What is the new Italian tax subsidy
The new Italian subsidy is giving up to 30 per cent tax credit to foreign productions that shoot in Italy through an Italian executive producer. There is also a cultural test that all European countries have. The test, which was present till last year, was quite difficult to pass but the new one is much easier. Another change that has happened is that the tax exemption of 25 per cent has been increased to 30 per cent. These are the two main changes in the new Italian subsidy.
There is a new Italian law of cinema which is reforming the whole idea of the audio visual medium in Italy. It is not only from the perspective of a foreign production coming to Italy but also applies to domestic media, for example, broadcasters in Italy have to show at least one Italian film in their programming. The time limits have also changed. Earlier, the crew would be limited to eight hours of work but now they can shoot or work on a film for 11 hours per day. The foreign crew can shoot for however long they want, be it 6 hours or 16 hours. But the Italian workers, by law, should work up to 11 hours per day. However, that is also flexible. Even when we shoot, we sometimes shoot for 16 hours straight especially during the months like May, June and July when daylight is more. The sun rises at 5 am and sets at 9 pm so one can utilise the natural light completely.
Another way for Indian filmmakers to get more funds from the film commission is to tie up with an Italian production house for a co-production. Co-productions increase the amounts of funds that the Film Commission offers. You have to have at least 20 per cent of share in the co-production. Of course, co-production means many other things but it is one of the ways to obtain more funds from the Italian Film Commission.
What is the process an Indian filmmaker has to go through to be eligible for this subsidy?
The way that an Indian or any foreign production house can get the benefits of this subsidy is by contacting me or any production house which is based in Italy. Then the biggest element in this process is the script, we always start from there. We read the whole script first and then analyse the shots that are supposed to be shot in Italy. Also, the cultural test will be based on the script. There will be points according to the crew you hire like the actors, designers, makeup artistes, DOP, etc. But the majority of points are given based on the script. For example, if the script talks about a very important historical character, then in the part that is shot in Italy, there should be a line or two about this particular character. This is one way how you get points. The film should have a cultural aspect and should not be completely frivolous. It is the line producer’s responsibility to see to it that the film is shot according to what is written in the script.
Who qualifies as the right person to get the benefits of this subsidy?
Any Indian producer can qualify for this tax credit. There is no minimum cost that you have to spend nor any minimum number of days that you have to shoot to avail this facility. If you are shooting for just three days but, during that time, if all the characteristics of the cultural test apply, then you are good to go. Also, if a production house is participating in the tax credit, they need to put the logo of the Italian ministry supporting the film. They also need to send one copy of the film to the Italian ministry to keep it in their records. The liability is on the line producer. If there is a check and the ministry finds out that what was promised has not been delivered, they will ask the producers to refund or forfeit the tax credit.
How helpful is the Italian Film Commission with regard to getting permissions to shoot across the country?
Getting permission to shoot all over Italy is very easy. The two cities where it can be a little difficult are Rome and Venice. It is due to the large tourist population there. Hence, it becomes difficult for the administration there to give permissions at short notice. There are events happening at certain places all the time, and to close a square or an area like that is a bigger task than it would be in any other city. If you want to shoot in Rome or Venice, it is very much doable. You just need more time to plan it. It is relatively easy because the Italian Film Commission helps direct the request immediately. When we write to the commission about what we need, they will forward that request to the respective administrations and tell them that this film is supported by the commission and should be helped. Nowadays, we are in touch with everyone so we can just directly call and get the information on everything.
And how feasible is it for Indian producers to rent equipment in Italy?
During the Volare Awards, we had invited one company from Italy called Movie People. They are our partners and also the biggest company in Italy for film equipment rentals. They have three offices in Milan, Rome and Puglia. They have all kinds of high-end equipment, be it cameras, trolleys, jimmy jibs, tracks, lights, etc. The reason I brought them here was to understand the problems of an Indian producer who wants to hire equipment abroad which they find very expensive. We went to see some Indian equipment rental places to have an idea as to what Indians pay here for this equipment in comparison to there. And the realisation is that the cost is one-tenth or one-fifteenth of what they would pay in Italy. Keeping this in mind, we are now making packages and coming towards Indian producers to establish ourselves as a market where equipment is affordable. It may not be as cheap as they get in India, but just 15-20 per cent more. This will help them believe that it will be better to hire equipment in Italy rather than bringing it from here. As it is, one needs to go through many obstacles to get the equipment there with the documentation and freight rates. We have camera packages and grip and light packages that give the filmmakers a reasonable deal. Also, a big advantage would be that if you hire the equipment from there, then its cost would be eligible for the tax credit.
Tell us about the availability of crew in Italy.
There are no criteria for hiring Italian labourers or crew members when a foreign production company comes for a shoot. The availability of crew is very wide in Italy. Cinema in Italy is one of the most beloved art forms and there are many professionals that are highly skilled in their line of work, be it costume designers, cinematographers, set designers and makeup artistes. These people have been involved with the culture and history of Italy for a long time and that could help the story by bringing a different, interesting flavour to it. The tax credit is only available on the money the foreign producers spend on the Italian crew. They cannot claim tax credit for the wages of their own crew.
Are there any laws by the Film Commission that the Indian production houses need to keep in mind while shooting in Italy?
The timing is one thing that people have to respect. It has to be taken into consideration by filmmakers, even though it is flexible for the most part. If people are shooting for just a few days, then one can extend the limit from 11 hours. If it is a longer shoot, then the Italian crew can work in shifts. Apart from this, the other law that foreign producers need to keep in mind is to respect the heritage sites in Italy. In fact, it has the highest number of UNESCO sites in the world. The country is filled with such beautiful architecture; it is one’s duty to not hamper it.
Can you shed some light on the varied cinematic beauty of Italy?
Italy is lucky that it is a small country. It is actually just the size of the state of Kerala, but has a variety of landscapes at very short distances. You would find the highest mountains of Europe from Mont Blanc and the Alps to the seaside coasts in South Italy. And since it is a peninsula, it has kilometres of coasts and Mediterranean islands like Sicily and the Amalfi Coast. We also have beautiful cities and small towns. There are city centres which do not allow cars so it would be easier to shoot in those places too as far as controlling the traffic goes. Then there is the art and architecture dating back to thousands of years which can be used for a period film, an action drama or a love story. You will get a Roman Empire feel as well as the medieval Renaissance backdrop along with the modern background, all together in Italy.
As a line producer, how will you be able to help Indian producers who want to shoot in Italy?
There are three major things that I can help India producers with; one is, of course, the tax credit. If they go through an established line producer from Italy, the facilitation of passing the cultural test will be easier. Secondly, there are actually 17 film commissions in Italy. Every region has its own commission which works under the main Italian Film Commission. Each film commission has a separate identity and set of rules as well as a different fund which the producers can use as rebate. The regional film commissions are offering cash rebates upto 750,000 Euros which is around 5-6 crores Rupees per project. We can help the filmmakers submit their projects beforehand in order to get this rebate. And lastly, we will help filmmakers with product placement. We are in touch with Italian corporates that are also present here in India. They have a special interest in being promoted in India. And movies being one of the biggest mediums here that reach out to the masses, it will help both the advertisers and the filmmakers to have this association. To sum up, we would like to act as producers in the fundraising part and not just a company that organises shoots.
ByLine : Bhakti Mehta