Austria Changes the Game With New Incentives

With two new funding programs that could cover as much as 60% of costs for international feature film productions and the new state-of-the-art HQ7 Studios set to open in Vienna next year, Austria is stepping up its game in the film and TV sector in a major way.

Approved by the government last year and in effect since Jan. 1, the FISA Plus incentive provides funding for international and domestic films and series, including TV and streaming production. The subsidy, which is not capped, also covers documentaries, animation, virtual reality projects and post-production services, including sound, music and VFX.

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Specifically, FISA Plus offers a 30% rebate plus an additional 5% “green bonus” for productions that follow environmental sustainability criteria, with maximum funding set at €5 million ($5.4 million) per film and $8.2 million per series.

“It’s the biggest revolution in Austria’s film financing system since 1980, when the film funding system was introduced,” says Alexander Dumreicher-Ivanceanu, chairman of trade association Film and Music Austria (FAMA), and managing director of Vienna and Luxembourg-based production company Amour Fou. “It really is a game-changer, a complete game-changer for our industry.”

Austrian film commissioner Arie Bohrer, who has long-championed efforts for a strong incentive aimed at international co-productions, says FISA Plus will increase Austria’s competitiveness in Europe: “It’s definitely going to push the German business and the Western European business in co-productions.”

It will also strengthen the position of Austrian producers, he adds.

“In a co-production, they’ve got a stronger position — they’ve now got 35% in their hands, which gives them a good share of the project.”

Stressing the significance of the green bonus, Dumreicher-Ivanceanu says it’s “especially important in our times. Climate change is here — we can see it in Austria. Look at our ski slopes — there is no snow this year. It’s tough. The world has to change and the film industry has to change. … It’s not just that we can work with green producing, it’s also that once we do, people will see the films; they will see that the directors and actors are in this fight for the climate.”

In addition to FISA Plus, which is overseen by national film commission Film in Austria, the Austrian Film Institute’s new ÖFI Plus program offers separate funding for feature films that is also available for international co-productions. Particularly interesting is ÖFI Plus’ so-called “added value bonus” for international co-productions that bring additional money to Austria.

If foreign producers send money to Austria as part of an international co-production in the form of cash or licenses, ÖFI Plus provides an extra bonus of 25% on the amount transferred. For example, if a green film production spends $108,725 in Austria, it can receive $38,000 (including the green bonus) from FISA Plus. If the money that makes this spend possible comes from abroad and is sent to Austria, ÖFI Plus provides an additional 25%, bringing the total incentive to $65,200.

“It’s extremely competitive,” says Dumreicher-Ivanceanu. “Even if it’s not a green film, with 55%, it’s still really strong. It’s a very interesting offer for international co-productions and will make Austria’s industry stronger. “Austria has had huge experience in film in the past 20 years, with works in Cannes, Berlin and Venice. We have the directors and crews, and we have the cities and the landscapes. I think it will put Austria on the map,” he adds.

FAMA itself comprises some 7,000 member companies across Austria working in the sector.

For Alexander Glehr, head of Vienna-based Film AG, producer of Marie Kreutzer’s “Corsage,” FISA Plus is now “part of all financing plans we are working on for our upcoming productions. With FISA Plus and ÖFI Plus we have dynamic instruments that enable us to meet the demands of today’s market.”

Austria already offered extensive film funding opportunities before the new FISA Plus and ÖFI Plus incentives, but they mainly served domestic productions. FISA Plus is squarely aimed at international co-productions.

In 2021, Austria’s 19 federal and regional funders provided nearly $98.4 million in funding, with $74.1 million toward production. FISA Plus is seen as a major boost by state filmcommissions, whichcan supplement federal incentives.

Marijana Stoisits, CEO of the Vienna Film Commission, like-wise calls it a “game changer” — an often-heard appraisal of the new program — and notes that the new funding can be combined with the$2.1 million Vienna Film Incentive, which offers a 30% rebate on qualifying production spend in Vienna for film and TV projects.

Launched last year and backed by the Vienna Tourist Board, the program has already supported series including Noah Centineo starrer “The Recruit,” and “Criminal,” both Netflix productions.

“With FISA Plus, it’s not just the production, but also the entire post-production that is included, and that’s important for Vienna,”Stoisits says, noting major players in the city such as Synchron Stage Vienna, the famed facility where music has been recorded for such recent works as “Ad Astra,” “Dune,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” and “Foundation.”

Stephen Frears’ HBO series “The Palace,” starring Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant, meanwhile, was the first production to secure new FISA Plus funding and is like-wise shooting in Vienna.

The projects follow Netflix’s “Extraction 2,” starring Chris Hemsworth, which shot in the Austrian capital last year, reportedly spending some $6 million and securing around $1.6 million in subsidy support.

Producer Wolfgang Ramml heads Filmhaus Wien, which specializes in servicing international productions such as “Extraction 2” and “Spectre.”

FISA Plus, he says, will greatly increase Austria’s competitiveness against Eastern European rivals, where many countries offer “huge tax breaks.” The previous FISA system was capped at $1.3 million a year, unlike the new limitless FISA Plus fund. The new system will help establish a larger and more permanent industry in Austria, Ramml adds, noting that in the past many in the sector had been forced to chase work abroad.

Ramml praises Bohrer in particular for the new fund. “It was the effort of Arie Bohrer, the film commissioner of Austria. He was running his heels off in trying to establish it.”

Dumreicher-Ivanceanu also commends quick government action on the incentive.

“The government was really open-minded. I was elected chairman of FAMA in November 2020. We started the negotiations in 2021, and in July 2022, the government decided to approve it and send it to parliament. One year of negotiations with the government and then six months of negotiations with the parliament — it was quite a fast process.”

As a producer who has worked extensively on crossborder co-productions, such as Amour Fou’s Berlinale screener “Ingeborg Bachmann — Journey Into the Desert,” Dumreicher-Ivanceanu offered an international perspective in developing the incentive. Margarethe von Trotta’s film, which stars Vicky Krieps, “very much symbolizes what Amour Fou does — international auteur cinema with high production value.”

Bohrer stresses that the Austrian industry will soon gain momentum with Vienna’s new studio, which will not only make possible much longer shooting periods in the country but also offer environmentally sustainable production facilities that qualify for the incentive’s green bonus.

A joint $9.7 million project between port operator and logistics group Hafen Wien and real estate company CC Real Intl., HQ7 Studios will feature two state-of-the-art soundstages — one measuring 2,000 square-meters, the other 1,000 square-meters — that will be able to independently accommodate two productions at the same time. The studios will be equipped with a large photovoltaic system comprising 704 solar panels to supply green electricity.

The facility will be Austria’s first real film studio since Vienna’s historic Rosenhügel Studios was demolished in 2014.

“The combination of unique, regional locations and a professional studio environment is a plus for producers from all over the world,” says HQ7 Studios managing director Anu Shanker. “Austrian filmmakers are in great demand and well established internationally thanks to their expertise.”

The studio will contribute to maintaining and expanding that expertise in Austria and offer everything necessary for international projects, from pre-production to post-production, Shanker adds. “We are far more than just a point in the shooting schedule.”

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