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Olivewood film bonanza at risk

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Cyprus’ reputation as a film location is at stake after Hollywood producers said they may rethink plans for shooting another six films on the island due to difficulties faced with the government’s incentive scheme.

Producers of Jiu Jitsu, filmed entirely in Cyprus, said they had to knock on several doors to get financing, after being rejected from sponsors and banks in Cyprus because the incentives certificate issued are not accepted as collateral.

“As producers, we had to finance the film with funds from abroad as Cyprus banks were not willing to finance the film, an indication they felt they may not get their money back as the certificate we presented them could not act as a guarantee as they are not bankable,” said a producer of Jiu Jitsu.

Chris Economides, a board member of LBE JIU-JITSU AVC, set up in Cyprus by the producers of the film, argued that the future of ‘Olivewood’ is at risk as his colleagues, which include Jiu Jitsu’s director Demitri Logothetis, are sceptical about making another film on the island if they do not receive a bankable certificate.

With the team all set for their second venture in Cyprus for a film titled “Man of War” and plans to invest $125 mln in this and another five films, possible difficulties in securing financing may alter their plans.

Logothetis recently visited the island to hold talks with Invest Cyprus who is managing the scheme on behalf of the government.

Economides told the Financial Mirror, the team is ready to go ahead with the production of Man of War sometime in March or April, depending on whether they can put funds together.

“If the government gives us a bankable certificate we will proceed, otherwise, we may sadly be forced to put our plans on ice.”

The Jiu Jitsu producer commented that the scheme presents the country with a golden opportunity and could be a game-changer for its economy.

“That is why we need to ensure that these productions are facilitated to the maximum of our abilities as major studios are a bit concerned over whether the incentive scheme will be successful, and mistrust is being built.”

Economides explained that on the one hand you have the parliament shackling the budget for the scheme and on the other certificates given to producers cannot be used to secure financing.

Jiu-Jitsu, starring Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage, was the first international movie shot in Cyprus attracted by the ‘Olivewood’ audio-visual incentive scheme promoted by the government.

It was considered to be a make-or-break test case for Cyprus’ attempt to put itself on the global filming map.

Reportedly, the team is now close to agreeing with a top Hollywood actor for the leading role in Man of War, while the script was written by Gary Scott Thompson, the writer of the blockbuster franchise «Fast and Furious».

Names of actors poised to take on the lead role include stars like Gerard Butler, Keanu Reeves and Bruce Willis.

The film will be directed by Logothetis, with production by Todd Garner, former Disney president and producer of the new Mortal Kombat movie, as well as films such as ‘xXx’ with Vin Diesel, Knight and Day.

Chris Economides will also be on the producers’ team of “Man of War”.

“Man of War”, already approved by the Invest Cyprus committee last year, is currently in pre-production and is expected to begin production by April.

Wise Investment

“There is a belief that taxpayers’ money is being thrown down the drain, however, this is far from the truth,” argued Economides.

He said his company spent €2 mln on accommodation and travel on the island with a total of 8,300 overnight stays in the capital’s hotels.

He noted that the production of a film has one of the highest economic multiplier factors, as many sectors of the economy benefit, from lawyers and accountants to taxi drivers, restaurants and bars.

“It is important to note the producers of Jiu-Jitsu kept their side of the bargain, complying with criteria which included the hiring of people active in the local audio-visual industry.”

“The production hired more than 60 people active in the local industry, from actors to screenwriters and costume makers. Another 160 people were hired to carry out jobs facilitating the production. A total of 220 Cypriots were employed by the production team, whereas our legal obligation was to hire just six Cypriot nationals.”

Appearing confident over what the scheme has to offer Cyprus and its economy, Economides said the film incentive scheme must not be allowed to fail.

“Development of the film industry gives rise to new investment opportunities such as the building of infrastructures like studios, exhibition and conference centres, media distribution, editing and sound suites, production services equipment…”

He noted that countries like Romania and Hungary have reshaped their economy entirely by attracting big investments for their film industry.

The Jiu-Jitsu producer feels that both his production and the industry, in general, has not been given the appropriate attention by stakeholders.

Economides also wanted to respond to reports claiming the company was waiting for the reimbursement to pay people who worked for the production.

He said all participants have been paid for their contribution to the film.

The incentives package is managed by Invest Cyprus to establish a film industry on the island known as “Olivewood”.

According to the scheme, the government has provided a total of €25 mln for the ventures it might fund annually for the promotion of the film industry.

The scheme provides Cypriot and foreign producers with incentives such as cash rebates and/or tax credits of up to 35% on qualifying production expenditures and also provides tax allowances of 20% for investment in infrastructure and equipment.

Invest Cyprus told Financial Mirror it was unaware of producers finding difficulty with financing due to issues related with the incentives certificate issued.