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Greece Wants Filmmakers to See the Light, Shoot Movies Here

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The Greek island of Spetses. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Lydia Siori, file)

ATHENS -- It took a long time for Greece to try to erase its image of being unfriendly to moviemakers – there have been some hiccups still – but the country's agency working with producers wants them to know the atmosphere has changed.

In a feature, The Financial Times noted the most recent movie to be shot in location, The Lost Daughter, was filmed on the island of Spetses as the COVID-19 pandemic was settling in, requiring tough health measures.

“We’d made all the preparations but we knew the producers might have to cancel at the last minute because of coronavirus,”  Evgenia Frangias, the island’s Deputy Mayor told the news site.

“To our relief they arrived on schedule, followed all the health protocols and were able to shoot here for more than a month. It was a positive experience for everyone,” she said.

Spetses has historic shipowners mansions and a natural lure for movies although, ironically, a 1968 film based on John Fowle's book, The Magus, that was set on the island was shot instead on Majorca, a Spanish island.

That is due to be fixed. A TV series based on The Magus, written by the late author John Fowles, who taught there, will finally be shot where it was located, another boost to Spetses, off the Eastern Peloponnesian coast.

Spetses cafe owner Spyros Michalakis said that, “It’ll be the best possible promotion for the island. A big television series would really put us on the international map.” 

The government is reaching out for more movies to be made, which got a big push from Lefteris Kretsos, the deputy media minister under the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA defeated in July 7, 2019 snap elections.

“Greece is a natural studio,” said Kretsos, who launched the scheme in 2018. “It has a huge variety of landscapes, a unique light for filming and a long season for outdoor shooting.” 

In a turnabout, Spetses was chosen to depict an Italian island, the setting for the novel, although Kretsos said before it was chosen that a number of obstacles had to be overcome, especially in the country's notoriously labyrinthine bureaucracy.

“It was so difficult to get shooting permits, especially at famous archaeological sites, that very few international feature films got made,” he said. That held up a BBC series for a time, a key scene set for Cape Sounion that saw work halted for a time.

In the mid-2010s, when producer Christopher Hall began working on a TV series based on the lives of the eccentric Durrell family who lived on Corfu in the 1930s, he considered taking the filming to Malta or Croatia, rather than the island where the books were set.

“Fortunately we stuck with Corfu and the island itself became a familiar character in the series,” he told a Greek interviewer, Greece almost losing out on having a film based on a book set on a famous island going elsewhere.

That happened with the sequel to Mamma Mia! The first movie was shot on Skopelos but the second moved to the Croatian island of Vis, costing the Greek island a lot of tourism.

A 75-million euro ($89.25 million) Greek program offers a mix of cash and tax incentives to foreign film, television and games producers, who are encouraged to team up with local enterprises that provide crew and technical support, the site said.

With no one knowing how long the pandemic will go on, Greece – like other countries – is frantic for revenues, the kind that movies bring, along with tourists, The Lost Daughter seen a big boon.

Incentives include a cash rebate up to 40 percent of Greek expenses on projects with a budget exceeding 100,000 euros ($118,986.50) and a 30 percent tax credit. Several tax and accounting problems that have made life difficult for producers have been smoothed out, the news site added.

Ekome, the Greek government’s audiovisual media and communication arm, said 77 applications from foreign film-makers had been approved so far and a further 20 were being examined.

“The application process is a box-ticking exercise designed to deliver results swiftly. For example, we’re satisfied with a synopsis of the plot, we don’t ask for a full script,” said Panos Kouanis, Ekome’s Chief Executive.

Amanda Livanou, Chief Executive of Neda Film, an Athens production company, said: “It is much easier to work now. One important thing is that longstanding obstacles to hiring and paying extras have been removed so Greece is able to host productions on a much bigger scale.”

She has been working with producers from France and Romania on the drama Broadway, set in Athens during the country’s long-running economic crisis while the Greek capital is part of series two of Tehran, an Israeli spy thriller streamed by AppleTV that is shot entirely in the Greek capital, not Iran.