Understated and underutilised as a shooting location by Indian filmmakers, the Eastern European nation of Serbia beckons with a variety of offerings.
Nestled in the heart of Eastern Europe, a small country called Serbia has remained mostly unexplored by Indian film producers. A few films from the South industry like Kaatru Veliyidai (2017) and Vivegam (2017) have been shot there but the Hindi film industry has only just discovered this scenic place. The film tentatively titled Uri, based on the 2016 Uri attacks in India, starring Vicky Kaushal and produced by Ronnie Screvwala, has become the first Bollywood movie to be shot in this European country.
Serbia offers a range of locations, including quaint cafes, cobbled streets, vibrant city life and gigantic snow-clad mountains. And it offers all this with the government giving the makers some inviting cash rebates.
Serbia boasts of a mild, continental climate. The North has a cold winter and hot, humid summers. Rainfall is also well distributed. In the South, there is a more adriatic climate with summers and an autumn season, that are hot and dry but balanced by relatively cold evenings. The months from June to August present a perfect climate for filmmakers to shoot in with balmy air and little rain. These areas also experience heavy inland snowfall in winter. This poses a problem as there are mountains circling the plateau. Serbia is famous for its ski season, which extends from December to April.
The most favoured place for filmmakers is the beautiful capital city of Belgrade. From locales like St Michael’s Cathedral and the Royal Palace to the bustling night life along the banks of the river Danube, the city offers a tempting variation of filming backdrops. There are also countryside locations like Beočin, Bezdan and Pirot along with the scenic areas of the Tara Mountain in West Serbia, Zaovine Lake, Golubac Quay and Drina Canyon, which would attract drama- and romance-loving filmmakers.
Serbia is a small country and it is not very difficult to get from one location to another, which means that transportation of equipment is hassle-free and costs less. It is also easy to travel to neighbouring countries like Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Macedonia.
The Serbian government is very cooperative when it comes to aiding filmmakers with permissions to shoot within the country. The government also grants special permission to shoot in high-profile places like:
Protected Monuments and Structures
Filming permits involving the Serbian Police also involve the Serbian Government’s Ministry of Interior, either indirectly or directly. Any contact with the police has to be made through the Bureau for Cooperation with Media, which accepts all the applications, processes them and forwards them to a specialised department of the ministry.
A filmmaker also needs to draft a letter which includes the scenario of the shoot, a detailed description of the part of the script being shot in Serbia, the exact time they need for it, the required site, number of people and vehicles among other specific data.
Since April 2016, the Ministry of Economy of the Government of Serbia has announced a program that provides a cash rebate for film and TV productions. In 2018, the rebate has been upped to 25 per cent and is qualified on the budget spent in Serbia for feature films, TV shows, animation movies, documentaries and other audiovisual mediums. The minimum spending amount for a feature film is 300,000 EUR.
Filmmakers who want to avail the rebate should fill out an application and submit it to the Film Center Serbia. Indian or any other foreign filmmakers cannot directly apply for the rebate. The applicant for this facility should be a legal entity registered in Serbia. That entity should be responsible for paying all the taxes that are relevant to the production in Serbia. Filmmakers from India can tie up with local producers or production houses in Serbia to avail the 25 per cent tax rebate. This tie up will also help the filmmakers in making the path to getting the permissions of shoots, easier.
Money spent by the filmmakers on marketing, costs related to real estate purchases, distribution costs and other costs such as VAT is considered as non-qualifying expenditure for the tax rebate. Serbia has a VAT of 20 per cent on all goods and services except hotels and other accommodation where VAT is 10 per cent. This form of tax is not considered qualified Serbian spend.
The Indian filmmaker and the local producer/production house they have tied up with will apply for the incentive programme to the government. They will have to provide the entire schedule of their production there, an estimated budget and an application form which is properly filled. The commission at the Film Center Serbia will review the application within 7 days and if it is approved, the Ministry of Economy will sign the final contract with the filmmaker. Once the project is complete, the filmmaker can conduct and audit and submit a request for payment. This can happen within 45 days after the production is completed. The filmmaker will be paid the rebate within 2 months once the final application is submitted.
Since Serbia is a country which is not a member of the Schengen Area, the crew can enter the country on their Indian passport or any other foreign passport without a visa. People visiting Serbia can stay there up to 30 days without a visa and after that can apply for the C Visa.
Crews travelling on western passports can enter Serbia visa-free for stays of up to 90 days. Work permits are not required to film in Serbia.
Serbia has many companies that specialise in high-quality equipment rentals. They offer standard equipment and can avail the specially requested equipment from across Europe too. Some of the companies that offer equipment rental include Cineplanet, Vision Team and Zeromax.
- Bhakti Mehta