Money talks and it is thanks to a lucrative suite of financial incentives that Greece is hosting more than 20 big international projects in 2021. The country’s cash rebate incentive for film and TV productions has risen from 35% to 40%, and there has been an acceleration of the application process and payback of the rebate. There is also a new 30% tax relief to be combined with the rebate.
Incoming productions include Netflix’s Knives Out 2, season three of Amazon and Paramount’s Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Small Village Films, Exile Entertainment and Arcadia’s Voices In Deep, and David Cronenberg’s Crimes Of The Future, co-produced by Robert Lantos for his Canadian outfit Serendipity Point Films with Panos Papahadzis of Athens-based Argonauts Productions. The sci-fi film, set in a near-future where humans are adapting to synthetic surroundings and evolving their biological makeup, is shooting on location around the capital and at Kapa Studios from August. “Athens is the perfect setting for Crimes Of The Future, as it is bespoke tailoring for Cronenberg’s unique vision of a future that intermingles with the past,” says Lantos.
Disney+ is also shooting Greek Freak about the life of Milwaukee Bucks basketball player Giannis Antetokounmpo, which is being serviced by Faliro House Productions, and Nia Vardalos is returning to directing duties for Universal’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3.
The Greek government and particularly the Hellenic Film Commission of the Greek Film Centre have worked hard to attract international productions despite the country struggling with Covid-19 and going into lockdown last year. The Hellenic Film Commission has launched a location scouting support programme for international projects looking to shoot in Greece.
Several have shot on the Greek islands where productions can bubble more easily. Last autumn the island of Evia hosted Ruben Ostlund’s dark comedy Triangle Of Sadness, produced by Erik Hemmendorf of Stockholm-based Plattform Produktion with Heretic in Greece.
“The shooting was fantastic,” says Ostlund. “The crew were experienced and engaged. The locals were friendly and made anything we asked for possible. The locations in Hiliadou, Evia are completely unique. We were lucky with the weather and we were so, so lucky with the Covid craziness.”
Last year the Venetian mansions of Spetses housed Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter, starring Olivia Colman and Dakota Johnson and serviced by Faliro House Productions. The island is now gearing up to host Knives Out 2.
Nida Plateau, meanwhile, on the island of Crete stood in for Syria in Shariff Korver’s Do Not Hesitate, produced by the Netherlands’ Lemming Film, also with Heretic.
UK outfit The Ink Factory and the BBC used the town of Elefsina and Athens to double for Lebanon and Palestine respectively in The Little Drummer Girl. “The generous support of numerous arms of government, and the highly talented crew and support team at Faliro House made the shoot one to remember and repeat,” says Ink Factory CEO Simon Cornwell.
Locations around Athens were also the setting for Marcel Barrena’s Spanish drama Mediterráneo, about the refugee crisis, produced by Fasten Films, Lastor Media, Arcadia Motion Pictures, Cados Producciones and Heretic. Filming took place in Attica from September to October 2020 with a crew of 172, of which 140 were Greek.
“Mediterráneo was a challenge for everyone involved — many exteriors, lots of action on the sea and a mixed cast and crew from Spain and Greece,” says producer Tono Folguera. “The interpersonal understanding on the team was peak. The technical level we found [in Greece] corresponds perfectly to European standards and the infinite variety of landscapes and locations Greece offers was key for us to be able to adapt and deal successfully with changes in weather patterns.”
Some projects have even prioritised Greece over other locations, such as German director Nana Neul’s road-trip movie Daughters, which was filming in Germany in March 2020 when the production was put on hold due to the coronavirus.
“We were supposed to go from Germany to Italy and then end in Greece. But that changed once we were able to film again and instead we started back up in Greece in mid-June on the island of Amorgos,” says Bettina Brokemper at Heimatfilm, the German co-producer alongside Greece’s Heretic. “The experience was great, like filming at an outdoor studio where the cast and crew could walk from one location to the other and maintain their social-distancing requirements.”
Daughters filming in Greece
Renowned director Cary Joji Fukunaga also managed to shoot the new Perrier commercial, one of the biggest in 2020, in Athens in late August-early September. Roads, squares and major streets of the capital were shut down completely – an unusual feat for commercials in Greece. Green Olive Films worked closely with the Athens Film Office, The Municipality of Athens and the Mayor’s office to achieve this.
“With a local crew of 220 people and 150 cast and an international team of 40 people, the production teams were split into different units and we had to ensure that there was an independent COVID-19 team that attended the tech recce’s, provided risk assessments and mapped out Covid-19 stations and disinfection points on each location and unit base to ensure everyone’s safety,” explains Maria Kopanou, executive producer at Green Olive Films.
