Looking to Lure Movies, Norway May Engage Iceland in ‘Game of Krones’


Norway, the nation that inspired the animated setting for Disney’s “Frozen,” is looking to Iceland as a potential model for boosting its appeal to foreigners aiming to make films and TV productions that require real people and physical assets.

A government commissioned report, issued this week, said if Norway wants to lure crews to shoot productions on the scale of “Game of Thrones” – some of which is filmed in nearby Iceland – it needs to make use of its vast pile of local currency, or kroner, to emulate Iceland’s financial incentives. Iceland in recent years has provided spectacular scenery for HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” and the biblical thriller “Noah.”

Iceland, hit by financial crisis in 2008, has been helped by a relatively weak krona, nearly around-the-clock summer light, and generous tax rebates that equaled a billion Icelandic krona ($9 million) in 2012. Norway shares Iceland’s ultra-bright summers, but its economy – bolstered by vast oil and gas wealth – is much stronger and the nation has yet to launch a large-scale movie incentive program.

In Norway, the krone is strong and, when combined with high costs and rapid wage growth it makes its spectacular nature less attractive to foreign film and TV crews.

The Nordic oil sheikhs are thinking about changing that, and in the process potentially launching a “game ofkrones” with its Mid-Atlantic neighbors in order to attract Hollywood’s attention. The salvo would come at a time when Icelanders have been concerned about the longevity of their own incentive scheme.

“We want to look more closely at how we best can facilitate the production of foreign movies in Norway,” Thorhild Widwey, Norway’s Minister of Culture, said as she received a government-commissioned report from independent advisor Oslo Economics this week.

If Norway introduced Iceland-style production incentives, it could potentially nearly double the number of foreign film and TV productions on its soil to between 15 and 20 a year, from currently about 10 a year, according to the report.

Such incentives could also counter the current trend of domestic productions moving abroad to save cash, the report said. Several recent productions, including the Oscar-nominated 2012 movie “Kon-Tiki” and the 2011 movie “Headhunters,” based on a Jo Nesbø thriller, were partly recorded abroad.

Forty countries around the world have introduced some form of subsidies for film and TV production, including 16 European countries, Oslo Economics said. For instance, Ireland has a 28% tax rebate, and Iceland has a 20% tax rebate.

If Norway decides that it wants to attract Hollywood, it should echo the Icelandic system, which is very simple, and has already been approved by the authorities that monitor Norway and Iceland’s trade agreements with the European Union, Oslo Economics recommended.

But, Oslo Economics warned, there would have to be surplus capacity in the Norwegian film and TV sector for the incentives to be profitable for the overall society. Norway has no net debt and very low unemployment, and the competition for skilled workers is already tough.

Subsidizing film and TV comes with both costs and benefits, the report said. For instance, the number of productions in Ireland had increased to about 60 a year from about 40 a year after incentives were introduced in 2008, but the incentives cost the country about $167 million a year.

“To increase the number of productions, such incentives are effective, at least in the short term,” Oslo Economics analyst Ove Skaug Halsos told the NTB news agency. But, he warned, increased competition to attract productions may lead to a “race to the bottom” where countries have to constantly improve incentives to get the upper hand.

The Norwegian Parliament is expected to decide whether to subsidize foreign movies and TV series in early 2015.

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.