Portugal’s Rebates Lure Foreign Shoots, Power Domestic Production

Portugal’s cash rebate scheme, introduced in 2018, is attracting major international productions and new production outfits and facilities, and providing significant leverage for domestic film and TV productions.

Shoots slowed during the pandemic, with several projects lensed in bubbles, but production is expected to surge in the second half of 2021.

The current cash rebate is tabbed at 25/30% of eligible production spend and may be upwardly revised in the near future.

€22.5 million ($27.5 million) in total cash rebate has been disbursed since 2018, roughly equally split between international shoots and 100% Portuguese productions and co-productions.

High-profile projects include Ira Sachs’ “Frankie,” with Isabelle Huppert, Richard Stanley’s “The Color Out of Space,” starring Nicolas Cage, Marco Pontecorvo’s “Fatima,” with Harvey Keitel, and three Bollywood pics. These projects have accessed cash rebate per pic varying between €631,000 ($770,000) and €1.9 million ($2.4 million) Portugal is also shaking up its production eco-system. Pubcaster RTP has shifted from telenovelas to series and documentaries aimed at the international market, including co-productions with streamers such as Netflix, Amazon and HBO.

Nuno Artur Silva, secretary of state for cinema, audiovisual and media, views the cash-rebate as one of four strategic pillars – complemented by pubcaster RTP, diversifying funding decision centers through new investment obligations and a review of film and TV policy.

“It takes specificity, authenticity and an auteurist vision to attract international audiences — as shown by Pedro Almodovar and Scandinavian films and TV shows,” says Silva. “We need to help auteurs reach a broader audience, reveal new talent, create new forms of financing and diversify the types of cinema and series being made.”

Pubcaster RTP has co-produced with broadcasters such as Spain’s TVE and TV Galiza, Franco-German broadcaster Arte and HBO, Amazon and Netflix.

“The cash rebate enables us to deliver solid budgets and strong production values that are vital to take advantage of the global opportunities made possible by streaming platforms,” suggests RTP’s program director, José Fragoso.

“It has a very practical effect when negotiating possible international co-productions” adds José Amaral, managing director of SPi, who is completing cold war spy thriller “Gloria” for Netflix and RTP, is prepping the second season of “Dry Water”, co-produced by RTP and HBO and has plans to announce a new series with a major U.S. platform.

Producer Luis Urbano used the cash rebate on “Frankie,” “Patrick,” “Technoboss” and Céline Devaux’s first live action pic, “Tout le monde aime Jeanne,” and is developing a major film and mini-series “Global Project,” by Ivo M. Ferreira, about a 1980s Portuguese terrorist group, co-produced between Portugal and Luxembourg.

“The cash rebate works well, in line with international best practices,” he says. “But the big question is to what extent streaming will substitute theaters, because this could undermine cinematographic art.”

Producer-director, Rodrigo Areais (“Listen”) is readying several international shoots with the U.S. and U.K., including Sara Driver’s “The Odd Enchantment of Madame P”, produced by Kamen Velkovsky and executive produced by Jim Jarmusch. Areais will also direct “The Worst Man in London,” produced by Paulo Branco.

In Braga, Nu Boyana Portugal – a sister vfx company to Millennium Media’s Nu Boyana Film Studios – has been set up by Pedro Domingos and Celine Fernandes, providing VFX on “Hellboy,” “Angel Has Fallen” and “Jolt”.

Upcoming projects include VFX on “Night Has Fallen,” a scouting trip to Portugal for “Red Sonja,” both produced by Millennium Films, and diversification into live action shoots.

Pandora Cunha Telles underlines the importance of the cash rebate to attract international investments. Recent projects include “The Spy”, “Sandra”, “Dehesa” and “Amadeo” and she is now prepping a major international series, as well as a co-production with Poland’s Krakow Film Cluster, with 10 films by 10 female directors.

Maria João Mayer used the scheme for the six-part TV series “Pecado” (Sin) for broadcaster TVI, about a priest who falls into temptation.  She has sold previous productions “Diamantino” and “São Jorge” to HBO and believes that investment by streamers will significantly increase production levels in Portugal.

Gonçalo Galvão Teles is wrapping “Green Fields,” co-produced with Belgium. “We have been co-producing with Luxembourg and Belgium for many years but could never match the incentives they can offer. Now we can attract more shoots and target the international market.”

Fernando Vendrell used the cash rebate on Portugal’s biggest hit in 2019 “Variações” and on his upcoming TV series for RTP, “Clear Shadows,” based on a novel by José Cardoso Pires. He aims to use the scheme for his slavery pic “Castaways” and aviation series “The Crossing.”

He sums up: “The cash rebate has become a very agile mechanism for production in Portugal.”

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