech Republic’s many other locations and its strong technical tradition: "There are countries that may be cheaper on paper but they don't have the technical capability.” Barrandov alone has 14 purpose-built sound stages, with the biggest measuring 4,000 square meters, while Prague Studios offers a 750-cubic-meter water tank. The Philibert production team had two weeks to shoot in the forest in Mimoň (in the Liberec region) and at a former Soviet army base. "We also shot in Průhonice Park for six or seven days, which was great because it’s on the outskirts of Prague and has many different locations and forests that you can’t normally find in a park," says Jenny. "Basically it was possible to do everything there.”
Claussova believes that Czech film crews are as good as anywhere else on the planet. "Our crews are professional filmmakers in their own right, not just guns-for-hire who only work on foreign films for money," states Claussova. "Mission: Impossible [Ghost Protocol] is shooting here right now because the producers know they can trust Czech crews to get them a great movie." International films are by no means the only ones benefiting from the new incentive program. According to the Film Commission website, the Czech Republic local productions that have been approved for the 20-percent rebate include Actor’s Runway Agency’s The Last Children of Aporver (at CZK 10.1 million), Hollywood Classic Entertainment’s 3D family film V peřinách (CZK 8.5 million) and Buc-Film’s Leaving (CZK 8 million), written and directed by former Czech President Václav Havel.
Always a popular filmmaking destination and averaging over 300 films each year, Germany offers high-quality production facilities, expert multilingual technicians experienced in international co-productions, and state-of-the-art infrastructure to ensure a constant flow of cinematographic classics. The country houses the largest studio capacity in Europe, including world-renowned Studio Babelsberg, which operates as a co-producer and one-stop shop equipped to handle all types of films.
Not to be overlooked are the cooperative and helpful administrations of film commissions throughout the region. And the German Federal Film Fund’s (DFFF) cash grant program, with 20-percent off qualifying local expenditures (up to 80 percent of the total production costs), ensures that the country’s solid filmmaking history remains in good stead. Such generous state subsidies for films, including soft loans up to €1 million, have proven all the more crucial in the face of the global credit crisis, especially in helping small European studios avoid the fate of their U.S. independent counterparts.
Since the German reunification, Berlin has metamorphosed from a divided and beleaguered city into a sassy cultural hub for creative-minded individuals looking for cheap rent and a sound creative outlet. Indeed, Germany’s architecture and variety of locations can replace most European cities. Berlin doubled for London in Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, for Paris in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, and for Moscow in The Bourne Ultimatum. “[Berlin] also housed Oscar-winning films The Lives of Others and The Counterfeiters, which took full advantage of the historic locations and Babelsberg’s production services,” notes Charlie Woebcken, the Chief Executive of Studio Babelsberg.
The Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg (MBB) is the first port of call for film and media professionals in Germany’s capital. With production support funds of approximately €25 million per year, the MBB film-funding department includes the soft-loan program that only has to be repaid if the film is financially successful. There are also various regional incentives (in Hamburg, Bavaria and more) to reduce the overall cost of filming.
Major international co-productions shot in Germany in 2010 include Unknown, starring Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger, for Joel Silver/Warner Bros. and The Apparition, starring Ashley Greene. "Charlie Woebcken managed to ink a co-production deal with Joel Silver's Dark Castle Entertainment that provided equity financing against a share of the profits for those two films,"reports MBB Media Advisor Mareike Jung. Filmmaker Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous received $8 million from federal and regional subsidy organizations and is a good example of the efficient subsidy system that Studio Babelsberg also co-produces. Other films shot in 2010 include the thriller Hanna, starring Cate Blanchett, and Chicken with Plums, starring Isabella Rossellini and co-directed by the Oscar-nominated filmmakers of Persepolis.
France boasts great wine and gourmet cuisine, but it offers even more for filmmakers: The Ile de France Film Office hosts an International Tax Credit (C2I) of 20 percent for projects approved by the National Cinema Centre (CNC). In addition to a deep, multilingual crew base and state-of-the-art studio facilities, France will be home to one of Europe’s largest movie studio complexes that is currently being built just outside of Paris by French Director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element). Slated for completion in 2012, Besson’s Cité du Cinéma complex will cover around 60,000 square meters and include nine sound stages, a film school, a 450-seat movie theater and a cafeteria. Recent productions shot in France include Martin Scorsese’s Hugo Cabret, The Tourist, Inglourious Basterds, Inception, Taken, An Education, LOL: Laughing Out Loud and The Informant!
Despite the world’s current economic problems, these countries have all had a busy year hosting productions in 2010, helping Europe and the industry to thrive.