The Flemish Masters were centre-stage at TV Drama Vision, the international conference and marketplace for drama series at the Göteborg Film Festival in January. Speakers from across the sector reflected on the region’s rich creative talent, and outlined the contribution Flanders can make to international co-productions, both on-screen and behind the scenes.

The Belgian Tax Shelter plays an important role in supporting co-productions with Flanders, but the organisations that bring in the money tend to work in the background. One of these companies is Flanders Tax Shelter, which supports around 100 projects a year. In 2023, it put around €22 million into audiovisual and other eligible projects.

To put that in context, the Belgian Tax Shelter represents €200 million in finance each year, and that is huge for small country.

Pieter Dewinter, Flanders Tax Shelter

No strings attached

Dewinter went on to explain how the Tax Shelter differs from tax credits, lottery funding and other public incentives, which generally come with a range of caps, conditions and uncertainties.

“The Tax Shelter is an unlimited fund, and it doesn’t involve a long or complex application process, after which you may or may not receive the necessary funding,” he said. “It is pretty much unconditional and unlimited, and that makes it very attractive for international producers to come to Belgium.”

There are rules that must be followed, of course, but most of these fall to the Belgian co-producer in any project. “Once an international co-producer determines how much their project will spend in Belgium, and which Belgian partners will be involved, they can easily determine the amount of Tax Shelter funding available,” Dewinter said.

Roughly speaking, every €2 of Belgian spend unlocks €1 of Tax Shelter funding. “The Belgian spend means all Belgian crew, cast, services and suppliers who invoice to the Belgian production company,” Dewinter explained. “And there is no requirement to make that spend in Belgium. You can have a Belgian crew with Belgian technical equipment, and shoot an entire film in Sweden, and that will be counted as Belgian spend.”

There are other costs to be taken into account, of course, and the Belgian investors need to be paid back from the project. “So, the net advantage for a foreign co-producer at the moment is about 35-40% of the Belgian spend,” Dewinter said.

Positive cashflow

Among the main advantages of the Tax Shelter are its flexibility and easy cashflow. For example, with a classic tax rebate, a producer will get the money back some time after the expenses have been incurred, while the Belgian Tax Shelter usually pays up-front.

“We are currently working on a co-production which has around €3 million in Belgian spend, for a little over €1m in Tax Shelter, and that money is available in advance,” said Dewinter. “That was one of the main reasons for the international producer coming to Belgium for post-production. The cash was available, and there was no need to pay interest on an advance.”

After 20 years of activity, the resources provided by the Belgian Tax Shelter have had a dramatic effect on the audiovisual landscape in Flanders.

The Tax Shelter has resulted in a lot of professionalisation in the sector, and it enables companies like Flow Postproduction and LITES to work at the top international level.

Managing partner Pieter Dewinter

Then, at the other end of the scale, it has helped young directors and producers to start their first projects. “That might be with a budget of €40-50,000, and they can do that because the Tax Shelter gives them the additional push they need,” Dewinter said.