“Life is salted fish,” says Einar Hansen Tómasson, Iceland’s Film Commissioner.
The phrase, coined by Nobel Prize winning author Halldór Laxness in his novelSalka Valka, is a perfect metaphor for Iceland’s work ethos. Just like work, salt fish is a tough, yet enjoyable, dish (imagine fish jerky) and it goes some way to describing Iceland’s hard-working yet creative attitude towards the daily grind.
Iceland’s economic recovery since 2008, when the country was literally on the brink of financial ruin, has been impressive. And there is no better industry to illustrate the country’s about-turn than the film and creative industries. Countless films have been shot and produced on this small North Atlantic island in the past few years, and it has spawned an entrepreneurial renaissance for the local economy.
Prometheus; Noah; The Secret Life of Walter Mitty; Star Trek: Into Darkness;Game of Thrones; Batman Begins… the roll call of blockbusters that have relied on Iceland’s landscape and local talent is impressive.
It is no coincidence, of course. Tómasson has spearheaded the country’s campaign to make Iceland a go-to location for shoots, and the government is doing all it can to attract big studios.
Iceland’s stunning landscape does not take all of the credit for attracting film studios to shoot in Iceland, though. Up to 20 per cent of the costs incurred during the production of films and TV programmes in Iceland can be reimbursed – a healthy incentive. Add in the favourable currency, and the country’s on-the-ground expertise in film production and it’s a no brainer for film companies.
The results are positive for the country’s local businesses, too, as Tómasson explains: “Many filming projects – commercials, films and TV series – are shot during the ‘off’ season, meaning that Christmas has come early for local businesses.”
For example, the latest season of Game of Thrones (which uses the dramatic Icelandic landscape to shoot scenes “beyond the Wall”) meant local businesses sold an extra 3,000 hotel nights and 500 rental cars. In total, according to calculations by Promote Iceland, the net benefit to the local economy was well in excess of 1bn Icelandic Kroner (or more than £5m/$8m). This might not sound like a lot, but for an island with a population of just 320,000 people, it’s a significant amount of extra cash.
It is not just hotels and rental car companies that are benefiting, though. Iceland is becoming increasingly well known for its high-tech workforce and expertise in film production.
Reykjavik Visual Effects (RVX), a company spun out of international visual effects giant Framestore in 2012, has seen business expand fast. It has provided visual effects for numerous large-scale productions, including films such asGravity, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, 2 Guns, Contraband, Australia and many others. It is also the lead visual effects company for upcoming blockbusterEverest, due out next year.
Dadi Einarsson, the company’s founder and creative director, says what attracts companies to doing business in Iceland is the can-do attitude of Icelandic companies.
“People in Iceland are used to rolling up their sleeves and doing what needs to be done. It’s so easy to do business here and there is very little bureaucracy. The legislation is simple and the tax structure is easy to navigate – the studios really value that,” he explains.
RVX, which employs 50 staff, is also able to compete on price, thanks to Reykjavik being significantly more affordable than the usual film clusters of London and New York City.
A key consideration for companies such as RVX is the available IT infrastructure which, in Iceland, is in a class of its own.
Visual effects companies create a lot of data, and it takes an enormous amount of processing power for the company to render the final product. This usually means paying for servers to be hosted in data centres, which can be very expensive. But Iceland’s unique climate and natural resources means costs can be kept much, much lower.
Verne Global owns and operates a 44-acre data center campus in Keflavik, Iceland; just a 30 minute drive from Reykjavik. Data centres often consume vast amount of energy in order to cool down the servers and processors, which is essential to keep them efficient and working.
Yet, unlike data centres in other countries, which rely on (expensive, dirty) fossil fuels to power the campus, Verne Global can leverage Iceland’s cooler climate and renewable energy sources to power the campus. This means costs can be up to 50 per cent less than otherwise.
RVX’s Einarsson says this is an important consideration for his business. “Managing overheads is key to survive in this industry, so being able to scale our data and rendering up or down, depending on our needs, is great. We just don’t need to worry about it. The fact the energy used by Verne is clean is also an extra stamp of approval from our clients. It means we can work absolutely guilt free.”
Experienced Icelandic production companies, strong green credentials and an advanced infrastructure are, without a doubt, helping Iceland to position itself as a global hub for the film industry.
But there is still ample room for the country’s burgeoning film industry to grow. Says Tómasson: “We have the talent, both in physical production – shooting – and post production. This is a growing industry for us. We’ve shown the industry that Iceland can make any film. No one ever says ‘no’. We care and we can make anything happen.”