Belgium is an attractive proposition for international producers. It has a much-vaunted tax shelter system, worth up to 42% of Belgian spend to incoming productions, and also offers substantial regional funding through Screen Flanders, Wallimage and Screen Brussels.
Production is continuing through the country’s second lockdown in November. Various financial packages to help the industry navigate through the pandemic include an extra $11.8m (€10m) to the Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF) for 2021-23. A further $5.9m (€5m) guarantee fund has been created to compensate for production shutdowns due to Covid‑19.
Several bigger and more complex productions have been postponed until 2021, but two international features have got the greenlight.
French director Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s English-language thriller Earwig (for Wild Bunch and the UK’s Film4 and the BFI) began shooting in November with a cast headed by Paul Hilton, Alex Lawther and Romola Garai. And the collective feature documentary Europe-C19 is gearing up to shoot in Brussels. Produced by Belgium’s Tarantula Belgique with Germany’s Maze Pictures and Italy’s Notorious Pictures, five directors (Jaco Van Dormael, Michele Placido, Michael Winterbottom, Fernando Leon De Aranoa and Julia von Heinz) are making films about the pandemic. Five of the 10 filming days will take place in Brussels along with most of the post-production work.
Figure out the finance
The country’s complicated ‘waffle-iron’ political arrangements for its two major regions are to the advantage of filmmakers: Flanders and Wallonia both have their own film funds and film agencies.
Meanwhile, production companies and tax shelter financiers including Scope Invest, Umedia and Belga Films Fund are seasoned operators on high-profile international film and TV productions, with hundreds of credits to their names.
However, there is the possibility the tax shelter may be damaged by the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike tax credits in other European countries, this is not an automatic system: it is a fiscal incentive available to businesses that invest in film production. Industry observers fear businesses simply will not have the profits to invest in the tax shelter in the coming year or so.
“A lot of companies are not making profits this year — or [are making] less profit than previously,” says veteran producer Peter Bouckaert, managing and creative director at Belgium’s Eyeworks Film & TV Drama. “[The virus] is going to have, and has already had, a huge impact on the capacity in the market to raise tax shelter funds.”
Some are proposing the tax shelter system should be turned into an automatic scheme. It is accepted, though, that some form of fiscal stimulus is crucial to the wellbeing of the local audiovisual industry and must be preserved at all costs. Any changes should not affect international productions looking to shoot in Belgium.
Belgium lacks a megastudio like a Babelsberg or a Pinewood but locals insist the country offers the crew and facilities that international visitors need. The new Lites studio, which opened last year in Brussels, has five professional soundstages as well as one of the most advanced waterstages found anywhere in Europe. Over the last 12 months it has attracted significant projects, including Leos Carax’s Annette starring Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver.
At the time Covid-19 stopped production, Lites was also hosting Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s The Deep House, a French-produced English-language underwater horror movie backed by Umedia, which was due to resume in June. Season two of Norwegian oil drama State Of Happiness is expected to shoot at the facility later this year.
Antwerp-based AED Studios hosted Thomas Vinterberg’s submarine drama Kursk in 2017.
Wallonia-based fund Wall¬image recently invested in Lorcan Finnegan’s sci-fi drama Vivarium, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, while Screen Flanders has supporter Koen Mortier’s Netflix-backed Second World War documentary Liberation Route. Screen Brussels Fund recently backed Italian director Massimo Donati’s road movie/thriller Carnet d’Epices, which is due out in April 2021.
Crew expertise has grown as more and more international production has come to Belgium, and English is generally spoken. International productions tend to bring their own heads of department but Belgium is renowned for its world-class technicians. The most feted names include cinematographers Nicolas Karakatsanis, who has worked extensively in Hollywood, and Ruben Impens, and editors Job ter Burg (Brimstone, Elle) and Ludo Troch, father of director Fien Troch. Companies such as Lites rent out lighting and camera equipment as well as studio space.