Anyone who has seen Mamma Mia!, Shirley Valentine or Captain Corelli’s Mandolin knows what Greece offers from a film location perspective. A spectacularly beautiful nation, it is home to mountains, beaches, islands, a rich historical architecture and more.
Economic unrest has had an adverse impact on the economy but Greece's strong production base survived. The nation has talented crews and modern rental equipment as a result of the country’s always-thriving TV business and for films and commercials, local companies claim to be cheaper than rival markets such as Spain and Portugal.
In terms of access, capital city Athens is a four-hour flight from London and ten hours from New York. There are also international airports on a number of Greek islands. Greece's locations are generally in close range to each other, so time and money can be saved on travel within the country.
Greece has a rich production heritage, having hosted numerous high-profile films as far back as the 1950s and 1960s (Boy on a Dolphin, The Guns of Navarone, Zorba the Greek etc).
More recently, The Two Face of January, by director Hossein Amini, starring Oscar Isaac, Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst, filmed in Athens and on various locations in Crete. The excitable musical feature Mamma Mia! with Meryl Streep was shot on the islands of Skiathos and Skopelos.
Another big director, Richard Linklater, shot his feature Before Midnight on numerous Greek locations in and around the region of Messinia in 2013. The film, which starred Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, did well financially – with Linklater later praising Greece as a filming location.
When it comes to TV documentaries and TV adverts it is not hard to imagine Greece as a popular destination, Greece is always in with a shout when it comes to TV commercials. In 2014, for example, the island of Crete featured in an ad for Thomson Holidays. Shot by Sonny London with production services provided by Green Olive Films, the TVC showed a father transforming from a grumpy ogre into his usual happy self once his holiday was underway. Another Greece-based production services firm Avion includes the likes of Duracell, EDF, Nestle, KFC, Nivea, Orange, P&G, Peugeot, Qantas and Mazda among its TV commercials credits. Avion also worked on a recent campaign for Visa that promoted Greece’s participation in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Following the introduction of a new Cinema Law in 2010, it is no longer necessary to obtain a general film permit for shooting in Greece. However, producers still need to contact the relevant local authorities and get authorisation from them. To shoot in archaeological sites, a special permit is required from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism – though this is reportedly easier to arrange than it used to be. Specific permits are also needed for aerial shots or to close off public places.
As explained above, Greece has also cut prices for filming at historic sites in Athens. Permitting has also been simplified. Film Policy is led by the Ministry of Culture via the Greek Film Centre. In turn, the GFC has a sub-division entitled the Hellenic Film Commission that aids foreign producers.
Where to begin? Greece has a range of beaches and coastlines, distinctive whitewashed towns, churches in extraordinary locations, superb antiquities, mountains, forests, vineyards, olive groves, rivers, lakes and more. Sights of particular interest include Athens, Santorini, Rhodes, Kefalonia, Crete and Delphi.
Among modern architectural sites are Athens’ Olympic facilities, Thessaloniki Science Centre & Technology Museum and the New Acropolis Museum.
Greece gets 250 days of sunshine a year and has good filming light, so there is little risk of days being lost to the weather (though there are showers in winter and it can get extremely hot in July and August). Locations are quite close together, so travel time between different shooting scenes is quite short.
Athens is the main production centre and here you will find good crews and equipment rental firms. The city is also home to production services firms like Green Olive and Avion Films. According to Avion, “Equipment rental companies provide state-of-the-art equipment for 35mm, 16mm and High Definition (RED EPIC, ALEXA). Stock can be purchased locally through Kodak or Fuji offices.
For stock processing, there are 3 big labs, including a Kodak lab. There are also “large Athens-based studios and excellent infrastructure, which was upgraded for the 2004 Olympic Games, accommodating any interior filming needs”. Skilled set builders and post-production houses can also be found in Greece. In terms of casting, you can find Caucasian, Mediterranean, Asian, Indian and African models easily.
Other local firms that provide production support include Film Greece, which has positive testimonials from clients in Japan, Italy, the UK, US and India. These clients include National Geographic TV and The History Channel.