Though Italy may not be able to count on national production incentives to attract shoots from overseas, the territory figures high on international location managers' wishlists, thanks largely to its stunning locations.

Last year Martin Campbell shot parts of Sony's Casino Royale at Lake Como and in Venice, while parts of New Line and Catherine Hardwicke's The Nativity Story were shot in the ancient city of Matera, southern Italy - the same location used for Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ. Doug Liman, meanwhile, gained rare access to Rome's Colosseum for three days to shoot Twentieth Century Fox's adventure film Jumper.

Such location shoots - along with projects such as HBO/BBC mini-series Rome, which shot at Rome's Cinecitta Studios - have helped boost inward investment. In both 2005 and 2006, revenues from international productions shooting in Italy hit around $340m (EUR250m) - up from $280m (EUR207m) in 2004.

But despite the rise, the Italian industry remains anxious. The battle for production is global, and without incentives Italy risks being solely reliant on its locations to attract spend.

This was underlined by the recent announcement that Roman Polanski will shoot his $130m Pompeii, based on Robert Harris' thriller, at Spain's Ciudad De La Luz studios from August. Polanski scouted locations in Italy, but will now only shoot a few scenes around Pompeii.

Although a final deal has yet to be signed, Ciudad's business manager Jose Luis Olaizola says he believes Polanski chose Ciudad for the studio's coastal backlot: an obvious draw when considering Vesuvius and Pompeii are set against the sea. Production incentives available in Spain are also a draw for big productions. The producers of Pompeii declined to comment on the shooting of the production at this time.

Marco Valerio Pugini, president of the Italian Association of Production Service Companies (APE), says territories such as Spain and Germany are being 'more aggressive' when it comes to offering incentives. 'We risk losing jobs in the studio sector (without an incentive). If a production needs to be shot in Italy, they will shoot only exteriors,' he says.

'The UK costs around 20% more than Italy'
Since coming to power last year, Romano Prodi's centre-left government has brought a new attitude to the film industry, and the national culture budget in particular. It has raised funds earmarked for all the arts by $600m (EUR441m), of which $100m (EUR73.5m) will be dedicated to cinema. While this may not seem significant fiscally, the local industry has welcomed it as a sign the new government is prepared to reverse trends set by Silvio Berlusconi, whose five-year stint as premier saw the culture budget slashed.

Culture minister Francesco Rutelli has also vowed a new film law is on the agenda - and it is being debated by government. One of the major issues under discussion is the introduction of tax-based incentives.

Anica, Italy's motion picture organisation, APE, and Cinecitta's board of directors are all lobbying for an incentive, and are hopeful. 'A year ago I would have thought it wasn't possible,' says APE's Pugini, 'but many industry organisations have done a lot of work, everyone has fiscal incentives on their mind.

'It's a good sign that everyone is talking about it - the industry, politicians, government - there is support for it.'

Meanwhile Pugini, who was partly responsible for luring Rome to the Italian capital from the UK in 2003, insists Italy is still a cost-effective place to shoot even without incentives. 'The UK costs around 20% more than Italy,' he says. Furthermore, the fact there were 250 sunny days in Rome, compared with 250 without sun in London, proved a clincher for HBO and the BBC when deciding where to shoot Rome.

Producer Barry Navidi, who worked in Italy in 2004 on Michael Radford's $24m (EUR17.7m) The Merchant Of Venice says the film did not suffer from a lack of incentives, pointing out the project sourced 10% of its budget from Italian co-production partner Istituto Luce.

'If you want a great result, Italy continues to be worthwhile'
Italy's network of film commissions is also working to attract international productions and is creating its own incentives. The Turin Piedmont film commission, for example, has put together an equity fund with the US's Endgame Entertainment which offers $5m-$25m (EUR3.7m-EUR18.4m) to productions that already have financing partially guaranteed.

Guido Cerasuolo, a Veneto-based producer who worked as a line-producer on Casino Royale and co-producer on Casanova, agrees courting film commissions is the way to go.

For Casino Royale, Cerasuolo obtained a 50% discount for shooting in Venice on condition 50% of the crew was local, an easy task since Venice has a strong audiovisual industry. When shooting on Lake Como, the Lombard film commission obtained a no-fly zone, and provided security and location staff.

As far as the competition from abroad is concerned, Cerasuolo offers a word to the wise: 'If you want a great result, Italy continues to be a worthwhile place to come and film.'