Watch out Hollywood and Bollywood, the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, which has built a reputation as a tourist magnet thanks to its pristine beaches, wants a piece of the action: Enter “Olivewood” and Nicolas Cage.
The US actor is starring in a multimillion-dollar sci-fi martial arts movie being filmed in its entirety on the island thanks to a government initiative giving filmmakers cash rebates, tax breaks and other benefits.
Cage’s action-packer Jiu Jitsu is, along with adventure flick S.O.S: Survive or Sacrifice featuring US actor William Baldwin and Cypriot actress Marianna Rosset, the first foreign film to take advantage of the incentive plan dubbed Olivewood.
The scheme was launched by the Cypriot government, which tasked Invest Cyprus to implement it in cooperation with the tourism and finance ministries in a bid to attract foreign investment to the EU member.
“Cyprus is considered by a lot of people as a studio, a physical, natural [film] studio,” Invest Cyprus chairman Michalis Michael said.
The island offers deep blue seas and is endowed with white sandy beaches, rolling hills planted with olive trees, archeological sites and traditional mountain resorts — plus year-long sunny skies.
Academy Award winner Cage, who got the 1996 Oscar for best actor in Leaving Las Vegas, told reporters in Cyprus that the island “has been a good spirit for me.”
Last year, Cyprus hosted its first-ever promotional film conference, attended by dozens of delegates from the foreign film industry.
Authorities also unveiled Olivewood, offering foreign and Cypriot producers tax credits and cash rebates of up to 35 percent of money spent on filming in the island, as well as tax discounts on equipment and infrastructure.
A dedicated Web site, Film in Cyprus, was also set up by the Cyprus Investment Promotion Agency to showcase the island.
Jiu Jitsu producer Dimitri Logothetis and Martins Rozitis, who heads the production company for S.O.S: Survive or Sacrifice, were won over, but both said that the “lack of infrastructure” remains a problem.
“Definitely we suffer from a lack of equipment and studios,” Rozitis told reporters on the set of his movie at the Moni fishing shelter, near the southern port of Limassol.
“But still there are very good enthusiastic people here and companies who are starting to provide rentals of studio, cars, equipment,” he added.
Logothetis, a Greek-American who also directs Jiu Jitsu, said he had to bring in the equipment needed to shoot the movie.
“They don’t have the infrastructure yet, but we brought that in. We create our own studio wherever we show up,” he said, on the set of the movie in the village of Mammari near the capital, Nicosia.
Logothetis has high hopes for Cyprus developing into a low-cost destination for filmmakers, like Bulgaria and Romania.
“You know Bulgaria had nothing, and it’s got a huge studio now, Romania had nothing and now it’s got a huge studio and a lot of infrastructure,” he said.
The filmmaker said Hollywood had become too costly for filmmakers with limited budgets, so he had canvassed several European countries that offer financial benefits before settling on Cyprus.
He is already thinking of filming a second movie next year in Cyprus.
“The government’s already approved a movie that I’ve got called Men of War, which was written by Gary Scott Thompson who wrote the Fast and Furious [franchise]... So I’m thinking about bringing that in February,” Logothetis said.
“It’d be very difficult to pull off an action film like this in Hollywood, it just wouldn’t be enough money,” he said of Jiu Jitsu, which has a budget of 24 million euros (US$27 million).
Invest Cyprus has an annual budget of 25 million euros and hopes it will be enough to attract 70 million euros’ worth of investments from foreign film production houses, as well as create dozens of jobs on the island.
However, experts and industry folk agree that a lot more has to be done to build a solid film industry on the island.
“We need a film school... A studio will help big productions, but also small productions to put the cost down,” said Longinos Panagi, who sits on the board of the Cyprus guild of directors.
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