Cinema Made in Belgium event held to encourage co-production.
Belgian film companies were out in force in London this week at networking event Cinema Made In Belgium.
Their aim was to entice British producers to co-produce with Belgian partners and to take advantage of the country’s film tax shelter system and its regional film funds.
Tax expert Michela Ritondo, from Belgium’s Fiscal department for Foreign Investments, warned that the British were lagging behind their European counterparts in using what is reckoned to be one of the most generous “soft money” schemes in Europe.
“I think there are not enough British companies and producers who come in Belgium to shoot. We don’t know why,” Ritondo said.
Philippe Reynaert, director of regional investment fund Wallimage, made a similar point.
“It’s not so easy to co-produce with you (in the UK). I don’t know why,” he joked to his audience.
Courting the UK
In 2009, after Wallimage came on board to invest in Ken Loach’s Looking For Eric, the Belgians began to court British producers in earnest.
However, although a number of UK film and TV productions have shot recently in Belgium, among them Parade’s End and The Winter Queen, the expected influx of Brits simply hasn’t happened.
“It had no effect at all,” Reynaert said of the initial investment in the Loach movie. “We got some Irish movies but not UK. We decided after that to change our strategy and look to Germany.”
Now, the Belgians have turned their attention back to the UK. New TV series Which Is Witch, from I Love Television, has been shooting in Belgium. The hope now is that others will follow.
Increase in interest
Today’s “roadshow” event at the Hospital Club, Covent Garden attracted around 50 UK producers - a big increase (Reynaert said) on the sparse numbers attending a similar event four years ago
The tax shelter is now estimated to generate €200m ($270m) a year in private money for the film and audiovisual sector in Belgium.
Experts believe the amount will rise as the Belgian economy recovers after the financial crisis. Belgian companies with taxable profits are expected to invest bigger amounts in the scheme.
Meanwhile, the Government remains supportive of a mechanism which, for every €1 spent by the State, is calculated to generate €1.20 in inward revenue.
Nonetheless, as Reynaert acknowledged, the scheme still has its detractors. There is criticism of the hefty fees charged by intermediaries - and of the guaranteed returns they promise to investors.
“This remains a problem,” Reynaert said. “Almost all the intermediaries are too greedy.”
Recent attempts have been made to ensure that at least 70% of tax shelter investment goes to producers.
“We don’t make the tax shelter to make investments in apartments or lawyers,” the Wallimage boss said.
Reynaert also disputed the idea that Wallonian financiers have been more opportunistic in using the tax shelter system than their Flemish equivalents.
“What is not true is to say that the bandits are only in the French-speaking part. The more dangerous intermediary for me is a Flemish one based in LA too,” Reynaert said but declined to identify the company.