International filmmakers are discovering just how versatile the city can be.
From neo-classical to medieval, Brussels boasts every kind of architecture imaginable. This is the city for art nouveau buildings, as the team behind Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl discovered. If the requirement is for modernist buildings, the kind of places where politicians and technocrats work, they can be found here too (Brussels is the base of Nato and the European Commission). The city is also full of parks, forests and hidden gardens.
Actress Charlotte Rampling was recently in town for a screening of her latest feature Hannah, which, like Clint Eastwood’s 15:17 To Paris, was shot partly in the city. Eastwood drew heavily on the logistical expertise of the screen.brussels film commission, headed by Pierrette Baillot. “We had to be super-confidential – nobody could know,” Baillot remembers of Eastwood’s visit. Rupert Everett (“very, very friendly”) also came to Brussels to shoot part of his Oscar Wilde biopic The Happy Prince.
The film commission advises on every aspect of filming: permits, locations, catering, accommodation, equipment rental and even obtaining police permission before blocking off streets. “At the heart of Europe, with countless cultures enriching the city, it’s no wonder Brussels offers spectacular and various locations from historic to contemporary to utterly surreal,” says Baillot, to explain why such different projects are being lured to Brussels.
In the two years since opening its doors, financing and production agency screen.brussels has revitalised the city as both a local and international filmmaking hub. The fund, launched in May 2016, has pumped $3.7m (¤3m) a year into feature films, TV dramas and documentaries to boost employment and attract considerable inward investment. For every euro the fund invests, $11 (¤9) are spent in the region, says Noël Magis, managing director of screen.brussels.
The profile of the area has grown to the point that Brussels-Capital Region is no longer in the shadow of its neighbours. “We were a bit like the little brother of our two other regions, Flanders in the north and Wallonia in the south,” Magis says. The funding family When screen.brussels was formed, it brought together the main fund with three other agencies: screen.brussels film commission, screen.brussels cluster (which supports production, post-production and VR companies looking to grow and become more international) and screen.brussels business (which offers loans or makes equity investments). “We call ourselves the kings of co-production because we speak French, Dutch and also English, as that is the common language of all the ex-pats we have here,” Magis explains. “We support all kinds of content, no matter what the language of the film or the TV series.”
Underlining its cosmopolitan approach, the fund accepts applications in French, Dutch and English. In its two-year lifespan, the fund has worked with partners from France, Denmark, the UK, Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Canada and Israel, and with a host of other countries too.
In March, the fund invested $306,000 (¤250,000) in Ari Folman’s animated project Where Is Anne Frank. It has also come on board a new TV version of Les Miserables, co-produced by the BBC and Belgian outfit Czar, starring Dominic West and Lily Collins, and which has been shooting in the city. Money is available for documentaries, though investments tend to be lower at around the $25,000 (¤20,000) mark.
To unlock screen.brussels backing, a project needs to have 40% of its financing already in place. For web series, the fund supports projects that have 80% of the budget already secured. Projects that receive screen.brussels support are also likely to benefit from Belgian tax shelter financing. Some will also secure backing from Screen Flanders and Wallimage. Magis acknowledges Brussels does not yet offer a big studio facility but space is available at nearby AED Studios in Flanders where Thomas Vinterberg’s submarine drama Kursk, which was backed by the fund, was shot. The facility, which has water tanks, is only half an hour’s drive from the city and very soon further studio space and a water tank will be available in Vilvoorde, a 15-minute drive from Brussels.
There are also various alternative spaces in Brussels itself, including warehouses and former factories, that can be easily customised for large-scale filmmaking. Screen.brussels is not primarily looking to attract big US productions. As Magis explains, to be eligible for tax shelter and regional funding, films need to qualify as European or be made as co-productions with countries that have treaties with Belgium (this list includes Canada, Chile, Israel and China but not the US). Even without that influx, it is clear the new agency is flourishing and is now regarded as a vital part of the film financing and production landscape in Belgium.