The Czech Republic has long been recognised as a great place to produce film, TV and commercials because of the expertise of its crew base, the beauty of its locations (notably capital city Prague) and quality of its infrastructure. But aggressive competition from other markets meant that the country’s audiovisual sector finished the last decade in poor shape.
All that changed in 2010 with the introduction of an attractive incentive scheme, offering a 20% tax rebate on production costs and 10% on above-the-line expenses. Within months, the new regime attracted high-profile productions including Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Red Tails and Borgia.
Roll forward five years and the scheme continues to be attractive to international filmmakers. Administered by the Czech Cinematography Fund, the latest round of awards has seen approximately $50m allocated to 71 film and television projects.
Numerous international productions have been tempted in by the incentives and 2013 was a banner year for international productions. Producers from the UK, US, Denmark, Norway, South Korea, France and Germany filmed their projects here, with the majority of productions being striking historical TV series. Film production in the Czech Republic rose 23% that year with most of the increase due to foreign film production, which rose 82%.
Looking ahead, the Czech industry is expecting to see further boosts as a result of a new piece of legislation called the Act on Audiovisual Works. According to Czech Film Commissioner Ludmila Claussová, the Act contains two key changes. The first is that the rebate will no longer be subject to a yearly cap. The second is that rebates will now be allocated throughout the year, with producers able to choose to receive their grants in two parts: once upon completion of filming in the Czech Republic and again after the completion of all Czech production. “The planned changes in the scheme will make the system even friendlier and more flexible for film productions,” she claims. “It will be a great opportunity to show that the Czech film industry is capable of meeting any challenge.”
Productions that have been greenlit to film in the Czech Republic include Lakeshore Entertainment’s Underworld: Next Generation, which was scheduled to shoot in October 2015.
Aside from Underworld, a number of other high-profile productions are indicative of the Czech Republic’s current buoyancy. One is Anthropoid, which tells the story of the assassination of a leading Nazi figure by Czech paratroopers. Produced by LD Entertainment (US) and 22h22 (FR) with Prague-based Lucky Man Films, the film stars Jamie Dornan (50 Shades Of Grey), Cillian Murphy (Batman, Inception) and French actress Charlotte Le Bon (The Hundred-Foot Journey).
Commenting on the project, Richard Wright, Lakeshore Entertainment’s executive VP and head of production on the film, says: “We are really looking forward to bringing Underworld: Next Generation to Prague this fall. The Czech Republic has world-class locations, great production facilities and international-calibre crew, as well as a straight-forward, efficient production rebate. It’s a great place for us to be.”
Summer 2016 saw Vertigo Films' major historical drama Britannia setting up for a lenthy shoot in the country. The series explores the birth of Britain from Roman times. And around the same time, the 10-episode historical series Knightfall - executive produced by actor jeremy renner - was setting up for a six month shoot in Prague.
Also taking advantage of what the country has to offer are The Zookeeper’s Wife, shooting from late September 2015 and produced by Scion Films (UK) and Rowe/Miller Productions (US) along with Czech Anglo Production, and US TV series Legends, produced by Fox 21 for TNT. The latter, which started shooting its second series in Prague on June, is supported by Czech producer Stillking Films.
The 20% production rebate is encouraging numerous countries to shoot here, as are experienced crews and stunning locations. Recently, the incentives have helped bring in the first major Chinese shoot in Summer 2014, the $3m romantic tale Somewhere Only We Know, starring Xu Jinglei.
Casino Royale, the 21st James Bond film starring Daniel Craig, is another action fuelled box-office hit to have been shot in part in the Czech Republic. Locations in and around Prague cannily filled in for a number of settings: the Václav Havel (then-Ruzyne) Airport became Miami International, Army Museum Zizkov transformed into Miami’s Body World exhibition, Strahov Monastery became the UK's House of Commons, and Karlovy Vary and Loket memorably filled in for Montenegro during the film’s climactic scenes.
