How can foreign producers access the tax credit? Sheri Jennings reports

In February 2011, the Italian government renewed the country’s tax credit for cinema through to 2013. A 25% credit aims to attract Hollywood shoots to the territory by offering up to $7m (€5m) per project providing this doesn’t exceed 60% of total production costs. (Separately, Italian productions and international co-productions with an Italian partner can access a 15% tax credit on the Italian spend.) The credit is accessed through an Italian executive production service company, which obtains a tax credit on social security and other withholding taxes for Italian employees such as the cast and crew. It effectively reduces the amount a foreign company has to spend during the shoot.

Since its introduction in 2008, eight films have used the 25% tax credit. They include GK Films’ The Tourist, which worked with David Nichols’ Rome-based Cineroma, which obtained the maximum $7m by shooting almost entirely on location in Venice and the Veneto region, apart from four days in Paris. 

New Line/Warner Bros’ The Rite, an exorcism thriller set in Rome starring Anthony Hopkins and directed by Mikael Hafstrom, filmed for just five days in Rome before moving to Hungary in May 2010. Producer Beau Flynn, who worked with Gian Paolo Varani’s Mouse Film, says it “made a huge difference”.

“The money came through when we were in Hungary,” Flynn recalls. “It allowed us to add on and do a lot more than we planned. Had we known the credit would work so well, we could in theory have stayed longer in Rome.”

Flynn says he is “very proud” of what the production shot in Rome, including exteriors of St Peter’s square and basilica, although transporting 150 cast and crew through Rome’s crowded tourist streets was a challenge. He points out in Hungary the production could find “only one cobble-stoned street”.

Eligibility for the credit is determined through a cultural test in which productions must get at least 50 out of a possible 100 points. Two of five content categories are mandatory: films must be adapted from a literary source or they must celebrate artistic, historical, religious, social or cultural events and be set either in Italy or in Europe.

Rome’s venerable Cinecitta Studios has seen little international feature production on its backlot since The Weinstein Company’s Nine in 2009. But it is now working regularly with production services companies on incoming productions, particularly the bigger US projects. It has partnered with Marco Valerio Pugini’s Panorama Films, which has worked on Eat Pray Love, and Angels & Demons, among others. Similarly, FilmMaster Group, Italy’s biggest production and events company, has teamed up with executive producer Enzo Sisti, who worked on Focus Features’ The American, the first production to put the tax credit into effect while shooting. 

Additionally, thanks to a separate European Union law, since the beginning of 2011 incoming productions no longer have to pay the 20% value-added-tax (VAT) upfront during the shoot. Previously, foreign producers had to claim the VAT back and could not count on it in their active budget. The process took so long many budgets were closed by the time the reimbursement came through.