An epic failure of blockbuster proportions

Tista taqra dan l-artiklu bil-Malti.

For the past four weeks, the disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s PR man turned Film Commissioner, Johann Grech, has embarked on an aggressive campaign on how the Malta rebate and the Labour Party government have boosted the film industry, created all-year-round work, and employed 1,400 persons in this ever-growing industry.

He uses the faces of Maltese crew members and foreigners (using the tagline ‘Jobs għall-Maltin’) to convey this message. But around the same time, several Maltese film producers who were awarded funds through the Creative Malta Scheme to the tune of €1.5million to write, develop and produce their films were informed by the film commission that there would be a delay in making the payments committed to them.

According to multiple sources who spoke to The Shift, crews have been left hanging without payment.

So what is happening here? Has the commission run out of funds?

On 13 July, the US-based Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) called an actors’ strike, which ultimately halted the filming of Paramount Pictures’ Gladiator 2, directed by  Ridley Scott. This film is locally serviced by the film production company Latina Pictures of Winston Azzopardi.

The consequences of the strike and its ripple effects across the Maltese film landscape were significant – hundreds of crew lost their jobs, third-party service providers lost the income they were projected to make, and hoteliers were left with hundreds of empty rooms.

Fast forward one month to August,  when The Times of Malta revealed that Gladiator 2 is projected to receive a €47 million cash rebate from Maltese taxpayer monies, “the biggest state aid to cinema in the EU”.

How can the Commission commit to paying a US studio €47 million and not have funds for local filmmakers?

The backlash was predictable. There’s a public outcry. The film commissioner reacted by claiming that Maltese jobs were being “attacked” and that he would stand tall and firm to protect the Maltese film workers.

Immediately, the PR campaign was kick-started to control the damage caused by the senseless actions of one man who is bound to go down in history as both the most successful film commissioner and the one who destroyed the industry, with the blessing of his minister, Clayton Bartolo, who went along for the photo opportunities and the largesse of big empty promises.

So, who exactly has threatened the jobs of Maltese film workers?

Industry sources informed The Shift that “Johann Grech should be commended for increasing the rebate to 40% as this brought our rebate in line with other competing jurisdictions. However, he was irresponsible in increasing the parameters of eligible costs, which we fear has now made the rebate unsustainable.

That one production is granted €47 million (and counting) out of the total of €50 million permissible does not leave much for other productions. Without a rebate, no film industry exists, and all those depending on this industry for their livelihood would be left high and dry.”

They also told The Shift that the film commissioner’s claim that the rebateable costs were spent in Malta was untrue. They cite just one example of several: Foreign crews’ salaries from anywhere in the world are now eligible, whereas before, it was only those of Maltese, European and British crews which were eligible.

“This alone is an attack on the jobs of Maltese crews,” they insisted.

Now, Maltese films are being left in the lurch, with crews and service providers at risk of either having to wait to be paid or not being paid at all.

There are at least three Maltese films in production right now or just finished filming, which have been slapped with the news that there is no money for them to have.

Others who were awarded writer grants to write scripts or development funds to develop their film projects have also been left high and dry.

Why is there no money for Maltese films?

That this happens while €47 million has been promised to a US production is not lost on local filmmakers. It must be noted that this was for two US productions – Napoleon and Gladiator 2 – who have the same director and producer.

So, the obvious question is whether the guidelines were drafted precisely for the benefit of these two productions.

The producer, Aidan Elliott, had said:  “There was a beta version of it flying around, an unapproved White Paper that was doing the works in the government, and the idea was that we’d be the first film to actually take advantage of it, which we happily did”.

So how does a foreign producer get to know of an “unapproved White Paper” when the Malta Producers’ Association said the guidelines were issued without consultation?

Opposition spokesperson Julie Zahra said there should be a cap on funds given to single film production.

This sounds sensible and is actually what happens in other countries, but the film commissioner scoffed at this, saying Zahra was attacking Maltese film workers.

In the meantime,  the US-based strike has denied other filmmakers use of Malta’s key film facilities, such as the backlot at Fort Ricasoli and the Malta Film Studios. The production’s set-up still occupies the space needed for other film productions, even though they are not being used because of the strike in the US.

Industry sources told The Shift that other projects had to be pushed because the facilities were blocked.

There are so many questions that need answering. Why are we prejudicing other film productions for one film? Are Paramount Pictures paying for Fort Ricasoli and the water tanks at the same rates all this time, or are they being given preferential treatment?

Was there a material breach of the Film Commission’s provisional certificate issued to Gladiator 2? The cash rebate guidelines states:


The provisional certificate is issued based on the information supplied during the application process. Any material or content change in the information supplied to the Film Commissioner in respect of the following:

• significant changes to the project (in terms of key personnel)

• significant changes to the schedules

• significant budget changes

and on which the issue of the certificate was based, which may arise as the project progresses, must be notified and agreed to by the Film Commissioner. Failure to obtain such agreement will be regarded as a material breach of the conditions of the certificate.

So, has the Film Commissioner agreed to the changes?

There clearly has been a significant change to the schedule and a considerable budget change. The film commissioner has a clear way out of not handing over €47 million of our taxes to Paramount Studios. So what has he agreed to?

The Maltese taxpayer has a right to know. Bartolo’s and Grech’s jobs are on the line, and no end of PR posturing of saving Maltese jobs should save them from being axed.

Will the government favour a foreign entity over its taxpayer, sacrificing Maltese filmmakers and jeopardising the whole existence and continuation of the film industry in Malta?

This is an epic failure of such grand proportions that it beggars belief.

This is Johann Grech’s doing – the Labour Party’s marketing guru who seems to have a free hand in deciding the industry’s fate while refusing to answer questions on the millions he has spent and failing any trace of accountability.

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1 month ago

To minimize risks, we always take out insurance.
Unless I need the money for something else?

J. Degabriele
J. Degabriele
1 month ago

And all this talk about filming blockbusters has to stop. One may hope that a film may be one but it’s a blockbuster only if it does really well afterwords. Otherwise it’s just talk.

Out of Curiosity
Out of Curiosity
1 month ago

It is evident that the pockets of the Film Commission are now dry as a result of bad management and the Commissioner’s abusive way of doing things. Surely, this hilarious guy called Johann has no idea of good governance like many other stupid CEOs who are being entrusted by this criminal government to supposedly do a decent job. But if these hybrid of CEOs are the best this criminal Government can offer, no wonder that Malta is in its current poor state of affairs. A criminal Government who appoints incompetent people everywhere you see. The Film Commission is required to go through a full blown Audit by NAO. AUDITOR GENERAL PLEASE TAKE NOTE.

1 month ago

Yet another scam in scamcountry 🙂

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