New and boosted tax breaks, plus state-of-the-art facilities and a lean, skilled crew base are drawing a growing number of productions to Scandinavia, a region whose content continues to be in high demand both locally and globally.
Denmark remains the exception and does not offer tax incentives or rebates for film and TV production. In addition, its production studios have been hard hit by a war over rights between talent and streamers that brought TV production to a virtual standstill in 2022.
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Iceland, on the other hand, which upped its tax incentive from 25% to 35% last year, has seen its film industry grow by a whopping 85% over five years. An added benefit for productions is a 25% incentive for music recording, which includes studio costs, travel and lodging.
The first recipient of the enhanced tax break, “True Detective: Night Country,” Season 4 of HBO’s series, was entirely shot on location. It is the largest film project in Iceland’s history, with an estimated budget of $65 million.
Eighty percent of the people working on the shoot are local, bearing witness to Iceland’s impressive crew depth — well over 3,000 people out of a population of 380,000 work in the film industry.
Locations for “True Detective” include both the country’s world-famous outdoor landscapes as well as two of its five indoor stages, aimed at making Iceland a year-round destination for productions. One of them, among the biggest in Europe, belongs to director-producer Baltasar Kormakur (“Everest,” “Trapped,” “Katla”).
“I believe that the crews and the talents of Iceland are rising fast to a high level thanks to all the international productions coming to Iceland. This has always been my aim: I don’t just want to be a service company for foreign talents, I want to bring projects to a bigger level and work with my own people,” says Kormakur, who is currently wrapping up filming on his romantic drama, “Touch,” which is being shot in Iceland, London and Japan.
All three of Kormakur’s geothermally heated studios are located in the so-called film village, which he is developing on a former industrial site on the outskirts of the capital Reykjavik, intended as a creative hub for Iceland’s booming film sector. It will include apartment buildings, cafes and restaurants, and is already home to the country’s leading equipment rental company KUKL, and RVX visual effects studio (“The Witcher” Season 2, “The Last of Us”).
Further south, Norway also remains a top destination thanks to its breathtaking landscapes (“Troll,” “Ragnarok”) and efficient crews, and is increasingly making a name for itself for its quality TV series and VFX houses with outfits such as Storm Studios, which collaborated on the Oscar-nominated “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and HBO’s “The Last of Us.”
Falling in line with its neighbors, Sweden finally introduced its long-awaited tax break of 25% in November 2022. Applications for the $9.7 million scheme were open for just 24 hours before closing again due to high demand — with the entire budget going to local players.
“A great start, but part of the incentive was to encourage outside players,” says Tim King, head of production at Nordic powerhouse SF Studios, adding that it would need to be increased threefold to be highly competitive, a figure initially recommended by the Swedish Agency for Economic Growth.
The new tax break can be combined with investment from regional actors such as leading Scandinavian film fund Film I Väst representing Western Sweden, which has co-produced some of the biggest Scandinavian hits in recent years, including triple Oscar nominee “Triangle of Sadness.”
Along with other award-winning Nordic titles by the likes of Lars von Trier and Joachim Trier, the film was partly shot in Film i Väst’s Studio Fares complex in Trollhättan near Gothenburg, which recently added a brand new 24 meter x 8 meter Virtual Production Wall to its facilities.
“It will be the largest projector-based virtual production studio in Europe,” says Tyler Reid, head of infrastructure, post-production & virtual production. “Quality-wise, our wall is comparable to LED panels, but it’s more cost-effective and far more environmentally sustainable,” he adds, saying they already have projects lined up for 2023 but he could not reveal any titles until deals were sealed.
Also adding to its facilities is leading Scandinavian VFX and post-production house Nordisk Film Shortcut (“The Rain,” “Equinox,” “Black Crab,” which just picked up a Swedish Guldbagge award), which recently built what it boasts is “the world’s first 360-degree LED stage,” measuring 16 meters in diameter, in its Copenhagen studio.
“We believe this is the future for both film and advertisement production because it’s both a cheaper and more creative way of producing content,” CEO Rikke Crosby says.
“The fact that we’ve gone with a full 360-degree covering the roof as well gives you completely amazing life-like reflections and opens up huge possibilities in terms of storytelling. An additional benefit is that it is climate friendly as it runs entirely on solar energy,” she adds.
Projects already in the pipeline include scenes for “Boundless,” the second adaptation of Danish crime master Jussi Adler-Olsen’s “Department Q” book series, and Ole Bornedal’s highly anticipated psychological thriller “Nightwatch — Demons Are Forever.”
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