The swords and sandals for Ridley Scott’s Gladiator 2 were put into storage and the sets mothballed in the late summer of 2023 as the Hollywood strikes shut down production in Malta. Nonetheless, everything is ready for when shooting resumes and the optimism within the Maltese industry is palpable.
The Gladiator sequel is one of a string of big-budget studio or streamer-backed movies to have shot in Malta over the past two years, including Jurassic World: Dominion, which unleashed dinosaurs in Valletta, and Scott’s Napoleon. The local service producer for Gladiator 2 is Winston Azzopardi’s Latina Pictures.
European TV projects continue to shoot on the island — season three of The Madame Blanc Mysteries was in production in Gozo in September 2023, made by UK outfit Clapperboard Studios with support from Channel 5. A new TV version of the much-filmed Alexandre Dumas swashbuckler The Count Of Monte Cristo is also due to come to the island.
Meanwhile, in late June 2023, Malta Film Commission signed a memorandum of understanding with the British Film Commission aiming to boost commercial and creative exchanges between the two partners. The UK-Malta pact was signed during the first Mediterrane Film Festival, another initiative aimed at promoting Malta internationally as a film hub.
Last year, a reported 24 productions arrived on the island, generating more than $89.3m (€85m) in inward investment, and film commissioner Johann Grech has announced public funding in excess of $36.8m (€35m) to build two new soundstages and modernise existing facilities at Malta Film Studios.
“The number of historical buildings that are preserved, if you’re doing a period piece, is fabulous,” says Napoleon producer Mark Huffam, who praises the “aggressive” work of Malta Film Commission in courting new films and TV dramas.
The water work for Paramount and MTV’s Yellowstone spin-off 1923 was done in Malta, while Universal’s The Last Voyage Of The Demeter used the water tanks at Malta Film Studios, among other locations, where the eponymous ship was constructed.
“We want to create a world-class film industry in Malta,” asserts Grech. “Apart from having a very strong cash rebate programme, we have excellent crews.”
Grech is not just bringing international projects to Malta. He is encouraging film tourism to celebrate the legacy of previous productions that have shot on the island, among then Munich, Midnight Express, Troy and Gladiator. Malta also stood in for Jerusalem in World War Z and was a key location for HBO’s Game Of Thrones.
The film commission has started promoting the Valletta Film Trail, which takes in 21 locations around the city including the pub where Gladiator star Oliver Reed took his last drink.
First person to contact: Johann Grech, Malta film commissioner: firstname.lastname@example.org
Middle East stand-in
Malta is known widely as a suitable double for Middle Eastern locations, with the region’s classic architecture in the historic city of Valletta and former capital Mdina, as well as in the surrounding countryside. To the north, St Julian’s is more modern and a centre for tourism. Plans are now being considered for studio development on the island to provide soundstage facilities and boost Malta’s all-round, versatile appeal.
Malta Film Commission is the first point of contact for filming on location in the country. Johann Grech has led the organisation since late 2017 — as a former head of government marketing for the office of Malta’s prime minister, the commission has even closer ties with the government.
“Producers have often filmed in Malta before,” says Grech. “Sometimes they come with a specific location in mind, but they will also use our suggestions. It depends on the script and they often use our library pictures.”
Malta is 27 kilometres long and 14 kilometres wide. It takes 45 minutes to drive from one end of the island to the other, allowing crews to shoot multiple locations in one day. Valletta is a short taxi ride from the airport, and all the major hotels are within a short drive of the airport and popular nightspots.
Malta is a small, compact island and easy to get around. One of its main attractions is the ability to double for elsewhere. Munich director Steven Spielberg used different parts of the island to stand in for Israel, Greece, Italy and Spain.