A turning point for the Maltese film industry
Malta went through a thriving year of filming with June becoming the busiest month in the island’s history. Crews, suppliers and service providers were stretched beyond their limits as Paramount’s World War Z “clashed” on the tiny island with the long running UK TV series Sinbad, Norway’s large feature Kon Tiki, Sweden’s Volvo commercial and some other works.
Sadly, like many things in life, the past is no guarantee of the future but this cannot be any truer where Malta’s film servicing industry is concerned unless the island makes big strides to keep up with the smart competition.
“Smart competition” consists of countries that have an abundance of qualified crew and attractive financial incentives. They also have government departments that have systems and policies in place to cater for the needs of the film industry. In addition, they have film commissions that aggressively lure film-makers to their lands. Nowadays, locations alone are often not enough to sell countries.
The film courses introduced this year by the local EU office Media and the Malta Film Commission are great initiatives and should be repeated with some variety on an annual basis. However, they are mainly beneficial for the creation of an “indigenous” industry. The servicing industry caters for foreign productions and accounts for millions of euros injected into the local economy. It is an industry that the private sector and the government is trying to sustain. Yet, it is in dire need of other levels of qualified personnel that these courses unfortunately do not cater for.
[Malta's] servicing industry caters for foreign productions and accounts for millions of euros injected into the local economy. It is an industry that the private sector and the government is trying to sustain. Yet, it is in dire need of other levels of qualified personnel.
Producers choosing to film in Malta do not seek scriptwriters, creative producers, documentary film-makers or other creative levels of an executive level. They need location managers, production coordinators, unit managers, art directors, camera and grip technicians, to mention only a very few, all of whom must have proper training specific to the film industry.
The island has a problem providing enough crews in terms of quantity and first-class expertise to sustain even the normal levels of productions visiting the island’s shores. As a result, producers are compelled to bring in more foreigners, making Malta more expensive than it needs to be, spending more funds overseas and more of Malta’s cash rebate is going in foreign salaries.
For starters, internships should be organised by educational institutions and foreign films shooting in Malta. Workshops with foreign lecturers should also be held on an annual basis.
Several countries, such as Italy and Croatia, are now also jumping onto the bandwagon by offering financial incentives. Hungary’s film servicing industry, which is far more developed than Malta’s, offers a 25 per cent refund on producers’ expenditure. South Africa, officially a Third World country but which very much has a first-class film servicing industry, offers refunds of between 15 and 35 per cent, depending on how a foreign production is structured. This month it removed its limits on the cash rebate.
Malta offers up to 22 per cent and productions habitually get close to 20 per cent but with a number of exclusions such as the cost of camera and lighting equipment rentals, hence, lowering the overall figure to one that is not always very competitive. Producers also have to pay for shipping of filming equipment, which still remains limited in Malta, and travel and living costs for many crew members who are not available here.
The bottom line is that the financial incentives are not the answer to the industry’s sustainability and growth but only part of a bigger plan that is urgently needed.
Malta offers [a filming rebate of] up to 22 per cent and productions habitually get close to 20 per cent, but with a number of exclusions such as the cost of camera and lighting equipment rentals, hence lowering the overall figure to one that is not always very competitive.
Malta’s famous water tanks in Kalkara have monumental significance to the film servicing industry. They also account for a big part of film money entering the local economy. Soon, they will face stiff competition with Spain’s water tank, which is already up and running, and with the new Santo Domingo tank being built by the world famous Pinewood Studios.
There is no dispute that Malta’s tanks offer the best production value because of their long experience and versatility in water effects. But film-makers are often surprised that, after 47 years of existence, this company has not yet grown into a first-class facility in every sense, although it is only a few steps away from doing so. It is no secret that in some of the years when it was owned by the government, the company suffered from the wrong management. Some of its years under private ownership were not a walk in the park either.
It is fair to say that, today, Mediterranean Film Studios has managed to reach a healthy state of survival despite its long troubled past. However, it still needs to grow organically and invest in human resources and infrastructure if it is to remain ahead of the competition.
Making a profit and growing at the same time is a tricky matter for any business. Its biggest competitor, Spain’s water tank, was not built primarily for profit but to create an economic activity in the region, thus making its pricing very advantageous. The government should find ways and means to give all its help to MFS so that this national asset continues to pull productions to Malta and, while remaining private at all times, the tanks can remain the pride and joy of every Maltese.
Perhaps the biggest issue of all when filming in Malta is the lack of efficiency within certain sections of government when it comes to such things as location, construction or working permits. It feels like no solid film policy was ever implemented at a high political level to ensure that the mechanical wheels across government institutions are in sync with the needs of the film industry.
[International producers] do talk openly in the international film community and it is mostly word of mouth that hurts Malta abroad.
Sure enough there are some pleasant experiences involving some sections of the government, especially when a civil servant happens to be willing and practical. But there are serious inconsistencies with other sections of the public sector that need to have their policies aligned with the government’s film-friendly policy and not opposing it. Otherwise, it is like inviting a low-cost airline to start operating its flights to Malta but then giving it a short runway where its aircraft cannot land or take off.
Foreign producers know best not to publicly disparage countries after they filmed in them, especially if they are receiving cash refunds and also when they know that they might return one day. But they do talk openly in the international film community and it is mostly word of mouth that hurts Malta abroad.
The new Film Commissioner has the challenging task to address the issues that lie within government departments so these can function hand in hand with the film industry.
The Film Commission has undergone major changes this year, the results of which are awaited anxiously by private stakeholders. But, generally speaking, change is not always all bad. The new Film Commissioner has the challenging task to address the issues that lie within government departments so these can function hand in hand with the film industry. The political clout of the new commissioner may just be what is needed to solve these issues once and for all.
The Film Commission is this government’s only full-time entity dedicated to the promotion of the film industry and to advise on film policies. It exists to serve the industry in an indiscriminate, unbiased and fair manner. With its “new” energy, it has the opportunity to open exciting avenues for further progress and growth within the film servicing industry.
Its actions today will influence very heavily which direction Malta’s film servicing industry will take in the next years.
Images courtesy of The Producer’s Creative Partnership.
Global Filming Incentive - Malta (see more…)
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