Other high-profile foreign films that have been shot in Prague recently include Lee Tamahori’s epic action-adventure Emperor and Daniel Espinosa’s serial-killer thriller Child 44, produced by Ridley Scott, Greg Shapiro and Michael Schaefer. Starring Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman and Vincent Cassel. The film wrapped after 71 days shooting in the country with an almost-exclusive Czech crew. Line producer Adam Merims, speaking to Variety magazine, said: “Prague and the Czech Republic had the best mix of varied locations within one hour of the city center and a highly experienced crew base.”
There is no central authority which issues filming permits at the national level in the Czech Republic. Instead, film permits are issued by municipal authorities and other local administrative bodies. These, by and large, welcome filmmakers with an air of hospitality and cooperation in line with the Czech Republic’s reputation as a film friendly country. The Czech Film Commission does not issue filming permits but can provide further information about your chosen locations and relevant authorities. They can also help you find experienced location scouts and managers, production assistants and production service companies who can arrange permits for you.
Permit application must be in Czech and requirements vary, depending on location. If shooting on private property, the production must deal directly with the property owner. With regards to Prague, the country’s capital and principal tourist destination, permits must be acquired from the administrative district you are shooting in. Prague is divided into 3 such districts, with Prague 3 being the most central. Prague 1 is the historical centre. Application for permits must be submitted in Czech at the Town Hall of each district and maps of the filming location must be included. Some locations in Prague, such as Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square and all of the parks are subject to specific conditions and fees.
The general filming permit fee is CZK 20 (roughly USD 1) per square meter per day plus a CZK 200 (USD 9,5) application fee. Large-scale productions may be subject to an additional fee of CZK 10 per square meter per day if they occupy more than 1,000 square meters, shoot three or more consecutive days on the same location, significantly affect public transport, or use special effects. Filming at night is another additional CZK 10 per square meter.
It is recommended you apply for a permit at least 10 working days prior to filming. It can be processed in less than 5 days but additional fees will apply.
Small groups of filmmakers that are not using a tripod and/or do not need any space for their equipment do not need to apply for a permit.
A permit from Prague’s road and street authority, Technická správa komunikací (TSK) will also be necessary for most productions.
Prague offers some of the newest, largest and most sophisticated sound stages in Europe. There are stages for projects of all sizes and all budgets. Barrandov Studios is one of the largest and most well-known film production facilities in Europe, with a tradition dating back to the 1930s. The company has 14 purpose-built soundproof stages and complete support facilities within minutes of downtown Prague. The largest is the 4,000sq m MAX, which served The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Barrandov also has a 160,000sq m backlot which has seen set-builds for A Knight's Tale, Oliver Twist and The Brothers Grimm, among others. The hilltop setting allows for 360-degree shooting and features three pools.
Across town from Barrandov is Prague Studios, another major space supplier. Prague Studios has two stages and a 750 cubic meter water tank. Prague Studios recently hosted Wanted, and two Emmy award-winning series, Dune and Anne Frank: The Whole Story.
In the southern part of the city, Film Studio Gatteo has five sound stages, plus an 18 cubic meter water tank. Also in Prague, KCD Film Studios offers a combined total of 13,000sq m of stages. Near Príbram, just a one-hour drive from the capital, North American Pictures also has five stages, three of which are 930sq m. In addition to these, Prague has many other smaller studios suitable for TV, commercials and photo shoots.
Prague also has many large, empty warehouses and open lots that can be converted to host large-scale builds and shoots.
Big winners as a result of the Czech incentive have included post-production firms like Universal Production Partners (UPP), Avion and SoundSquare as well as Prague’s famous Barrandov Studios. Built in the 1930s, Barrandov is now home to a range of state of the art equipment. With 14 purpose-built soundproof stages and complete support facilities within minutes of downtown Prague, Barrandov has serviced productions like The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian and The Brothers Grimm. More recently, it was used for Child 44 and Serena (both 2014).
Like their colleagues on set, the Czechs working in local post-production facilities are the best in their field. Czech post facilities are as modern as those anywhere and deliver award-winning results. Czech post people speak English so they can work directly with filmmakers to get just the right look.
In addition to providing dailies and digital transfer for productions on location, Czech post facilities have high-end editing suites -- both digital linear and non-linear. Local 3D and 2D animation is state-of-the-art. Czech CGI people can add any visual effects that filmmakers chose not to capture on film.
