Agora Series: Triangle of Happiness - Discussion in the presence of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis

As part of the new section of the Agora Series, a discussion entitled "The Triangle of Happiness: International Series - Entertainment Services - Movies" took place on Thursday, November 10, at Pavlos Zannas theater. The discussion was honored with the presence of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who presented the main pillars of the country's strategy on issues of support and development of the audiovisual industry. The event was welcomed by Nikolas Giatromanolakis, the Deputy Minister of Culture and Sports, responsible for Contemporary Culture. Stavros Kalafatis, Deputy Minister of Interior Affairs, Responsible for Macedonia-Thrace, Apostolos Tzitzikostas, Governor of the Region of Central Macedonia, Voula Patoulidou, Deputy Regional Governor of the Metropolitan Unit of Thessaloniki, Konstantinos Zervas, Mayor of Thessaloniki, MPs and representatives of the political scene also attended the event. The Festival was represented by Eleftheria Thanouli, President of the Festival's Board of Directors, Grigoris Vardarinos, Vice-President of the Festival's Board of Directors, Spyros Vougias, Themis Bazaka and Filios Stangos, members of the Festival's Board of Directors. The panel, held in collaboration with the Greek Film Centre, was composed of leading figures of the international audiovisual scene, such as Ferdinand Dohna (BetaFilm), Sam Hoyle (SkyStudios), Peter Nadermann (NadconFilm), Richard Pommérat (N9ne Studio), Veronica Vitali (NETFLIX), Boban Jevtić (Firefly Productions), Julien Leroux (Paper Entertainment), and was moderated by Jac Ntim (Deadline).

The event was introduced by Orestis Andreadakis, Artistic Director of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, speaking about the new venture of the Agora Series, and the continuous change and evolution of television content: “Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Deputy Minister of Interior Affairs, Mr. Deputy Minister of Culture and Sports, Mr. Governor of the Region of Central Macedonia, Mr. Mayor of Thessaloniki, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to welcome you to Agora Series, the first of many to come. We are very pleased to welcome you at the Thessaloniki Film Festival, to share our vision for the always developing world of entertainment. Today we are launching Agora Series, a newly established section with the aim of setting up a network of communication with the professionals that create series for TV networks and OTT streaming platforms. This new section of the festival will hopefully and with your support become a thriving meeting point for the expansion of television production. The Festival’s focus point is the art of cinema and, in later years, we have seen television productions which were more cinematic, like David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, like The Wire, like The Sopranos, which changed our perception of what television content is. Moving with the times, Thessaloniki International Film Festival is committed to helping the Greek industry in finding new channels, new markets, in pursuing new awards, in offering new jobs, in communicating with the world of an equal level.”

Mr. Andreadakis gave the floor to Nikolas Giatromanolakis, the Deputy Minister of Culture and Sports: “Mr. Prime Minister, dear colleagues, dear friends, welcome to the Film Festival of Thessaloniki. Obviously, the name states Film, so why are we here today, why are we starting this discussion about TV series? Well things change as we all are aware of. The Festival has changed after all these years; it’s not the same as it used to be. There was no Agora as a component at the beginning, whereas now it is an internal component. Also, as we have learned in the last years the lines and definitions of cinema and television are becoming blurrier. This became more obvious during the pandemic and promoted platforms and their presence in our lives and made us question a lot of business models and distribution models. But, some things don’t change and that is content that will always be important in this business. So this is something we want to explore together. And it is a pivotal moment for the Ministry of Culture and for the Thessaloniki Film Festival and the Greek Film Centre to actually expand our scope towards this direction. It is also very important to note that we are not the only ones who are changing that in Eurimages are now discussing series in addition to films. The rest that is changing, you will hear about in a minute. We are also changing a lot as a government. Maybe you know the story, when Woody Allen wanted to film Mighty Aphrodite, a few decades ago, here in Greece, and people at the central ecological committee made a few comments on his script and he decided to go to Sicily and film instead. So we have become more flexible, more open, more receptive but also we understand the value of that industry and the value of the people in that industry. This is why a new strategy is actually launching on this level. This is also why more films than ever have been filmed in Greece in the last years, even during the pandemic. I am certain that this is one of the reasons why Greece saw a 17% increase in the cultural employment level from 2020 to 2021. The film industry has played a very important role in this. I would like to welcome the Prime Minister on stage, he will explain the government strategy, but also I would like to thank him for his visionary step. It’s a step that was not made before. Everything is possible when you coordinate different aspects, different moving parts of the government.”

