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Overview and productions

Croatia has become one of the world’s most popular international filming locations, and 2021 is shaping up to be one its busiest years with more than 20 international projects already announced.

One of these is ITV Studios and Altitude Television’s spy series The Ipcress File, which filmed in Zagreb, Rijeka and Split this spring. John Hodge has written the drama, with James Watkins directing all six episodes.

“After our great experience with McMafia, with James Watkins directing, we are returning to Croatia for the production of The Ipcress File with the same director,” says producer Paul Ritchie. “We are once more taking advantage of Croatian locations, which will stand for seven different worldwide countries and territories.”

Further international projects filming in Croatia this year include the Netflix crime series Clark, Sweden’s Dramacorp series Hamilton, and UK outfit Eagle Eye’s six-part Hotel Portofino, which has been filming in Opatija (where the titular hotel is located), Rovinj and Lovran, with the support of local outfit Drugi Plan.

“We are finding Croatia extraordinarily versatile in terms of locations, geographical variety and architectural range,” says Walter Iuzzolino, executive producer for Eagle Eye. “The expertise of the crew and local creatives is proving invaluable.”

Netherlands-Belgium-Croatia co-production Crossing shot in the country in May and June. “The film is set in Morocco and Spain, but the filming is being done in Croatia, which is challenging in itself. Still, the experienced and well-prepared crew we’re working with in Croatia make it that much easier,” says Germen Boelens of Amsterdam’s Revolver Films, who is co-producing with Dries Phlypo of Belgium’s A Private View and Sinisa Juricic of local outfit Nukleus Film. “We had a good feeling about it when we did the location scouting on two earlier visits and chose to film in Pula, Rijeka, Zadar and Zagreb.”

Tanja Ladovic Blazevic, head of the Filming In Croatia department of the Croatian Audiovisual Centre, expects the industry to be working at full capacity this year. “We are laying the foundations for expected future growth,” she says. “There is pent-up global demand for high-end content and we intend to help meet it.”

The latest projects build on a strong couple of years for Croatia. Lionsgate’s The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent, starring Nicolas Cage, filmed in and around the walled city of Dubrovnik in October last year with a crew of just over 400. Pre-pandemic, major projects to shoot in Croatia included Amazon Studios and Endgame Entertainment’s romantic drama Bliss starring Salma Hayek and Owen Wilson, HBO series Succession and Lionsgate’s action sequel The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard starring Hayek, Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L Jackson.

“Croatia is a wonderful place to shoot. The crew are fantastic, no nonsense, talented technicians and nothing seemed to be a problem — there were only solutions,” says Matt O’Toole, producer of The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, which shot predominantly in the Istrian coastal town of Rovinj.

“We pretty much shut down the entire town, the local business owners and authorities were a dream to deal with and helped us achieve everything we needed, including some hefty action sequences. We also shot in Zagreb, which again was a great experience,” he adds.

Overview and productions

Locations and permits

Croatia is growing in popularity thanks to a generous filming incentive worth up to 30%, reliable local crews and dramatic and varied backdrops. The latter includes Dubrovnik, which boasts a mix of Roman, medieval, renaissance and baroque architecture, as well as beaches with azure seas, castles, vineyards, cobblestones and snowy peaks. HBO shot several seasons of Game Of Thrones in the city.

“Productions tend to base themselves in Dubrovnik,” says Blazevic. The city has a good infrastructure with an airport and hotels for large crews. But productions need to be careful with set construction and builds, as Dubrovnik is a protected Unesco world heritage site. Croatia’s capital Zagreb and the city of Rijeka are also popular shooting spots.

Several Croatian locations can double for a variety of countries. BBC series McMafia shot Zagreb for Prague, the city’s Dubrava hospital for one in Russia, Johann Franck nightclub for a Tel Aviv nightspot and the lunar-like Pag island doubled for the sands of Egypt. The series also filmed at the seaside resort of Opatija on the Kvarner Gulf, which is known for its Mediterranean climate and historical buildings. “Filming there, you really could be in the south of France, it’s the Croatian Riviera,” says McMafia director Watkins.

Shooting at these locations can be relatively straightforward, say producers, but requires the assistance of experienced local production contacts. “[For The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard], we closed traffic on a bridge and in various towns, for action and stunt-driving scenes,” says Igor A Nola of local outfit MP Film, which gave production service support to The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard and McMafia. “We also managed to close down a state road for five consecutive working days, two weeks in a row. We got huge support from local road authorities, police and community.”

Shooting in the summer, particularly in the coastal towns, can be difficult because of the tourists, so most productions tend to film between October and May. Preparation is key. Depending on the location, it is advisable to talk to local authorities, or even government officials, in advance. For some nationalities, both shooting and work permits are required, as well as visas. With this in mind, hiring the services of a local co-ordinator is recommended.

Infrastructure and crew

Croatia has a track record in global production and there are several full-service production companies in the country. The Croatian Audiovisual Centre assists incoming productions. Crews are highly skilled and reliable, speak English and can service even the most demanding productions. Croatia has a good infrastructure, offering video cameras, sound, lighting and grip equipment through rental houses.

Plans to build a state-of-the-art studio complex near Zagreb are at an advanced stage. Until then, Zagreb-based Jadran Film operates a facility in the city. It has five soundstages, including one with an internal pool.

“[But] there are several smaller stages, as well as warehouses and open lots throughout the country that are regularly adapted by production companies for larger scale shoots,” says Tanja Blazevic, head of Filming In Croatia.

"So with great locations, crew, equipment and casting options, as well as an enticing incentive worth up to 30%, productions can achieve a lot on a smaller scale budget," concludes Bojan Magdic at Blue Sky Films.

Travel and logistics

Croatia lies between central and Eastern Europe, bordering the Adriatic coast. It extends over 57,000 square kilometres and is split into three geographically distinct zones: the Coastal region (including 1,244 islands, of which 48 are inhabited), the Mountain region and the Pannonian region, all well connected by road. Capital Zagreb is the main production centre, so crew, equipment and talent generally need to travel from there. Beaches are a 90-minute drive from the capital and it is possible to go from coast to mountains in around four hours. Dubrovnik is a six-hour drive from Zagreb but there is the option of a flight in under an hour.

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