good morning from filming in jordan
Number crunch: Making Norway work as a filming location
Snow streaks past the plane window as I approach Bergen in western Norway. It’s late March and the weather in London is growing milder but the snow’s a reminder that it’s still a bit chilly in Norway.
The Location Guide has been invited to Norway by the Western Norway Film Commission. I’m joined by Producer David Brown and Location Managers Piers Dunn and Jamie Lengyel. Together we’ll spend a few days looking at what western Norway has to offer as a filming location. David, Piers and Jamie will then share their thoughts with the second annual Western Norway Film Summit in Molde.
We begin in Bergen, which is cold and much quieter than I expect. The first architectural highlight is a block of densely packed pre-20th Century wooden buildings on the city’s waterfront that can’t be more than a few hundred square metres in size. Unfortunately these buildings have been hit hard by fire over the centuries – 90% of Bergen was ruined in 1702.
Bergen was considered for the filming of The Golden Compass, as the story is clearly inspired by Norway and other northern lands. Kollywood, the colloquial name given to productions originating from the Kodambakkam district of Chennai in south-east India, came here in 2010.
Wooden residential homes on the city’s hillsides are tightly clustered and date back to the turn of the 20th Century. These suburbs could easily cater for a World War II-era production, as could the stone church squares and municipal buildings further down the hill that date to the first half of the 20th Century. As it turns out, a couple of TV movies are considering filming here in the summer.
Bergen was considered for the filming of The Golden Compass, as the story is clearly inspired by Norway and other northern lands. Kollywood, the colloquial name given to productions originating from the Kodambakkam district of Chennai in south-east India, came here in 2010. The crew on Ko filmed dance sequences in the harbour area, attracted by the opportunity to show Kollywood audiences something new.
Venture beyond the city and the country’s natural assets take the breath away. The imposing mountain peaks and dramatic fjords of western Norway present what must be some of Europe’s most impressive sights.
So why are we not seeing western Norway more on film? As ever, the answer centres on the finances. Norway remains one of the few European countries that does not offer a national filming incentive to attract the attention of big-budget international feature productions. That’s not to say that it’s never considered as a filming location. It’s scouted relatively routinely, but tends to fall out of contention when the finances are thought about more seriously.
Piers Dunn scouted Bergen a few years ago for The Golden Compass and only a few weeks before we arrive in Bergen he was in Svalbard in the far north for plate shots on another project. He said: “Norway can be the best location to film. But frequently a production will opt for the second or even third most visually suitable location because logistical considerations have to be prioritised.”
There are lots of familiar questions. Can the crew cope with a full international shoot? What are the accommodation costs? Where will the equipment and infrastructure come from? And unless you have a very specific script why come here when many of these questions are more easily answered elsewhere in Europe?
David Brown, Producer
While the lack of incentives is a big issue, the lack of major international productions coming to Norway perpetuates uncertainties about local infrastructure. Risk-averse studio executives are wary of working with local crews who are untested in the international arena, but the only way to avoid this risk is to fly in heads of department and potentially more staff to back them up. This of course cranks up the cost.
Strolling through the city centre in Bergen, I ask David Brown for his view on the city as a filming location. He comments: “It’s a very pretty city and a stunning country, but can you make the economics work? There are lots of familiar questions. Can the crew cope with a full international shoot? What are the accommodation costs? Where will the equipment and infrastructure come from? And unless you have a very specific script why come here when many of these questions are more easily answered elsewhere in Europe?”
Jamie Lengyel agrees that the infrastructure question is an issue: “Perhaps they do need to focus initially on improving their national infrastructure in a way that benefits the domestic industry. That way crew training could improve in a way that’s internationally visible, while immediately benefitting domestic production. Then a few years down the line there could be a financial incentive to attract the international projects. It’s certainly a debate that’s worth having.”
While Bergen has a filmmaking industry and western Norway has a virtual monopoly over the country’s most dramatic scenery, Oslo remains the national production hub and the primary source of crew and equipment. In recent years Norway’s audiovisual industry has seen a fairly even split between domestic and international productions.
Our host Sigmund Holm, of the Western Norway Film Commission, says: “Over the past few years it’s actually been about 50% international films and 50% domestic, but all in all it breaks down to more shooting days for domestic films. International features come to our area mainly because of the iconic and exotic landscape. Others come motivated by our regional film fund Fuzz, which invests a mix of public and equity funding to projects shooting in the area.”
A central advantage of Norway is its convenience from mainland Europe. We left Gatwick shortly after 7pm and were enjoying a nightcap in our Bergen hotel by 11:30. From Bergen it’s only a couple of short hops by air to the kind of scenery Tolkien would have approved of.
Since about 2005 there have been 19 international features that have filmed scenes here, seven of which were co-productions with Norwegian state or regional funds. International commercial projects are more prolific, perhaps because budgetary concerns are less of an issue. An hour’s drive from Molde on the Romsdal Peninsula is the Atlanterhavsvegen (Atlantic Road), a stretch of coastal highway that runs for more than 8km and skips across a series of small islands by seven different bridges, one of which offers a dramatic midair bend that’s a popular feature for commercial filmmakers.
The highway feels rugged and remote, but is well connected to local towns and villages. The Atlantic surf crashes against rocks only a short distance from the tarmac and snow-capped mountains frame the background.
A central advantage of Norway is its convenience from mainland Europe and Sigmund believes that a lack of awareness of this fact among European producers could be costing Norway business. We left Gatwick shortly after 7pm and were enjoying a nightcap in our Bergen hotel by 11:30. From Bergen it’s only a couple of short hops by air to the kind of scenery Tolkien would have approved of and for Europe-based producers it means you don’t lose a day travelling to the best alternatives in the southern hemisphere.
The Western Norway Film Commission and the wider national industry are doing their best to attract bigger productions and they deserve more assistance from the Government in Oslo. An incentive will probably not be immediately forthcoming as Norway isn’t in a position where it desperately needs big-budget productions. But it’s keen to share its spectacular vistas with a global audience and it’s easy to see why.
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good morning from filming in jordan
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