Kristinn Þórðarson: Yes we’ve extracted the figures from Statistics Iceland who for the first time published some data last year regarding the weight of film & TV in the local economy. We knew figures were good, but we didn’t think they would be so good!
Basically, the annual income from film & TV productions in Iceland (including RÚV productions) is estimated at ISK 27 billion. Between 2014-2018, revenues from film & TV was ISK15.1 billion (€100m) – with the lion share coming from foreign productions.
What is interesting is that at the same time, government spend (including contributions to the Icelandic Film Centre, RÚV, reimbursement for filmmaking) totalled about ISK 10 billion (€66m). Also, the share of foreign co-production spend in the local film & TV industry keeps climbing year on year.
For instance, our TV series The Valhalla Murders produced for RÚV was almost 50% co-financed by Netflix. At the same time, every year, almost 2,000 jobs are created in the film & industry, and each job in the sector creates 1.9 other jobs. With SÍK, we have explained all this to the government, stressing the importance to back the industry, hit by the pandemic. I feel that we are getting more understanding from the government. We just got additional money [ISK 120m or €756,000] to put into projects this summer and to make sure they ready so that when the pandemic is over people can start production.
LBD: Traditionally Iceland has been a favourite place for location shooting, but now is also the time to promote and develop studios and stage facilities here.
Isn’t Baltasar Kormákur’s RVK Studios enough? What other studio facilities do you have in Iceland?
LBD: RVK Studios is the only studio for now. There is basically just one hanger, over 3,000 m2. You can’t really split it or bring in two units. Baltasar is occupying his space throughout the year and it’s great for him to have many projects. But we need other facilities.
What are your plans?
LBD: We are looking into two options:
1/ We have already a 6,000 square meters warehouse space that can easily be converted into stages. This would be the fastest option. We could easily get everything ready to shoot in four weeks if necessary.
2/ we are planning to develop with UK investors/producers new film and sound proof stages in Iceland. We have the piece of property in the greater Reykjavik area. There would be no extra costs for crews for overnight hotel. We have identified the space and two construction companies that could deliver the facilities with a six-month turnaround.
I think there is a huge opportunity within Iceland right now, and down the road, when productions will be in full motion, after the demand has been stacking up, I believe there will be an overflow of projects trying to squeeze into studios in the UK/Ireland.
We are in the backyard of England, so to speak, only three hours away by plane and almost in the same time zone. We could easily bring work here, using UK/US and Icelandic crews. We’ve always worked closely with US/UK crews and have been blessed to work with some of the best talent in studio works.
Where are you in the discussions with the government to increase the cash rebate?
LBD: We are on daily calls with the relevant parties. If the government agrees to raise the tax rebates to 35%, we will put everything in motion for the new studio facilities. We could use the existing warehouse in the meantime. We’ve used it before on a Netflix TV series a few years ago. It’s a well-designed storage stage, in the heart of Reykjavik. It ticks all the boxes for a medium-sized production.
The escalating production and filming potential in Iceland must be great opportunities for young talent in front and behind the camera…
LBD: Part of our future plan is to have the Icelandic film school and Icelandic film museum in the same spot to create a dynamic film TV environment.
Leifur what else do you feel is needed to sustain the local film and TV industry?
LBD: You need a stable currency, as well as competitive cash rebates. In terms of crews and talent, you would need to make that pool bigger. But we are working in the right direction. Last year, all our productions happened within six weeks and we had almost three units at the same time working on two separate projects.
KT: Regarding Icelandic productions, what has changed in the past 5-6 years is the arrival on the market of platforms like Netflix who commission shows in Icelandic language and then distribute them around the world. That didn’t exist before.
Also, what we’ve been lobbying for years here is to get similar tax relief schemes like EIS in the UK, to get private companies/individuals to invest in film and TV drama. We would welcome this financial mechanism to sustain the industry. I do believe the government is seeing the benefit of this as well.
On the production side, The Valhalla Murders was a big success. Are you planning to do a season 2? What else is lined up at Truenorth?