The Greek government and Hellenic Film Commission have worked hard to draw international productions in, despite the country returning to lockdown for November (until the 30th), with a number of productions coming to the country to shoot in the past few months, including Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter and German-Italian-Greek co-production Daughters.
One of the huge positives has been the approved rise in the country’s cash rebate incentive for film and TV productions from 35% to 40%, and an acceleration of the application process and payback of the rebate. An added bonus is the new 30% tax credit, which can be combined with the rebate.
The Covid case numbers were also relatively low, compared to other countries, over the summer from May onwards when the country opened up to productions again. One of these was German director Nana Neul’s road trip movie Daughters (Tochter), which was filming in Germany in March 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,” explains Bettina Brokemper at Heimatfilm, the German co-producers. “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
Another big project to shoot was Östlund’s Triangle Of Sadness, produced by Erik Hemmendorf of Stockholm-based Plattform Produktion and starring Woody Harrelson, which managed to film on the islands of Euboea (Evia) from 19 September for eight weeks. Plus, Marcel Barrena’s Spanish drama Mediterraneo, about the refugee crisis, currently in production with Arcadia Motion Pictures and local outfit Heretic; Francois Uzan’s French comedy Say Cheese, which was shooting in September and October (Radar Films and Unagi); and Yelena Popovic’s US-Greek (Viewmaster and Simeon Entertainment) film Man of God, starring Mickey Rourke, which wrapped in September after a five-week shoot in and around Athens. Another gearing up to shoot is Jason Raftopoulos’s Voices In Deep, produced by Australian Exile’s Entertainment.
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.
More recently Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter, adapted from Elena Ferrante’s novel, has been one of the first international productions to shoot in Greece in Autumn 2020. Initially planned for a North American shoot, The Lost Daughter moved to Greece after the pandemic, and is currently filming with an all-star cast including Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Peter Sarsgaard and Paul Mescal.
For filming during the second lockdown, the the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports has updated safety guidelines, including the need for personnel to take rapid tests on a weekly basis, indoor spaces must be well ventilated and disinfected, and the two meter distancing rule must be applied.
Despite these restrictions, Greece is managing to pretty much carry on where it left off before the virus when it 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 last year. “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.