The Czech Republic has a long tradition of visual creativity. Czech animators such as Karel Zeman, Jiri Trnka and Jan Svankmajer are known throughout the world. The current generation of animators and special-effects people are building on their traditions today.
Czech sound engineers are accustomed to recording live sound on location -- one of the best, Petr Forejt, was nominated for an Oscar® in 2008 for his contribution to Wanted. Local studios offer complete sound processing, from composition to recording to mastering. Prague has many recording facilities, including those at Barrandov Studios, the studios of the Czech Philharmonic, Soundsquare and Cinemasound, to name just a few. And Czech symphony musicians are in constant demand to record film scores like those for Being John Malkovich, The Assassination Of Richard Nixon, and The Lives Of Others.
The Czech Republic’s foremost filmmaking attraction is undoubtedly the capital city Prague. Its period architecture has been the main draw for foreign filmmakers since the 1980s. The city has one of the best preserved historical centres in Europe - a unique mixture of architectural styles: medieval castles and stone bridges, Gothic cathedrals, Baroque churches, Renaissance palaces and Modernist buildings. Locations of note are Konopište, Ceský Krumlov, Prague Castle, Divadlo na Vinohradech, Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, among countless others.
Filmmakers have often come to Prague to shoot sights and scenery that no longer exist in Berlin, London, Paris and Vienna, at a fraction of what it would cost to shoot in those cities. Not only does the Czech Republic offer producers considerable savings over other locations, it also provides the convenience of exteriors and stages all in one place.
In Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Prague was disguised as Russia, with Prague Castle being passed off as the Kremlin and the Old Sewage Cleaning System as the tunnels under a Russian prison, where IMF agents break Ethan Hunt out of prison.
Elsewhere in the Czech Republic, the exclusive spa city of Karlovy Vary is a recurring location in many major foreign films. In Casino Royale it stood in for the Montenegro resort where 007 confronts the film’s terrorist Le Chiffre.
The UNESCO heritage castle area of Cesky Krumlov has been transformed into a German medieval town with a big market place populated by 250 extras, 20 horses, sheep, hens and ducks for the upcoming epic action-adventure film Emperor directed by Lee Tamahori and staring Adrien Brody.
A number of other large-scale film productions have also taken advantage of the Czech Republic's picturesque countryside and historical landmarks. Within easy reach of Prague is the highest density of period castles and chateaux in Europe. The beautiful lakes, rolling hills, deep forests, and snow-capped mountains of the Czech countryside go through four distinct seasons, so filmmakers can capture any time of year.
Examples of what is on offer both in and outside of Prague can be found at Czech Film Locations, which have serviced some of the bigger feature films to be produced in the country. Their extensive library covers everything from cityscapes to castles and remote churches. Location Service also have extensive archives and significant experience. A full list of location scouts and agencies is provided by the Czech Film Commission.
In the last 20 years, the surge in international productions shooting in the Czech Republic has meant the adoption of the most up-to-date production and post-production technology and standards. Czech film professionals have learned from some of the world's leading directors and cinematographers.
The Czech Republic has all the equipment and film stock to fulfill the demands of any production. Leading equipment suppliers such as Arri, Vantage, Panavision and Panalux have offices in Prague. Local suppliers can provide filmmakers with all manner of lenses and cameras (35 mm and 16 mm, digital and HD, even underwater units), lighting, grips, dollies, cranes and tracks. The Czech Republic also has local suppliers of Kodak and Fuji film stock, as well as labs that can develop dailies overnight.
Barrandov Studios' lab in particular is a world-class facility which provides developing and processing, Telecine transfer, optical effects and editing. Among the many major productions that have used the facility in recent years are “Blade II”, “Oliver Twist” and “Wanted”. The Barrandov lab can also produce release prints and laser subtitling as well as restore archive films.
Czech suppliers also have portable generators, production vans, make-up trailers, and the trucks and personnel to get all the equipment to the location and back safely. Last but not least, there are fleets of star trailers of the highest quality to keep A-list cast comfortable on location. Czech rental houses have a strong reputation throughout the region, supplying shoots not only in the Czech Republic but also in other European countries.