18. June 2010

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PRAGUE - The Czech Republic's great hope for restoring its once-thriving foreign production biz, a 20% film incentive, moved closer to reality Friday when the European Commission revealed it had approved the plan, which would set up a $24.5 million kitty. Details of the sweeteners, which have been under wraps pending the approval, are still not being discussed while the Czech Culture Ministry goes over the 20-page document to be sure it conforms to their draft. The ministry's key proponent of the plan, Helena Frankova, said the development represents a major breakthrough. Czech and international industryites have been advocating the incentives for a decade but until last year, under the caretaker government of Jan Fischer, they made little headway getting it passed. Meanwhile, Hungary's 20% incentives have helped draw business away from Prague and other countries to the East have been prepping similar deals. Foreign shoots, which once brought the Czech Republic some $300 million annually, including big-budget projects such as 2006 Bond pic Casino Royale and extended shoots such as 2007's Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, are not just a cash boon but also drive the local production scene, helping to keep small shingles, crews and studios in business, say Czech Film Commission reps. Ludmila Claussova, the commission's topper, said, "We are happy," but withheld further comment while her org goes over the paperwork from Brussels. Producers, meanwhile, are keen to know the details. Hugo Heppell, who is in development on a $3 million U.K./Colombia/Brazil co-production Black River, helmed by Steen Agro, said he's interested in post production at Prague's high-tech facilities if this is covered by the plan as it would be under the U.K.'s scheme. "That's the key issue for us - it works extremely well in the U.K. - if you qualify as a British film, you qualify for all those things." Others echo his sentiments but wonder about the timing of pay-outs and rules for winning the coin. Frankova promises to release the incentive details shortly - but foreign execs say the quality of facilities in locations such as Romania and Serbia are also factors now, as is the rising cost of working in Prague, even with incentives.