Written by James Peak on Apr 10, 2009. Posted in On Location

On location in Italy

Filmmakers have long been attracted to Italy and the country has hosted some of the industry’s most renowned features as well as memorable commercials. But it has often proved a challenging region for cash-strapped or lower budget productions, due to a lack of accessible financial incentives.

There are, however, some recent developments which may encourage further investment in filming activity. Alessandra Bergero, who heads up the Italian Riviera Film Commission, points in particular to exciting changes in product placement laws. Alessandra explains: “Product placement finally became legal in Italy and through this tool it is possible to raise extra money also locally, from private investors who are interested in promoting not only a product but also a hotel or a service.”

Italy is still dragging its heels in terms of offering financial assistance and historically any such provisions have been somewhat piecemeal – with wide variations in funding across different regions.

In this context, those regions that are developing attractive financial incentives are unlikely to go un-noticed. Piedmont, for example, is likely to catch filmmakers’ attention with the creation of a new investment initiative, in which it has joined forces with Endgame Enterntainment, a Los Angeles based independent production and finance company. The initiative provides project financing to productions that spend a minimum of 20% of their budget in the region of Piedmont.

Italian Film Commissions are welcoming the latest news from the European Commission. The EC has approved, under EC Treaty state aid rules, a EUR104 million Italian tax incentive scheme for film production until 31 December 2010. The scheme introduces tax credits to support the production of European cultural films and films of special cultural interest, as well as a tax shelter for European cultural films. The tax credit and tax shelter are available to companies which are taxable in Italy and the tax credit is available against all types of taxes.

Meanwhile, Enrico Ballarin, a Partner at Mestiere Cinema explains that “Other regions supply services to productions in different ways, providing help with location scouts, offering good agreements with public and private locations, or making good deals in terms of accommodation.”

The fact is that filmmakers are more likely to come to Italy for its legendary locations and its cultural significance – rather than for its cost-effectiveness. As Karim Bartoletti, Partner/Exec Producer at FilmMaster, observes: “The Italian Brand Name is very strong internationally and so many of its landmarks have become iconic symbols for people across the world.”

Italy is also well-resourced in terms of technical equipment and expertise. Karim identifies Milan and Rome in particular as significant production centres. He observes: “In these cities, you will find crews, technical equipment, sounds stages, a variety of pre-production, production and post-production suppliers.” Karim adds that as Italy is a relatively small country, the logistics of moving from one region to another are also very straightforward. “This kind of mobility is normal and does not represent a huge psychological or economic burden.”

Virginia Cademartori, Assistant Producer at I'M says the most popular areas in Italy for filmmakers include the main historical cities – Rome, Milan, Naples, Venice – as well as Sicily and Sardinia. Virginia identifies The Alps, other mountains and Sicilian and Tuscan countryside as having continued interest too.

As far as the type of film activity taking place in Italy is concerned, the country continues to attract a wide variety of productions. In terms of commercials, Enrico observes that in general there is a strong attraction to Italy because of its variety of locations and the availability of supplies and expertise. Makers of sports-related ads appear to be particularly drawn to the region. Recently, the
Sony Ericsson WTA Tour's Looking For A Hero? TV commercial, shot in Rome. This formed part of what has been called the largest ad campaign in the Tour’s history. During the shoot, film and photographic crew moved around the Italian capital during the week of the Internazionali BNL D’Italia tournament last year, shooting at six different locations, involving over 30 Sony Ericsson WTA Tour players.

A recent report by media analyst Screen Digest in fact suggests that Italy is forging ahead of other European countries in terms of its advertising output. Screen Digest identifies troubles for broadcasters in the UK, France and Spain as a direct result of the economic downturn. It says, however, that Italy along with Germany is bucking the trend. Screen Digest says in Italy, Mediaset has outperformed a flat TV advertising market, increasing ad revenues by 2.2% year-on-year.

There has also been a surge of activity from feature films. Among the most recent is Angels and Demons – the latest Dan Brown adaption and sequel to The Da Vinci Code starring Tom Hanks, which releases in May. Alessandra and the Italian Riviera Film Commission have been very much involved in the shooting of fantasy film Inkheart by New Line Cinema.

Karim is keen to emphasise the importance of Italy’s cultural heritage and the attraction this continues to have for filmmakers. He asserts: “Italy is a country that is surrounded by its own history. Our cultural and historical past is present in our every day lives. And that is very attractive to people who don’t live history every day or who want to expose it on film.”

There is no doubt that Italy’s beautiful and iconic locations will continue to attract international filmmakers. If it can turn around its negative reputation for funding and finance, this will further strengthen its position as one of Europe’s dominant film locations.

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