There was a real buzz around Tallinn when Christopher Nolan arrived in June last year to shoot Tenet for Warner Bros. The busy Laagna Road running through the city was partially shut down for a few days to allow filming, although not quite as long as the three or four weeks for which the production team had originally hoped.
The road closure is an example of just how much Estonia’s government departments and its film institute went out of their way to accommodate Christopher Nolan’s thriller, which stars John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh. The government even approved a one-off rise in the amount of funding available through its 30% rebate. Tenet was approved for $5.5m (€5m) on its projected $18m (€16m) spend in Estonia; previously available funding was capped at $2.2m (€2m).
Although this preferential treatment is not extended to all international productions, the 30% incentive is still a major draw — as is the speed with which it is delivered. The report on costs is audited within 30 days of the submission and the payment is made up to 10 days thereafter.
Ben Parker’s Second World War thriller Burial, starring Tom Felton and produced by the UK’s Stigma Films with local outfit AllFilm, is one of the most high-profile international projects to apply for the incentive. It is filming in remote locations throughout the country, doubling for Germany. The film tells the fictional story of Russian soldiers trafficking Hitler’s remains back to Moscow. Filming of these projects has been helped by low Covid-19 numbers in the country.
Peeter Rebane’s Cold War thriller Firebird shot in Estonia pre-pandemic. “The incentive was one of the pivotal points for us shooting in Estonia, but we were also drawn to the locations. We shot in more than 40 places across the country,” says producer Brigita Rozenbrika of US-UK firm The Factory. The film is a co-production with the UK’s No Reservations Entertainment.
Tallinn’s well-preserved mix of medieval locations coupled with Soviet-era monumental architecture proved particularly useful as a backdrop. The film split its time between the capital and the countryside and filming proved straightforward.
Much like with accessing the incentive, securing permits is usually quick and easy, thanks partly to the fact “we are obsessed with technology and e-everything. Most things can be sorted online and red tape is minimal,” says Nele Paves, film commissioner at the Estonian Film Institute.
The cast and crew of Firebird came from 13 different countries, but the majority of heads of department and crew were local. “They did a fantastic job, especially the older generation of filmmakers who have a thorough schooling from the Soviet film industry times, making them very reliable and able to solve the toughest of situations efficiently,” says director Rebane.
Other international productions to shoot recently in Estonia include Henrik Ruben Genz’s First World War drama Erna At War, a co-production between Denmark’s Nimbus Film, Belgium’s Entre Chien & Loup and local outfit Nafta Film, which shot from September last year in and around Tartu, the country’s second largest city.
A major new studio facility, Tallinn Film Wonderland, is due to open in 2022. It will have three soundstages and is billed as the largest studio complex in the Baltic region.
Estonian crews often speak two languages, including English, with Russian, German or Finnish. Its small population is reflected in the compact yet experienced film and TV crew base. “As of now we can service one to three major productions at the same time, depending on the scale,” says the Estonian Film Institute’s Nele Paves. Most productions come for the locations: there are no major studio facilities in the country until Tallin Film Wonderland opens in the north of the city in 2022.
Estonia is not yet directly accessible via flights from the US, but straightforward connections are available from various European travel hubs. There are regular ferry services between Tallinn, Helsinki and Stockholm. St Petersburg is accessible by boat or train.
First person to contact
Nele Paves, commissioner of Film Estonia, Estonian Film Institute firstname.lastname@example.org