Q&A Steve Solot - President of Rio Film Commission
The Report Company: When you meet investors that are interested in Rio, what do you have to address and what is the tipping point?
Steve Solot: The legal framework is fairly transparent. Foreign investment is really a federal issue more than a state issue and there we have good news because Brazil has a very sophisticated set of incentives for the audio-visual sector. The most recent one is specifically for the pay TV sector. At the end of last year, a new piece of legislation passed which creates among other things a quota for local content on pay TV during prime time. This is creating a boom for the local content producers, the independent TV producers in Brazil, and is a very good scenario for us in general in Rio because the promoter of this legislation, which is the Brazilian Association of Independent TV Producers (ABPI-TV) is based here. One of the things that the law did is open up the pay TV sector to foreign investment by telecommunications companies and it also extended a contribution, which is like a tax for the development of national industry, to the pay TV sector. This means approximately 400 million reals (£122 million) flowing into the pot for funding audio-visual activities per year, on top of existing funds.
TRC: What relationship is there between the UK and Brazilian film industries?
SS: The UK Producers’ Association is very interested in partnering with local producers to create Brazilian content. The UK-Brazil co-production treaty was just signed, and the terms were negotiated by UK’s BFI and ANCINE, the National Cinema Agency of Brazil. This is excellent news, and even though the treaty will take up to 2 years before full implementation, our respective audiovisual production communities can being gearing up to take advantage of it. Film and TV productions that qualify under the terms of the treaty will gain national status in each country. Productions will be able to access Brazil’s tax incentives, all federal public funds and access to favorable TV terms, while in the UK qualifying productions will be able to access the UK’s Film Tax Relief and apply to the BFI Film Fund.
Of course, Rio already has a relationship with London since our film commission signed a technical cooperation agreement with Film London in Cannes in 2010, which stands as a good framework. For example, we are in the process of a sort of technology transfer, based on Film London’s active involvement in the media centre activities in London Olympic games, which will be of enormous use to us as we prepare ourselves.
However, the truth is that, as far as the film commission goes, we’re attracting projects from every country; we don’t focus solely on the UK. We do a lot of business with the US and France; we just had one very big coproduction and we’re going to bring a delegation from France for the Rio International film festival this year. What we’re up against is that this is a very competitive business. We do have a 1 million real (£305,000) grant, but that’s really very minor compared to what is being offered in London or France.
TRC: What makes Rio competitive?
SS: In terms of local currency, we are competitive but in foreign currency we are not because the exchange rate is not favourable. So being realistic, we need to compete not only through incentives but in terms of almost compensating for the exchange rate. Fortunately, Rio is such an icon as a city, so many producers come anyway. We have the World Cup and the Olympics, but we also have other events that people aren’t talking that much about. Next year we have the Confederations Cup and we have the World Youth Catholic Day, which is huge. These events bring visibility and create a buzz worldwide.
TRC: To what extent would you say that there is a lack of understanding about Rio internationally?
SS: Rio has always has been fashionable. Now, it’s more fashionable. I think the image of danger has been overcome although I have to say that in the US there’s still a huge amount of ignorance. In this case though, the image is being overcome. The Olympics is going to be a huge opportunity.
TRC: What would you highlight as some of the successes of the film commission?
SS: We work with the state and the city. We have a joint venture of the municipality and state government, which is really good because we’re centralised and everybody comes to us. It took me about a year to create the internal administration to make this work, and now we are building visibility; we go to the markets, we go to festivals, we go to our target audience which is the producers of audio-visual content. My system is to go to, say, Berlin with an agenda of meetings. I then have to explain what goes on in Brazil because there is a misunderstanding about the incentive system. There’s a huge incentive system but it’s not aimed at foreign production. Foreign film and TV projects must either be a co-production or a production service job, where you hire someone here to help you with your production. You can’t access soft money automatically in Brazil. I spend a lot of time explaining this; after which we see if people are interested or not. If they have a script that’s specific to Rio then it’s a no-brainer, they have to come. And so the successes have come in creating this visibility. We partnered with Brazilian national producer association. Cinema do Brasil, which is very representative and takes part in a lot of festivals. We have a big stand, we create visibility and then the follow up takes place here and they come and visit and shoot. More than 60% of the total projects are commercials, because the emblematic icons are fantastic for that. We’ve had Johnny Walker, for example, and Lipton Iced Tea. Since 2009, probably the biggest production was the Twilight saga, the fourth film, Breaking Dawn. We have various other big films, including Fast and Furious 5, which was set in Rio.
TRC: How would you describe the film sector today?
SS: With respect to the Rio de Janeiro location shooting infrastructure, we passed the test, basically because we had Fast and Furious 5 and Breaking Dawn at the same time, in November last year. We work with two unions in Rio; one is the technical union of film-workers and the other is the union of producers. Everything’s in place but we really need to develop studio infrastructure more. We have the equipment, there’s an interesting facility which is almost new, called the Centro de Infraestrutura Audiovisual do Rio (Rio Centre of Audiovisual Infrastructure), which is like a shopping centre for film. There are 12 or 14 different companies installed in one big warehouse. It’s very high tech and very sophisticated; you can go and get everything you need from cameras to lighting equipment for your production. In the port area there will be a cluster for the audiovisual sector; this is in the process of development with certain companies that are already tagged to install offices there. The idea is to create a cluster to have a critical mass of audiovisual services there.
TRC: In a nutshell, how do you see the next 2-3 years developing?
SS: We’re going to see a huge influx of demand by producers because they want to get ahead of the army of people that’s going to be coming in to do these programs about Rio. We just had the BBC here. They want to get in now as Rio’s developing. The city is going to be transformed and we will be participating in this in various ways. We have to have a manual for best practices because a crew can’t come in and just go everywhere they want. Film London and BFI were involved in creating this kind of best practices manual, because as the Olympics, or any major event, approach, then you have to clamp down. Parking is a nightmare, we work to delineate areas otherwise the local residents are going to be up in arms.
TRC: Do you think Rio will be ready in time for the Olympics?
SS: It’ll happen. It always comes together.