Written by Murray Ashton on Feb 1, 2012. Posted in Interviews

Filming on location in Latvia with Producer Sergei Serpuhov

In the turbulent 1990s Sergei left Latvia and headed to London to experience western living and seek out his fortune. He ended up serving cocktails to celebrities and media professionals at Teatro, a club popular with the industry, which in turn led him to Pinewood Studios.

He spent several years working as a runner, an Assistant Director and a Production Manager before returning to Latvia to start production services in the country pretty much from scratch.

Having worked for somebody else for a number of years, Sergei started Baltic Pine Films in 2008. It’s his own production service company and he's been producing ever since.

What does your region offer filmmakers?

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are on the Baltic coast in north-eastern Europe and are referred to as the Baltic region (not be confused with The Balkans). Latvia is in the middle. We have shot in neighbouring countries in the past but there is very little to be found there that isn't available in Latvia.

The local authorities are friendly and co-operative. Local people are used to film crews.

One would come to Latvia for medieval and 19th Century European architecture, generic contemporary urban looks, Russian or Soviet visuals, castles and mansions, rolling hills, untouched leaf and pine forests, sandy beaches, rivers and lakes, and of course snow from December to March.

Because the country is quite small it never takes more than about 90 minutes to travel to any out-of-town locations. Neighbouring Estonia and Lithuania are, at most, only about a three-and-a-half hour drive.

The local authorities are friendly and co-operative. Local people are used to film crews. The industry has been relatively busy for the least ten years on commercials, TV and feature films, with local and service productions. The crew base is definitely there and the Heads of Department speak English. It is recommended though to bring your Production Designer and Art Director with you on bigger jobs.

You can cheat parts of Riga for Paris, Vienna or Moscow. The seaside town of Jurmala can double for small-town America.

There are two major camera rental companies and two for lighting and grip. The nearest alternate sources would be Finland or Germany if needed. The Riga Motion Picture Studio is a major facility based in the capital. It has two very large sound stages with a water tank and a smaller stage too.

Latvia can provide edit suites and 3D animation facilities, which is of a pretty high standard, but for your grading and online work you would have to go elsewhere.

What locations are most commonly used by film and TV crews?

The medieval look of the Old Town of Riga with its cobbled streets is rather popular, as well as the generic European streets of the capital. Then there are market places, old apartments with a lot of texture, the Gauja National Park’s untouched pine forests, small country cabins and cottages, sandy beaches, and of course the film-crew-friendly International Riga Airport.

What are the rare, more unusual locations in Latvia?

There is a great variety of European locations here, apart from the mountains. You can cheat parts of Riga for Paris, Vienna or Moscow. The seaside town of Jurmala can double for small-town America.

Not many people know of Rundale Castle, which is very similar to St Petersburg’s Royal Winter Palace as it was designed by the same Italian architect. You can get some epic Lord of the Rings-style nature shots while hanging above rivers and forests of the national park in a cable car.

What has been your most difficult location assignment to date and why?

We really struggled to find a lighthouse where the sea is not frozen in winter, because normally it is covered in thick ice. Other difficult ones are where nothing is confirmed till the very last minute. So we often apply for permits for more locations then needed so that we can drop what the Director doesn’t want. It is all do-able, it just requires a bit more sweet-talking to Governors!

What types of production do you work on most and what has been filmed recently?

I work on commercials, documentary reconstruction dramas, TV and feature films. The biggest thing last year was the third season of Wallander, the the high-end BBC drama starring Kenneth Brannagh. The episode titled The Dogs of Riga was directed by Esther May Campbell and produced by Sanne Wohlenberg, a freelancer for Left Bank Pictures in London.

Are there any particular tips that you would like to share about filming in Latvia?

Be aware of the four distinct seasons and the number of hours in the day. Our summers - June to the beginning of September - are pretty hot and sunny. Summer isn’t as good for night shoots as the daylight lasts up to 17 hours, with four hours of ‘magic light’. Winter normally brings a lot of snow from December all the way to the end of March and the temperatures are below zero.

Medical care is of a good standard and no vaccinations are required. Latvia can handle about four large productions at any one time so if other productions are shooting they may end up working with less experienced crews.

All hotels are film-friendly, but the Radisson Blu Elizabete Hotel is top of my list.

Latvia is an EU member and no visas are required for the EU member states or US citizens. Shipping is easy and we handle the freight. Also, best to avoid the tap water.

Which are the best airports to use to film in Latvia and who flies there?

Riga International Airport (RIX) is the one to aim for. Air Baltic covers Europe pretty well. There are also budget airlines.

What are the most film-crew-friendly hotels and where is your favourite wrap party venue?

All hotels are film-friendly but the Radisson Blu Elizabete Hotel is top of my list. It is fairly new, is situated in the city centre and has a large reception and lounge area. It has free WI-FI and it’s great for working and having meetings with people.

The best wrap party venue in my experience was on a river cruise boat that we hired for the Wallander wrap party. You’re doing well if you can keep your balance after a few shots of the famous Latvian Balsam!

Can you tell us about location insurance and possibly examples of costs in your region?

Most of the foreign companies who shoot with us have had their own world-wide cover. All we do is insure local crew, cast, transportation, props and so on.

What do you do with your time off and what would you recommend crew and cast do to visit, have fun and relax?

I usually go for the active type of rest and enjoy long cross-country mountain biking, climbing, football in the summer months and cross-country skiing and snowboarding in winter.

I’d advise foreign crews to get in a car or a train and head to the seaside resort of Jurmala. Have a long walk or cycle on the beach and have lunch at Orizzonte restaurant overlooking the sea bay. Enjoy a classic or jazz music evening in the Dzintari open-air concert hall. Come back to Riga feeling brand new.

If you are still feeling strong then hit the bars and clubs. A winter seaside walk is still nice but be prepared to walk through the snow on the beach!

Thank you.

Click here to contact Sergei.

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