Written by David Lewis on Sep 18, 2008. Posted in On Location

On location in Prague

The Czech Republic's Prague has attracted media attention recently as the location for some high profile films, featuring A list celebrities. However, Prague's rise to prominence as a location is being hampered by global economic events and a lack of financial incentives for international filmmakers.

Romana Paskova, marketing manager for Stillking Films, says the number of films using Prague as a location has dropped in recent years. Paskova attributes this to a number of factors including the lack of incentives, the weak dollar and the actor’s strike in the United States.

It is important to note, though, that Prague is not alone in experiencing the knock-on effects of economic problems in the US. Dusana Chrenekova, spokesperson for Barrandov Studios, points out that there are fewer projects being shot across the world this year. Chrenekova adds: “We see this more as a result of the strikes than of the global recession. That is why we expect a fast return of the situation as it was before the strikes once the situation is resolved.”

Judit Varga of Pioneer Productions in Hungary says the film industry there has been affected by the global downturn and lack of American films this year and highlights a marked contrast with the ‘fantastic year’ experienced in 2007.

As for other neighboring countries, Charlie Woebcken, CEO at Studio Babelsberg in Germany, explains: “At the beginning of 2008, we analysed the business impact of the WGA strike and the weak dollar. It looked likely that several US productions would remain in the US because of that, but we now recognise that a high number of US productions want to shoot abroad again. There are quite a number of American filmmakers focussing now on an end of this year and beginning of next year rally.”

While the economy has been an issue for most regions, one thing that continues to differentiate Prague and the Czech Republic from its neighbours is incentives and benefits. There are currently no financial incentives on offer for foreign filmmakers, although industry insiders are optimistic about developments once the politicians return from their summer break. Ludmila Claussova at the Czech Film Commission explains: “As for the financial incentives issue, there are negotiations with the Ministry of Industry and Trade (which understands the necessity of an incentive for the Czech film industry as the countries we compete with have incentives) and the Ministry of Finance (which is against almost any kind of incentive for any industry sector - the recent tax politic of our government). The negotiations will continue after the holiday.”

It is important not to underestimate Prague’s place in the film industry – and the rate of production amongst makers of commercial films also shows no sign of decreasing. Figures calculated by the APA (the Czech Audiovisual Producer's Association) based on data from their members show that the volume/turnover of commercial productions has been very constant over the past six years.

Chrenekova observes: “Thanks to its filmmaking tradition Prague has very experienced film professionals. This fact, together with high quality stages and set construction makes of it one the most attractive places for shooting commercials in Europe.”

Paskova agrees: “In general, Prague is still a very popular filming location for commercials in Central Europe. The interest of clients/advertising agencies in coming to Prague to film commercials is still very high.” She adds, however, that “As the Czech Koruna grows stronger, we are becoming rather expensive and the pressure on budgets is immense. When bidding we focus on other aspects of our services: exceptional infrastructure, experienced staff, great post production services, quality casting agencies.”

Petr Keller, Managing Director and Executive Producer for Starlite Productions says Charles Bridge continues to attract foreign filmmakers. In fact the bridge featured in a commercial Starlite itself recently shot for David Jones AMEX. For this commercial, Director Benjamin Sounders shot on many locations including Old Town Square and Charles Bridge. The main actor was Australian top model Megan Gale.

As for specific locations which continue to attract the whole spectrum of filmmakers, Paskova points to the historical town including Prague Castle and The Charles Bridge, adding that the more industrialised parts such as Karlin, Vysocany, and Liben are also increasingly being used. Chrenekova adds that bridges over the river Moldau as well as the historic center are widely used.

There is a view that the Czech Republic originally led the way in terms of attracting filmmakers to Eastern Europe. However, the lack of incentives may see it losing this advantage. David Hancock, Head of Film and Cinema for Screen Digest observes: “The Czech Republic was one of the early pioneers in this region to attract film productions, based largely around a good infrastructure and lower production costs but the Czech Republic quickly started to lose out to Hungary and Germany (with new tax mechanisms in place).”

If the region’s neighbours are anything to go by then a programme of incentives would certainly improve Prague’s success as a location. Varga says: “Since Hungary introduced a tax incentive system in 2003, the overall spending on film production has increased significantly.”

Woebcken emphasises: “The German Federal Film Fund (DFFF) has made Germany a much more attractive location for international high-profile productions. The DFFF offers up to 20% production cost reimbursement on below and above the line items. This subsidy system strengthens the local as well as the international industry. Thanks to the successful effects of the DFFF and as a result of the continuing trend to produce films outside the US, we are expecting positive business growth in the next few years.”

There is no shortage of high profile films currently in production and recently completed that feature Prague as a location. In particular, Paskova observes: “The new Paramount film Gi Joe: Rise of Cobra starring Dennis Quaid and Sienna Miller has been filmed in Prague, co-produced by Matthew Stillman and David Minkowski for Stillking. Stephen Sommers, the director, has had a great experience in Prague whilst filming Van Helsing. Prague was a natural choice for him as he needed a historical European town, a location with infrastructure he could rely on - no bad surprises. Moreover, two of the current blockbusters were also filmed in Prague and other locations in the Czech Republic: Wanted and Prince Kaspian, both co-produced by Stillking.”

Claussova maintains that despite the continuing debate over financial incentives, the interest in Prague as a location is not declining. There is little doubt, however, that when the politicians return from their summer holidays, the city’s film industry will want to see the issue of incentives back on the agenda.

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