Engelbert Grech
Film Commissioner, Malta
Engelbert Grech became Malta's Film Commissioner in 2013, coinciding with a lull in the Mediterranean nation's activity as a lading movie location. Here he tells The Report Company how the Malta Film Commission has responded to that challenge.
The Report Company: The year 2015 saw €100 million spent by foreign productions in Malta, a big increase on €29 million in 2014 and just €5 million in 2013. What have been the factors behind this success and what challenges lie ahead for the Malta Film Commission?
Engelbert Grech: The Malta Film Commission has taken a more pro-active role to promote our locations, crews, and incentives in recent years. As the statistics show, this new strategy worked. In the years leading up to 2015, the Malta Film Commission had embarked on an internal exercise to revise its financial incentives with the aim of regaining the competitive edge which Malta once had. This new momentum was coupled with a targeted and aggressive marketing campaign spread over the major film markets which again put Malta at the forefront
Malta boasts many beautiful and versatile locations, experienced professional crews, long hours of daylight, and a safe environment to work in.
Engelbert Grech, Film Commissioner, Malta
TRC: How are you now trying to ensure that Malta stays firmly on the international film-production map?
EG: Besides our world-famous water-filming facilities, Malta boasts many beautiful and versatile locations, experienced professional crews, long hours of daylight, and a safe environment to work in. Malta's competitive rates coupled with generous financial incentives are key to continuing to attract high-end productions. It is for this reason that our incentives are regularly evaluated in order to retain the competitive edge with the next review being planned for 2017. The Film Commission will keep working hard to safeguard Malta's standing as a reputable filming destination.
TRC: Filmmakers choose Malta because its scenic natural backdrops, historic architecture and dramatic waterside settings allow it to double up for almost anywhere. How can a balance be struck between making the most of Malta's beauty and preserving its heritage? What is the local film industry's role in safeguarding the environment?
EG: Like everything else in life, balance is key. And balance needs to be struck at all times in such a way that any filming activity is always done with total respect for Malta's environmental, historical and cultural assets. It is for this reason that whenever public locations are concerned, the Malta Film Commission liaises with all public entities to ensure that our historical and environmental treasures are uncompromisingly protected without any risk of damage. Whenever locations are of historic or ecological importance, experts are required by law to undertake an assessment of the effects filming might have on these sites. This does not mean that filming in such sites will be prohibited, but rather this ensures that environmental and historical experts can indicate strict guidelines as to what activity is permissible and what isn't. Furthermore, besides regular monitoring during the course of construction or actual shooting, bank guarantees are also demanded as a safety precaution and deterrent against abuses.
We liaise with all public entities to ensure that our historical and environmental treasures are uncompromisingly protected without any risk of damage.

Engelbert Grech, Film Commissioner, Malta
TRC: What are your main target markets, and what connections do you have with the British film industry? What do you think will be the impact of Brexit on the sector and how is Malta planning to retain and strengthen its relationship with the UK, especially with regard to movie-making?
EG: Since its earliest days, Malta's film sector has had very close ties with the British film industry. Nonetheless, in recent years, Malta has also worked hard at developing new and strong links with many other key regions.

A quick glance at the filmography of productions shot in the past decade on our shores is enough to appreciate the variety and diversity of countries we've worked with. Productions hailing from all parts of Europe stand alongside others coming from Russia and the United States. Canadian productions are also commonplace due to the Malta-Canada coproduction agreement.

We're also always looking at new horizons with recent initiatives aimed at also entering the Chinese and Indian markets. Brexit's implications are varied and the outcome could have an economic impact, but it won't damage our strong ties. It is too early in the day to conclude what the actual impact will be, but should Britain be able to negotiate its departure from the EU but remain in the European Economic Area, the direct economic implications of Brexit on Malta's film industry will be negligible. In any case, even if Britain leaves both the EU and the EEA, British productions will still be eligible to access Maltese financial incentives, albeit to a lesser extent than they currently do.

Whatever the outcome, we're convinced that we have some unique selling points that will still attract British productions or international productions based in the UK. Amongst these are the unique water-filming facilities, varied Mediterranean locations, the long hours of daylight and highly experienced English-speaking crews.
TRC: What are the intersections of interest between the film industry and the tourism industry in Malta, and what policies would you like to see in place to better capitalize on the opportunities to promote Maltese "screen tourism"?
EG: There is definitely great potential to use the film and TV industry in order to create a new niche for Malta's tourism industry. Appreciating the potential, we're not sitting idle. Identified as a priority even in Malta's first National Film Policy document, we have been working on various initiatives all geared at capitalising further on the various productions shot in Malta.

The Malta Film Commission has been delivering induction courses to tourist guides on an annual basis. Together with the Malta Tourism Authority, we've also embarked on a signage project which will identify the most popular film locations. An interactive Movie Map is also in the works and will be launched soon. It should pint out that as early as the 1960s, Malta had already recognised the potential of using the film industry to capitalise on the phenomenon of screen tourism.

Malta also boasts a unique tourist attraction - Robert Altman's set for the 1980 film Popeye still stands to this day and attracts thousands of tourists annually. We've witnessed tourists visiting iconic Maltese locations utilised for productions including Game of Thrones and By the Sea, and have already seen local tour operators getting interest in the idea of Assassin's Creed tours following the recent shooting of this very popular video game franchise.
Brexit's implications are varied and the outcome could have an economic impact, but it won't damage our strong ties.
Engelbert Grech, Film Commissioner, Malta
TRC: When The Report Company last interviewed you in 2015, you said one of the challenges the industry faces is "to continue attracting a continuous stream of work in order to sustain the industry and the careers of the people who invest in it." How would you appraise the progress in this regard over the last year or so?
EG: We pride ourselves in being a very pro-active Film Commission. In a short period of time, we've re-branded our corporate image, launched new financial incentives, a new website and location library, and also enacted Malta's first National Film Policy. Our strategy has clearly borne fruit with unprecedented growth in film servicing, as well as Malta's own film industry. The indigenous film industry is indeed one of our top priorities. We are constantly investing in both established and up-and-coming Malta-based filmmakers. Apart from the Film Fund, we have even set up a co-production fund. This has resulted in a steady and impressive increase in the quality of the local films being made. With an ever increasing list of foreign and local film productions, we are managing to create a sustainable film industry with back-to-back projects. The Film Commission is consistently fine-tuning its strategy so that Malta retains its competitive edge.
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