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Prime Minister then took the floor, stating the following: “Let me start by thanking all our panelists for their participation in what I’m sure will be an extremely illuminating discussion that will lay out the landscape of film and television in the world today. When you look at the quality of the work they have helped bring forward – including productions like The Killing, Dr Who, Tehran, War and Peace and Borgia – you know you are going to be hearing the kind of insight that - I am sure - you don’t want to miss. It is a huge honor and pleasure for me personally, to be here today at the Thessaloniki Film Festival. Thank you all for organizing this event. I was informed about the significant progress it has made over the past years. And it is important that I am here today, amongst the country’s and the world's most talented creative minds. As you know, Thessaloniki International Film Festival is the cornerstone of the modern Greek film industry, and as you pointed out the line is increasingly being blurred between film and television. And what a force that industry is now showing itself to be, with much greater visibility of Greek talent in international markets, more co-productions, and more foreign productions being filmed in Greece. Quite a few of them, actually being filmed here in Thessaloniki and I understand maybe more interesting announcements will be coming over the next few days. Last year alone there were 200 projects in our country, including over 20 Greek feature films and more than 20 TV and film productions coming from big Hollywood studios. This year’s Palme D’Or winner, The Triangle of Sadness, was co-produced by Heretic, a Greek production company, and was primarily shot on the island of Euboea. Meanwhile, Evi Kalogiropoulou’s short film, On Xerxes’ Throne, also received the Canal+ Award for Short Film in Critic’s Week at Cannes. As one industry journal pointed out “Despite the ravages of COVID-19 and the financial crisis of the late 2000s, the Greek film industry has emerged as a force to be reckoned with on the world stage,” the Prime Minister stated. 

“Of course, not all of us have the talent to be a part of the creative process. But we, as the government, do understand that making a film is not just a creative endeavor. It is a financial one too and one that is important for the whole country –this industry directly and indirectly employs more than 100,000 people, while of course having a significant broader financial impact across industries and across regions. From the very beginning we laid out a very clear strategy that essentially was based on three pillars that aim to support and grow the audio-visual industry as it continues to build on the success it has enjoyed in recent years. Across all sectors of the economy our goal has always been to create the best environment for business and investment. And this is of course also true for your industry. So our strategy’s first pillar was built on incentives, with our country now offering one of the most competitive programs in the whole European Union and having further simplified application and certification processes. I’m sure many of you are well aware of our incentive scheme. We didn’t reinvent the wheel. We just looked at what other countries were doing, and tried to do it a little bit better. So we had a 40% cash rebate on eligible expenses incurred by productions in Greek territory, for all audio-visual projects, with over €140 million already distributed last year. This can be combined with a 30% tax relief incentive on eligible expenses”, Kyriakos Mitsotakis explained.

“Now we’ve added to that allowing admittance of non-resident labor invoices for projects with eligible expenses over 8 million, up to 50% of eligible costs. Then, of course, there is also the Hellenic Developmental Fund to guarantee bank loans up to €900,000 for the Audio Visual sector and “Entrepreneurship 360”, which is a special state aid scheme to support AV studios. Our second pillar is infrastructure. We were very well aware of a lack of adequate soundstages, which is a challenge and that is why we are aware of the fact that we need more state-of-the-art infrastructure, which will enable Greece to be a major audio-visual player, a player we need to be. There is a lot of interest in these types of investments. Some of it actually will take place very close to here, in Thessaloniki. And of course, I do need to point out that companies interested in these types of investments can also benefit from extremely low loans from the EU's Recovery and Resilience Facility. These loans actually charge an interest which is slightly under one percent interest rate, which is extremely competitive given today’s interest rate environment”, he said.

“And of course, the final pillar of our strategy is human capital. Without the right people and in particular the right skills, this industry cannot grow. So, with the right upskilling of crews, the right workshops for content creation through programs like the Greek Film Centre’s “Incubating the Film Industry'', and the development of a National Audiovisual School, these are exactly the tools that we want to employ to improve the skills, especially for the young talented people that we have, to offer their services to the audio visual industry. Approximately 150 km east of here, in the city of Drama, which is known for its own International Short Film Festival, a new audio-visual cluster is being developed, its being designed alongside a film school, to nurture startups, as well as new talent for the future. In addition to all of this, we’re moving forward with a much simpler, more effective regulatory framework. The minister has spoken about that. We constantly try to make it less cumbersome for you to do business in Greece, which includes a streamlined permit process, the development of a network of local film offices, and reform of the industry’s legal framework. We know that there is more that we can do, to ensure that the Greek film industry can get the investment and the funding it deserves. And to ensure that regulation is streamlined in order to free up the time of producers to do what they do best, what you do best, which is of course to tell the stories that we all love to watch and hear. Still, until now, no major platforms had shared our stories, the stories of Greek creators. But this has changed this week as Netflix announced the acquisition of the international rights of Greek drama series Maestro. Congratulations, Mr Papakaliatis. You make us all very proud”, the Prime Minister said, addressing Christoforos Papakaliatis.

“And we hope that this is just a beginning and that platforms will acquire, and, why not, produce themselves more Greek films and series to come. We are, of course, very proud of our beautiful scenery, our beautiful landscapes. Greece is a country that has not been filmed a lot, which offers a lot of very unique landscapes. For example, the city of Thessaloniki surprised many when it first appeared on screen. But we are, of course, particularly proud of our extremely talented people. And it is our job to identify them through the strategy I just described. After all, the art of storytelling, which drives this fantastic event, is something which is deeply embedded in Greek culture. Performing arts were born in Greece. They were born right under the Acropolis in Athens, when ancient Greeks for the first time experimented with theater, not only as a form of entertainment, but also as a form of self-reflection. So the discussion that we will have today and of course the Thessaloniki International Film Festival shows that this tradition is very much alive in Greece today. It is vibrant, it is energized with new ideas, and despite the passing of two millennia, still has an exciting future ahead of it. Thank you very much for your attention,” Kyriakos Mitsotakis concluded. 

