This article is an excerpt of Producing in CEE, Dentons’ guide to tax and financial incentives for film, television and digital media production.
Though often overlooked, CEE has a rich history of filmmaking, and it continues to produce award-winning films, which are enjoyed by growing audiences. The works of Andrzej Wajda, Ján Kadár, Roman Polanski, Pawel Pawlikowski and Milos Forman have been screened in cinemas around the globe.
CEE has also become a popular film production destination thanks to its experienced film crews, a variety of diverse filming locations in close proximity to each other, and much lower production costs when compared to the US or Western European countries.
Many big-budget productions such as Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019), Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011), Robin Hood (2018), Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) were shot in CEE. Over the last decade, Hungary has become the second most popular European filming destination after the United Kingdom.
After introducing attractive financial incentives schemes, CEE countries continue to adjust the requirements to demands and make them more competitive. In CEE countries, governments compete by increasing the cash rebate and other financial incentives for television and movie productions filmed in their countries in a bid to attract regional and international film crews. Government-based production grant systems in these countries are eligible for both local and international producers, provided that they work with local partners – acting both as majority and minority co-producers or under a works-for-hire system. The systems are operated by public institutions such as the Hungarian Film Institute and Film Office, the Polish Film Institute, the Slovak Audiovisual Fund and the Czech Film Fund. Production grants and financial incentives are separate schemes. For example, in Poland and in Hungary, producers can take advantage of both types of support for one project.
Stable financial support systems boost production in CEE. In 2019, 62 feature films were produced in the Czech Republic, 44 in Slovakia, 45 in Poland, 29 in Romania and 20 in Hungary. As a filming destination, Hungary is the standout in the region when it comes to the works-for-hire system for international productions. As reported by the country’s National Film Fund, records were broken in film production in Hungary in 2019, with the amount directly spent on film production reaching US$565.6 million (HUF 164.4 billion), which represents an increase of approximately 50% over the preceding year; 94% of the entire amount came from international productions.
Each country has different requirements or application forms and may support several stages of production, provided that a local partner is involved in the process. In most countries, a so-called cultural test – verifying the connection between the production and country providing financial support – applies. Other requirements include the length of the audiovisual work or a minimum spend in the country where the application of support is being submitted. The limits of support apply and vary depending on the country. For example, Poland has caps per project and applicants, while in the Czech Republic eligible expenditures are capped at 80% of the total budget.
The Czech Republic offers a rebate of 20% of eligible costs. Eligible costs cannot exceed 80% of the total project costs. It also offers a 66% rebate on withholding tax paid in the Czech Republic by international cast and crew. Hungary offers a rebate of 30%, but the rebate can reach up to 37.5% through the addition of qualifying non-Hungarian costs. Poland also offers a rebate of 30% up to a cap of €3.3m (PLN 15m). In Romania, the general rebate is 35%, but productions explicitly promoting Romania, with a minimum local spend of 20% of the total budget of the production, can also apply for an additional rebate of 10%. Starting in 2020, Slovakia began offering a rebate of 33%.
Financial incentives are not the only source of the financial support for foreign crews in the CEE region. Each country has a well-established system of production grants eligible for majority and minority co-productions, with an obligatory local partner on-board.
For example, in Poland the maximum subsidy for a contemporary full-length feature film is set at no more than 50% of the total budget and at PLN 4 million (ca. €940,000) or PLN 6 million (ca. €1,408,000) for historic films. There are different numbers for films with limited commercial value, directed by new or unknown directors or low budget. In Slovakia, as of October 2020, 50% of the estimated total budget funding from third-party financial resources (either through direct funding or through the sale of preferential rights) must be provided and feature or animated projects can apply for up to 12.5% of the production budget (with a limit of €500,000). Creative documentaries can apply for support up to 20% of the production budget (with a limit of €300,000).
In addition, each country has regional grants available for supporting cinematography in this particular part of the country. On top of this, each of the countries of the CEE region is eligible to apply for the grants from European bodies, including Creative Europe and Eurimage.
Working in the New Dynamic
During the pandemic, the landscape of television and film production in CEE and the rest of the world is changing as the industry tries to adapt to the new dynamic. In this framework, both the government and private sector players (i.e. associations, digital platforms, unions etc.) are making an effort to support the continuation of production with adequate health and safety measures. Since the situation is changing and evolving on an almost daily basis, we recommend reviewing the rules applicable to the jurisdiction you will be producing in.
By Igor Ostrowski, Partner, and Daria Nazarova, Europe Head of Business Development, Dentons