Shooting a movie in Eastern Europe has never been easier. Ten years after Hungary pioneered tax incentives to lure Hollywood and international productions to Budapest, a number of other Eastern European countries are lining up to offer producers rebates on local spend and help in finding stunning locations.
English-speaking crews, local production companies — many of them founded by British or U.S. film professionals — and national film commissions staffed by industry insiders tasked with attracting business are becoming the norm in a region once considered difficult or inaccessible.
Producers who for many years had only one or two choices based on cost and convenience — Prague or Budapest — now can pick and choose locations from the Baltic states in the north to the Balkans in the south, all of which are competing to lure productions and the dollars they bring with them. Tax rebates and incentives worth at least 20 percent of local spend have become standard in many Eastern European countries, whether or not they are part of the European Union, and those that do not offer them are either planning to or, like Macedonia, emphasizing already low local rates of taxation, costs and services.
Recent shoots: Child?44, starring Tom Hardy
Incentives: A 20?percent rebate on local spend applies to both Czech and international productions. Minimum local qualifying spend for movies is around $800,000.
Facilities: Barrandov Studios, a 20-minute drive from downtown Prague, offers a 44,000-square-foot MAX stage and a 40-acre backlot. There is also Prague Studios, which provides nearly 80,000 square feet of soundstages with another 25,000 to be added this year.
The pitch: “We were very pleased to receive state incentives as well as a grant for partial co-production,” says Eva Juel Hammereich, Danish producer of supernatural thriller The Shamer’s Daughter. “Without that support, the film could not exist.”
Recent shoots: Indian producer-director Sajid Nadiadwala is filming his Bollywood action movie Kick in Warsaw.
Incentives: No tax incentives but European co-productions can get grants of up to $650,000; non-European projects can receive up to $490,000.
Facilities: Warsaw’s WFIDF Documentary and Feature Film Production Co. is the country’s largest studio facility; Lodz Film Center has 7,000 square feet of soundstages; Alvernia Studios offers film servicing and investment in productions.
The pitch: Says Krzysztof Solek, head of Film Polska Productions: “When we heard that Nadiadwala planned to shoot his newest blockbuster in Europe, we decided with our partners to focus all activities on convincing him that Warsaw is a great place to make this movie at a very high, international level.”
Recent shoots: HBO’s sword and sorcery juggernaut Game of Thrones; Tom Fontana’s period series Borgia.
Incentives: Croatia launched a 20 percent cash rebate scheme in 2012. Minimum qualifying spends are relatively low: $360,000 for features; $180,000 for made-for-TV films; around $135,000 per episode for TV.
Facilities: Croatia’s strength lies more in its experienced, English-speaking crews and local production partners than in studios.
The pitch: Rick McCallum, Prague-based producer of the Canal+ TV series Borgia, says he has been impressed with Croatia’s lack of bureaucracy: “This is the first time we’ve shot Borgia in Croatia. The rebate was approved by the AV Center and we should get that within three months of wrapping shooting.”
Recent shoots: Gentlemen & Gangsters, a $13 million Swedish TV series; U.S. miniseries The Assets
Incentives: A 20 percent tax incentive was approved in January, with rebates payable to approved projects that meet cultural criteria and are teamed up with a local tax-paying entity.
Facilities: Vilnius Film Cluster, which opened in April, is the newest studio complex in the Baltic region. The $1.8?million conversion of a Soviet-era sports complex near the city’s international airport has an 11,800-square-foot soundstage, a three-wall green-screen room and the largest chroma-key greenscreen in the region.
The pitch: “The introduction of tax incentives has sharply increased interest in filming in Lithuania,” says Rolandas Kvietkauskas, director of the Lithuanian Film Centre. “We have approved three projects and are in intensive talks with producers from the U.K., Japan, Germany and Spain.”
Recent shoots: 20th Century Fox’s Spy, starring Melissa McCarthy and Jude Law; Paramount and MGM’s Hercules, starring Dwayne Johnson
Incentives: An E.U.-approved system of tax rebates of 20 percent of local spend and further allowances on project spending outside of Hungary.
Facilities: Major studios include Origo, formerly known as Raleigh Studios; recently modernized Korda Studios, which boasts the largest purpose-built soundstage in the world (64,000 square feet) and Stern Film Studio, which has a 98-square-foot heated pool.
The pitch: Says Adam Goodman of Mid Atlantic Films, a Budapest-based
production company that services Hollywood shoots: “The Hungarian incentive is very versatile; you can take your local crew and equipment to film outside the country and still have those costs qualify for the rebate. Even without the rebate, Hungary’s local crew remains two or three times cheaper than the U.S. or U.K.”
Five Hot Eastern European Titles at Cannes: From Ukrainian political drama to Lithuanian noir, the Slavic nations are making a strong showing in Cannes.
Leviathan (Competition), Directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev
Cannes regular Zvyagintsev, whose last film, Elena, won a special jury prize in the Un?Certain Regard sidebar in 2011, returns with another unflinching examination of despair in contemporary Russia. A deceptively simple story with larger ramifications, Leviathan centers on a car mechanic and his wife who fight back against a corrupt mayor intent on ruining their business.
Maidan (Special Screening), Directed by Sergei Loznitsa
The recent upheaval in Ukraine — which began in November as a protest over a broken promise to forge closer ties between Ukraine and Europe — is chronicled in this timely doc that is sure to generate buzz along the Croisette. Director Loznitsa made his name as a documentary filmmaker before moving into features, but here he returns to his nonfiction roots two years after his grim wartime drama In the Fog competed for the Palme d’Or.
Red Army (Special Screening), Directed by Gabe Polsky
The transformation of Red Army ice hockey team captain Slava Fetisov from Soviet hero to enemy of the people is sure to attract strong interest from buyers and audiences. And in fact Polsky’s doc about Cold War culture and politics as seen through the lens of Russia’s national obsession with ice hockey already has been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics for North America, Eastern Europe and Asia. As Polsky, the son of Russian immigrants to the U.S., says, it is not so much about hockey as “a very deep and emotional look into the Russian soul.”
The Gambler (Market Title), Directed by Ignas Jonyas
This Lithuanian market offering, which will be repped in Cannes by Wide Management, takes a deeply cynical look at the dark side of human nature. When down-on-his-luck emergency services medic Vincentas hits upon a moneymaking racket that calculates the odds of hospital patients surviving operations, the idea soon becomes a nationwide weekly sweepstakes. There’s been keen interest in buying the domain name deadbook.lt referenced in the film, but Jonyas says it’s not for sale.
The Judgment (Market Title), Directed by Stefan Komandarev
Bulgarian director Komandarev won international festival kudos for his 2008 debut feature The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner, a light-hearted road movie. The Judgment is a much darker story that Paris’ Premium Films will be offering at the market. The stark drama tells the story of a debt-ridden widower who turns to smuggling immigrants over the rough Turkish-Bulgarian border in order to survive.