The film industry is an important part of Romes economy, providing work for thousands of people, but it is facing increasing financial competition from all over the world.

The citys mayor Walter Veltroni (well-known for his passion for the cinema), along with his cultural councilor, the president of Cinecitt studios, and other figures from film, television and video production in the city, launched the Rome cinema film commission on 16 February to encourage more production companies to use Rome as a backdrop.

The new commission hopes to tempt potential film makers to the city by offering them the possibility of filming in the streets of Rome free of charge, and to give 50 per cent discounts on the normal price the city charges for filming in its museums, villas and archaeological sites, provided that the production company is making the majority of its film in Rome. The less the city appears or the less its facilities are used, the smaller the discount will be. The commission is also proposing to assist film and television companies to obtain subsidies from the European Union and finance from private investors.

To film in the streets and squares of Rome requires a permit, which is issued by the city council. In the bad old days, to get such a permit was an arduous bureaucratic task; then in 1996 the city council established a cinema office and the procedure was simplified and speeded up. The number of permits granted increased from 941 in 1997 to a peak of 2,349 in the jubilee year 2000, although they were down last year to 2,311.

The majority of permits are for television documentaries, but they also include large-scale productions such as Martin Scorseses Gangs of New York. Soon to be added to the statistics are Oceans Twelve, starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, due to start filming in Rome in the spring, and two new television series. The first, suitably entitled Rome, will consist of 12 episodes set in first-century AD Rome. The series is to be made at Cinecitt and is a joint venture that includes the participation of Britains national broadcaster the BBC, and it is expected that it will take two years to complete. The second series, entitled Imperium, is to be made at Roma Studios on Via Pontina by Touchstone Television; it will be in six episodes and is due to be completed in six months. Both of these series are due to start filming in the spring or early summer of this year.

Who pays for a permit and how much do they pay? In theory, anyone wishing to set up filming and photographic equipment and occupy public areas, suolo pubblico, should pay, meaning that even the private individual putting a camera on a tripod to take a photograph should have a permit. Many a foreign architectural student has been sent packing by the vigilant city police when found short of the relevant bit of paper.

Payment is calculated at a daily rate based on the square metres to be occupied. Currently the charge varies from 46 to 85 cents per square metre depending on the location and the season. To have the use of a third of Piazza Navona (say 3,000 sqm) will cost in the region of 1,700 per day, plus the space taken up by the vehicles required for generators, dressing rooms, mobile canteens, props and so on. For anyone wishing to film in a museum or a historic villa belonging to the city there is a flat rate of 413 for 24 hours.

The city council only controls some of the locations that make good film sets, so a production company may have to obtain and pay for permission from any number of different organisations before filming can begin. To film in the Vatican City and museums for instance, an application has to be made to the pontifical council for social communications. Filming in most of the citys hundreds of churches means applying to the administrative offices of the diocese of Rome, the vicariato, where staff will advise you about your chances of getting permits and how much if will cost. But not for all churches; for instance permission to film Berninis Cornaro chapel with the statue of S. Teresa in the church of S. Maria della Vittoria depends on the interior ministry. In many other cases permits have to be requested from the culture ministry, while almost all of the privately owned historic palaces, such as Palazzo Doria Pamphilj or Palazzo Colonna, have an administrative office which will handle the application.

The city council cinema office claims that it can release permits for the citys own properties within three or four days, but not many of the other offices work at this speed. It can be several months before a film company manages to assemble all the necessary permits required before filming can begin.

The promoters of the new film commission aim to convince film-makers that in Rome they will find all that they need, including a professional and competent work force. Is the new commission really offering enough to bring in a regular flow of Hollywood stars or will it just be another layer of bureaucracy? Time will tell.

The city council cinema office is at the Cinecitt studios

in Via Tuscolana 1055. It is open on Tuesdays 09.00-13.00

and Thursdays 09.00-17.00, tel. 06 67108166/62 and 06 67102191.

Picture: The city council last year issued 2,311 permits for filming in the streets and squares of Rome.