Hollywood stars Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham will shoot in Greece next month for the fourth film in the The Expendables franchise, Greek-American American John Kalafatis, CEO and co-founder of York Films in New York, recently revealed.
Speaking at the special “Hollywood in Greece” forum, organized by the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce and ICC Hellas in collaboration with the Greek National Center for Audiovisual Media and Communication (EKOME), Kalafatis explained his plans to build the state of the art studios and film studios on the outskirts of Thessaloniki.
The gigantic project, which is a joint venture with Millennium Media and Nu Boyana Studios Bulgaria, was first announced in 2019. Although still under construction, it has already attracted the interest of major Hollywood productions to shoot in Greece.
Last summer, Thessaloniki doubled for Miami, Florida in Millennium Media’s thriller The Enforcer, starring Antonio Banderas and Kate Bosworth. The featured film is currently in post-production, slated to premiere in 2022.
“We are moving to the production of high caliber films,” Kalafatis said.
The leap from construction to film production
A successful construction contractor, Kalafatis first ventured into the film industry in 2012 as a side business activity. He created York Studios, with campuses in Queens and the Bronx, motivated by the habit of always questioning himself professionally, he told the “Hollywood in Greece” forum.
It was the respective success of the new venture and the excitement of watching other people’s productions renting space in his studio that led him to consider taking a more active role in the film industry and get involved in the co-production as well – and that’s what he did. .
Kalafatis, who was one of the co-producers of the 2019 hit Afghanistan war film The Outpost, is currently co-producing Joe McClean’s indie thriller Viral, starring Blair Underwood.
And his next film studio construction project is in Thessaloniki.
“While New York City is in high demand for productions for all the right reasons and York studios are in place to meet these professional needs, Greece is currently a difficult endeavor with great potential,” a- he commented.
A new studio for Hollywood projects in Greece
“I would not be able to attempt to establish myself and invest in Greece, particularly in northern Greece, without the support of the Greek government, in particular EKOME and its CEO Panos Kouanis, who is the force behind these financial incentives, ”Kalafatis said. recognized.
However, he explained that the catalyst that decided to create a new state-of-the-art soundstage and movie studio complex in the area was first and foremost the Lerner family in Los Angeles. Established Hollywood film producers, they are the owners of the Millennium Media film company.
“With Yariv Lerner, CEO of Nu Boyana Films in Sofia, Bulgaria and co-partner of Millennium Productions, we are building this project on which I am very optimistic.
“I believe in it, not because I am Greek-American in my roots; it is also the respective infrastructure, the quality of the people, the locations, the attraction to Hollywood that make the task much easier, ”Kalafatis added.
The ambitious plan for the new studios was first made public following a meeting of John Kalafatis, Avi and Yariv Lerner with then Deputy Minister for Digital Policy Lefteris Kretsos in spring 2019.
The next government was eager to embrace the business.
In Kalafatis’ personal opinion, EKOME and the Greek state have done enough to put in place financial incentives for international productions, and now it is up to the private sector to question themselves in order to attract more Hollywood productions. in Greece.
“We all need to come together and work together,” he said.
The experience of international producers in Greece
Some of the first high profile international producers who toured Greece with the support of EKOME shared their enthusiasm at the forum.
For Joseph Samaan, Chairman of the Tanweer Group, Greece’s offer to foreign producers goes well beyond the generous 40% cash back on eligible costs they used to make the Greek film Eftihia.
He listed the sunshine, the places, the climate, the limitless monuments and the warm and welcoming inhabitants, among the advantages.
“In addition, most people in Greece speak English. If you travel, (you will notice) to many countries in Europe, it is very difficult to find people, mainly among the younger generations, who are fluent in English. And it’s a big help for the producers who come here to shoot their film, ”said Samaan.
Alexander Potter, producer of the film “Man of God” starring Mickey Rourke, which was shot recently in Greece, argued that Greece’s cash back system is one of the most reliable in terms of bankability. .
“When you talk to financiers or banks who are in the business and who specialize in financing international cash back rebates, their question is always, first, has the program been proven to work? Was the money paid and on time? Is there a way for the cash back program and the AV center to sign this cash back to us, as a guarantee?
“All these details that I know were covered by Panos Kouanis and his team, so I think Greece has a fantastic program. Outside, of course, places, sets, etc., from a financial point of view, 40% cash back is huge, especially nowadays – and you don’t have a lot of places. that offer that, ”he observed.
The director of the film, Yelena Popovic, spoke of a “fantastic experience” and “wonderful people.”
“I was very well received. The people were extremely professional, showed great support and there was great energy on set. We worked in the midst of the pandemic, on top of everything. It was extremely difficult at that level, but with everyone’s help and hard work, we were able to pull it off, ”she recalls.
It is his belief that “Greece can definitely become, and should be, a place where we can bring international productions to make films or television shows.”