Prior to the beginning of the discussion, Markos Cholevas, President of the Board of Directors of the Greek Film Centre, took the floor and spoke about the evolution of television, looking back at the intersections between television and cinema since the beginnings of the medium: "We thank the Prime Minister for paying attention to the film industry in Greece. It's the first time this has happened in my 40 years in the industry. I believe that cinema began with a kind of series: the short films at the beginning of the history of cinema lasted about 10-20 minutes, always with the same protagonist (for example Charlie Chaplin). At the beginning of cinematic history, we thought mostly of short episodes and short stories. Later on stories got longer, which created a problem, because a film in order to be distributed cannot be longer than 4 and a half hours. With the advent of the streaming platform as a genre, creators have the opportunity to tell longer stories, and audiences have the opportunity to watch it in a non-linear way, in their own time. As Mr. Giatromanolakis said, the history of the film industry has no borders, but it is dynamic. It is the right time to discuss what our view is about films, about platforms and about the possibility of reaching a film audience through television as well. Let's watch the next episode!"

Zac Ntim, the moderator, went on to introduce the speakers to the audience and posed the key question that the panelists were asked to answer: "Cinema and TV series are becoming more and more synonymous. What has changed and in what way?" Ms. Hoyle from SkyStudios replied that there is a huge mobility of talent from cinema to television, but also changes within television, which speed up the transition process: "In a series like Twin Peaks we see the problems that arise when cinema switches to television, because suddenly, from 90 minutes of a film, you have 10 hours of TV time to fill." "I don't think things are that dramatic," Mr. Nadermann, from NadconFilm, replied. "This creativity attracts the interest of the market. When I did The Killing, there was no similar series on TV. The market chases quality in content, discovers new things and lets them evolve," he said.

At this point, Mr. Leroux, producer of the TV series Tehran, commented that it is interesting how the many talents who switch from cinema to television can use the mechanisms of television to their benefit. "That's where the bridge between the media gets firm," he said. Mr. Nadermann also referred to the economic benefits of television worldwide, which are remarkable. When asked by the moderator "who is the architect of the TV experience?", most of the speakers agreed that this role is attached to the screenwriter, "for clearly practical reasons, as the screenwriter is the only one who remains the same from start to finish, whereas the director often changes", Ms. Hoyle said. Mr. Pommérat from N9NE Studio as well as Mr. Jevtić of FireflyProductions, who said that in southeastern Europe the script is shifting towards television, agreed with Ms. Hoyle’s opinion. Ms. Vitali, a Netflix representative, disagreed and stated that it is the producer who must take the lead, who can save a project through display creativity and research of funds. Mr. Leroux stressed that there is no one specific formula leading to success, though there are several that work under certain conditions. Mr. Nadermann concluded that this is a teamwork, all parts of the team must work together harmoniously, while Mr. Dohna, a producer from BetaFilm, commented that funding a project no one believes in often proves to be profitable.

Then, Ms. Vitali talked about what's the core of good content at the platform level: "Variety and authenticity are at the core of success. There is a huge range of series, from comedies to true crime stories. Surely there is no one specific formula and people have different tastes and different moods. Some days they want to disconnect and laugh, others want to connect and sink in the content. Authenticity is also very important. When a series has strong cultural roots (Casa de Papel, Lupin), it travels far away though it retains its identity. People are looking for characters they can connect with." At this point, he referred to Christoforos Papakaliatis' Maestro, the first Greek production bought by Netflix: "It is a series that looks entirely Greek, but touches on universal themes, such as forbidden love. We hope people connect with this series!" he said.

When asked by the moderator about what the guests are looking for in a partner, Mr. Leroux said he is looking for a common passion and vision for the future of the series, while Mr. Nadermann commented that he prefers co-productions, because people and cultures mix and lead to interesting results. At this point, the Greek language was commented on as an obstacle for the global audience: "Language doesn't matter anymore!" Mr Dohna highlighted. "It's no longer an obstacle. You shouldn't be shooting a Greek series in English, targeting an international audience. If it's happening in Greece, do it in Greek," he said. Ms. Vitali referred to the importance of language dubbing to global audiences, but also to the fact that now, it has changed the terrain of television worldwide: "In the past, we had local Hollywood content or productions - nothing in the in-between zones. Now, there are productions from all over the world for all kinds of audiences."

Finally, when asked by the audience about the low budget of Greek producers, Mr. Nadermann advised creators to align with their own culture, because a universal storytelling is very difficult, very time-consuming and very expensive. Mr. Leroux insisted that good TV content does not require a high budget. In conclusion, Ms. Vitali commented: "We know that Greece is a special case. Think about all the things you can communicate to the world that have not been said. If anyone can tell this story, then it's probably not the right one. Tell a story we've never heard before."