ΑΤΗΕΝS — From Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables 4 to Antonio Banderas to the Amazon Prime TV show Jack Ryan and Daniel Craig’s in Knives Out 2, Greece has become a prime destination for major movie makers, attracted by government subsidies and a talent pool that fits the industry’s needs.
Fortune magazine has become the latest to write about the phenomenon of Hollywood suddenly taking a shine to Greece, where until recently, governments had been anti-film and unfriendly to them before discovering how much money and tourism could be attracted by making it a setting.
Puppeteer Filippos Fertis was an extra, one of hundreds, used on the set of the Jack Ryan series being filmed at key points in Athens
It was the 17th time Fertis had snagged an extra role in the past two years; just about half of those roles were for foreign films. This work may not be solving anyone’s financial problems, but it is providing some relief, says Fertis. “And there are a lot of people that need that relief,” he told the magazine.
Like tens of thousands of Greeks, Fertis is leaning on the economy’s newly emerged growth sector, the movie business, to make some critical cash and it doesn’t hurt when audiences around the world see the country on the big screen, especially during a lingering pandemic when movies are back.
“Greece has become something of a hotspot for foreign films lately, drawing large Hollywood productions, big-name actors, and some equally big budgets,” the report noted, adding that film crews are regularly seen shooting movies, documentaries, or advertisements around Athens.
In 2018, Greek authorities added incentives aimed at drawing foreign film productions to dip into the $12 billion global film market, after Greece had been stung about the sequel to the wildly popular Mamma Mia lost to Croatia which offered a better deal to the producers.
Greece now offers a 40 percent cash rebate on production expenses, some 10 percent more than competitors versus a 30% rebate offered in nearby Turkey and Spain. Other changes include a promised reduction in Greece’s famed red-tape procedures and speedier payment of benefits to film companies.
Industry data shows that 171 film productions have been filmed with the help of the rebate, of which 79 were from abroad, worth some 255 million euros ($295.79 million,) not to mention the publicity.
That has provided work for almost 42,000 people, important more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic that saw millions locked out of work for months at a time, the economy only now starting a comeback.
Greek actors, directors, and movie crews are also in demand, as well as local production companies and other suppliers to movie sets, with budgets for most movies around 20 million euros ($23.2 million,) far more than previous films where it was around 3 million euros ($3.48 million for smaller shoots.
The summer of 2021, which saw tourists returning in some numbers after being shut out during the 2020 worst of the pandemic period, lured the big names, like Craig, who was also in the mystery thriller Go on Netflix, with Edward Norton.
There was shooting apart from Athens too, including the country’s second-largest city of Thessaloniki, where Banderas filmed The Enforcer and The Expendables will have shots in November, filmmakers trying to make up for time lost during the pandemic when movies essentially ceased.
Panos Kouanis, head of the National Center of Audiovisual Media and Communication (EKOME), said that the increase in demand has just been “crazy,” with the rebate the magnet.
But he said more is still needed to get the blockbusters, such as finding a credible partner for production companies to deal with and offering film-friendly locations among the country’s unparalleled landscapes.
Filmmakers are also drawn by the long daylight hours of sun that let them get more film finished, a money saver that holds down production costs.
The giveaway to a big budget industry hasn’t sat well with everyone though.
Ranking at the top of the country’s advantages are the many hours of sunlight on offer that allow for more shooting to be done in a day, pushing down production costs.
But not everyone is happy with the success.Lefteris Kretsos, who introduced the incentives in 2018 when the Radical Left SYRIZA was in power and he was deputy digital policy minister said recent changes by the rival New Democracy were “being problematic and driven by short-termism.”
He complained there are fewer checks on subsidies risk funds going to film companies he said weren’t vetted enough and that some of the expenses that qualify for state aid are excessive.
“The changes have been designed with a marketing purpose in mind rather than supporting the film industry in Greece. There are economic elements to all this, but it is also a cultural issue, and we must keep standards high,” he told Fortune.
The speed of the success hasn’t been totally sweet as Greek film officials said the country wasn’t prepared to deal with so many productions at once and that there’s a lack of studios and post-production facilities.
There’s also not enough staff members qualified to work on sets so former waiters, accountants and even shop clerks are being recruited and given crash courses in how to help.
The success though has caught the country flat-footed. Greek film officials privately admit that a lack of studios and post production facilities in the country has resulted in a loss of business for the local film industry.
A shortage of staff members qualified to work on sets is also weighing on the industry. In a bid to meet demand, former waiters, accountants, and shop clerks are being hastily trained to learn new skills needed for film crews.
“There are teething problems, but we are catching up,” a film official who wasn’t named told the magazine, adding: “The movie industry in Greece is showing a lot of promise, and people are realizing this.”