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007 in Brussels: reality or fantasy?

”Bring Bond to Brussels”, that's the call the Willemsfonds and Screen.Brussels are making to propose the capital city as the location for the next James Bond film. Sounds interesting, but is it feasible? Project B made an analysis of the film policy in Brussels.

Imane Belguenani, director at Willemsfonds Brussels and vice-president of Screen.Brussels, says – in a video on their Facebook page – that in the past, several major cities have enjoyed a 25 to 300% increase in tourist visits after a blockbuster movie was shot. Her goal is therefore to have Brussels serve as a filming location for the next James Bond film.

Belguenani argues that several locations in Brussels would be a perfect setting for a film. However, studies show that the film location is secondary to the economic factors that make a place attractive for filming. What really counts is the cost. So for Brussels to become the next 007-setting, it doesn't have to convince Bond of the beautiful film locations. Instead, the city must develop a strong film policy. So what about the tax incentives and economic policies for film in Brussels?

The various institutions and measures of the Brussels film policy are spread across the different policy and competence levels. In essence, the film policy starts from the regional policy level but along the way cooperation with other levels has increased, often leading to some struggles.

On the federal level, there is the tax shelter, a tax scheme that allows companies to invest in audiovisual works in exchange for a tax break. This arrangement places both the film producer and the investor in a win-win situation and gives a boost to the Belgian economy. At the same time, the scheme was criticized by smaller companies during the pandemic. According to them, the tax shelter is only interesting for large companies. And this while the film market also needs small investors to flourish.

There is also a relatively strong subsidy policy. For example, film productions can count on subsidies from the VAF/Film Fund, the EU MEDIA program, and Eurimages. Due to the fragmentation of subsidies across the various levels of government, there is a legitimate threat of a lack of efficiency and, above all, unambiguity.

Then there is Screen.Brussels, a support structure of the Brussels Capital Region that provides funding for audiovisual productions that spend all or part of their budget in the region. Despite the relatively small scale of the initiative, it manages to support a complete ecosystem thanks to the rapid development of its services.

It is thus clear that there are several interesting fiscal and economic incentives to film in Brussels, but perhaps the most important role is played by the audiovisual export agency Flanders Image. The agency is in charge of promoting Brussels audiovisual creations on the international film market.

Thanks to these sources of financing, Belgian film is doing well, and there is a growing incentive to invest in films, resulting in internationally successful productions. But the fact that Belgian film is doing better and better does not mean that major international film producers want to shoot a film here. In fact, the current financing structures are not aimed at bringing Hollywood films here. They are purely aimed at stimulating local films.

This leaves the question of how to bring the next Bond film to Brussels, and thus benefit from a reviving tourism sector and an economic boost for the capital. What efforts can Brussels make beyond the structure that already exists?

The first option is to make Brussels more attractive as a film location, this approach requires investments in the broader ecosystem that filming studios come into contact with when shooting a film. Think of available resources, cost reduction, tax advantages, more flexible working conditions, and more local expertise. To achieve this, a comprehensive policy needs to be developed that is aimed purely at bringing international films here. It seems unlikely that the local parties involved would like to see this happen given their protectionist approach toward film policy.

The second possibility is to invest more in actors who are responsible for public relations with film studios and the promotion of these potential film locations. Within the current structure, this role seems to be played by Flanders Image, which is expanding its operations with public investments.

Ultimately, this means that the Belgian film structure resolutely chooses to promote local films and their international export. Several initiatives and structures have been launched to support this ambition. In order for local films to succeed, there is, therefore, a protectionist reaction when it comes to bringing Hollywood films here. The danger is that these films will compete with local films in an unfair way, driving them out of the market.

It is therefore difficult to reconcile the goal of promoting local films with Belguenani's Hollywood wish. The question remains whether the chosen path is not only culturally but also economically the most profitable.

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