The Mediterranean island of Cyprus is shooting for the stars in its latest bid to attract investment, offering “aggressive” incentives to promote a fledgling film industry the locals dub “Olivewood.”
In an effort to woo international movie makers, the government is offering cash rebates of up to 35% to production companies, with further tax discounts on the table for infrastructure and equipment investment.
And while some European countries offer even greater savings, the Cypriots have another not-so-secret weapon in their arsenal: sunshine.
Lefteris Eleftheriou, chairman of the Cyprus Film Commission, says, “In effect, Cyprus is one big studio with 320 days of sunshine and vastly different natural backdrops to choose from, all within a one- or two-hour drive.
“Also, because our island is on the same latitude as [Los Angeles], the angle and the quality of light [are] the same. This is fairly unique and not many countries have this.”
Cyprus’ film ambitions were first revealed in 2018 when invitations were delivered to more than 40 directors across the globe, one of whom was Dimitri Logothetis, the man behind Kickboxer: Vengeance, a remake of the martial-arts classic that saw the return of Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Logothetis said: “While the minister of finance was taking questions, I looked at him and said, ‘I have this film and it’s ready to go. Who do I need to talk to?’ Everyone fell quiet. They weren’t expecting any of the producers they’d brought in to be ready to produce.”
The film Logothetis had ready to go was Jiu Jitsu, a US$25 million martial-arts yarn starring Nicolas Cage. It now joins the history books as the first Hollywood film to be shot entirely in Cyprus for more than four decades, and it was released by Paramount Home Entertainment in the US and Canada last November. Logothetis is now in talks with Paramount for a sequel, also to be filmed in Cyprus.
“I couldn’t have filmed Jiu Jitsu in America,” Logothetis confesses. “Everything is a lot more expensive and to film in Cyprus was at least 50% or 60% less than it would cost to shoot in the States. You need a lot of money to film in the US.”
Despite the great weather and the LA-style light, for Logothetis the biggest draw was the cash rebate offered by the government of the Republic of Cyprus.
“As cash rebates go, 35% across the board, including ‘above the line’ costs, is a very aggressive rebate. Cyprus needs to keep that edge, and it makes economic sense to do so because for every dollar or euro a country spends on a film, they get seven in return.”
Although filmed in Cyprus, Jiu Jitsu is set in Myanmar, and with Nicolas Cage involved in the project, the film garnered much local media interest during the six weeks of filming last summer. For Logothetis, the experience was positive enough for him to return to the island scouting locations for his next project, Man of War.
Though he readily admits to liking Cyprus, Logothetis is also a realist; big-budget blockbusters need big-budget backing, and like many independent movie makers before him, filming outside of the US is often a financial necessity.
However, for Greg Johnson, a producer and lecturer in film studies at Yale University, one of the biggest challenges facing Cyprus in its ambitions to get Olivewood off the ground is its lack of infrastructure.
“The Cyprus program is in some ways competitive with other tax regimes, but there are also other tried and true competitors for big-budget films such as Romania and Ireland, both of which have considerable EU and Hollywood track records as well as state-of-the-art facilities.”
The lack of facilities is an acknowledged weakness in the island’s grand plan for European movie domination, but Logothetis says this landscape will look very different in a few years.
“Although right now, production teams have to bring the infrastructure, those of us who know how to do that aren’t scared to do it, and eventually – and I mean soon, after three, four, five more films – you’re going to have a seasoned crew here.”
Local producer Marios Piperides agrees. “We are missing the infrastructure of places like Malta, but they have been doing this since the ’60s. It is going to take some time, but there is progress, year on year, and the more films happening here, the more we can start to support.”
Although Jiu Jitsu is the first big-budget Olivewood production for Cyprus, Nicolas Cage was not the only Hollywood actor to work on the island last year; William Baldwin also flew in for SOS Survive or Sacrifice, an action thriller produced by Limassol-based company Altadium.
And although Olivewood is primarily a government-led initiative, ministers are actively pursuing private investment to hurry the industry’s evolutionary process.
George Campanellas, chief executive of Invest Cyprus, the national investment promotion agency, says talks are ongoing with a number of film studios, noting that the Cyprus Film Commission has become a member of the Association of Film Commissioners International as well as the European Film Commissions Network, a non-profit association that supports and promotes the European film industry and culture.
He said: “Invest Cyprus and the Cyprus Film Commission were involved in a number of high-level discussions with major studios at the end of last year, as well as with BAFTA and experienced technicians in London and the US who were interested in developing the additional infrastructure we need.
“Although these negotiations were curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic, they are a clear sign of international interest in Cyprus, and of the lucrative investment opportunities that go hand in hand with having major Hollywood producers on the island. This is a great time for film investors to get on board.”
While a lack of studio infrastructure might strike most people in the movie business as a handicap, Logothetis remains unfazed.
“If Olivewood wasn’t a viable alternative to Hollywood, I’d have gone home,” he said.
This is an edited version of an article originally published in British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. It was provided to Asia Times by the writer.