Pre-Covid, Greece attracted a number of International projects, including Michael Winterbottom’s Greed, which used the islands of Mykonos and Delos for Sony Pictures and Film4, and Ferdinando Cito Filomarino’s Born To Be Murdered starring John David Washington and Alicia Vikander. The conspiracy thriller from Frenesy Films and RAI filmed some complex scenes in Athens, including riots in Syntagma Square in front of the Greek parliament. While Dutch production company Lemming Film doubled the Nida Plateau on the island of Crete for Syria while filming Shariff Korver’s Do Not Hesitate with Greece’s Heretic.
Greed filming in Greece. Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing
Winterbottom’s series The Trip to Greece also filmed across the country in 2019. “There are stunning locations and the local crew were fantastic, and spoke English perfectly,” says Melissa Parmenter of Revolution Films, the UK producers of the series.
TV series The Durrells has also filmed on the Greek island of Corfu for UK broadcaster ITV. “Some of the locations were quite remote, however there were always ways to work around them, sometimes with boats, sometimes with trucks,” explains producer Pat Lees. “We worked on the last three seasons of the show with the experienced Greek line producer Kostas Raftopoulos who, along with his crew, brought these elements together, assisted with the location permits and created excellent working practices with the UK cast and crew.”
The majority of the Greek film crew came from Athens, “which is the main crew base of the Greek film industry”, adds Lees.
For latest information regarding Covid safety guidelines visit: https://www.filmcommission.gr/hfcnews/safety-guidelines-for-filming-in-greece/
One of the country’s key selling points is the variety of beautiful locations to explore, including thousands of archaeological sites and monuments, many of which are included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
“You can find everything from medieval old towns to Minoan palaces,” enthuses Venia Vergou, director of the Hellenic Film Commission. “The versatility of landscapes is also striking - from the snow-capped mountain Olympus to the volcano in Nisyros, and from the iconic Cycladic islands to the forests and lakes of the mainland.”
“It has been a very popular, safe alternative filming destination this year with close proximity to multiple beaches and access to varying landscapes,” adds Kopanou at Green Olive Films.
The capital, Athens, is particularly popular, and can even double for other locations. "In Athens you can shoot easily all eastern countries, but it also has parts that could imitate an upscale neighborhood in Italy or France. Its natural parts are so diverse that it can double for any other country," insists Elena Priovolou at local outfit Argonauts Productions.
Greece is also renowned for the quality of its light, thanks to 250 days of bright sunshine a year and very mild winters.
Many of Greece’s most popular and picturesque filming locations are just a few hours’ drive from capital Athens. Many of the islands have their own airports and are easy to reach from the mainland by both sea and air. Greece is a four-hour flight from London and 10 hours from New York.
“Greece offers an ideal shooting environment with exciting diverse locations, mild climate, predictable weather, frequent and convenient flights from all European capitals, plus the lowest rates in the Euro zone,” enthuses Andreas Tsilifonis, executive producer at local production service providers Central Athens, who are being offered new production work, even from countries they’ve never worked with before.
Shooting permits are generally straightforward to obtain, although it can be a little tougher for the archaeological sites, as the application needs time to pass through a committee. It’s also important to note that archaeological sites and monuments only allow shoots for long form scripted content, not for commercials.
“We strongly advice producers to apply at the competent authorities of the Ministry of Culture and Sports at least one month prior to filming. Additionally, the expertise of Greek producers and location managers is needed to handle these permits,” says Vergou.
The Greek Film Centre offers production support and access to a network of service companies throughout the country. Production studios and soundstages are available, but are not yet at the same level as neighbouring countries. However, Kapa Studios in Athens has the capacity of 10 soundstages (between 400 square metres and 1,600 square metres), while Nu Boyana Studios is opening a branch in Thessaloniki. Just three hours by car from Bulgarian capital Sofia, Thessaloniki is ideally located to move equipment from the original Nu Boyana facility, and an international airport makes it easy to bring talent into the country.
The growing number of productions shooting across Greece means there are some very good local crew available to work on projects of all sizes. However, the numbers would be stretched thin if there were a lot of big productions shooting at the same time.
“Greek crews speak perfect English and have the expertise to collaborate flawlessly with international audio-visual productions,” insists Vergou. “We have outstanding drone operators and post-production facilities equipped with high-end industry technologies to world-class VFX.”
The majority of the workforce is based in the capital, Athens, but there are also efficient crews in other high demand places like Thessaloniki, Crete and Corfu.