The country of Georgia, located to the East of Turkey and South of Russia, is pushing itself forward as an attractive production location.
With its combination of exquisite architecture, dramatic mountain scenery and Black Sea coastline, it undoubtedly offers a wide range of great backdrops – all within a relatively small distance of each other.
The main hub for the media industry is capital Tbilisi, an attractive city with a population of just over 1 million. Here you can find decent hotels and international transport links.
There is also a film/TV tax rebate law in place. For information on what the territory has to offer, a good starting point is The Georgian Film Commission (GFC), which operates under the auspices of the Georgian National Film Centre. The GFC can advise companies on the rebate, permitting, locations and also introduce local production partners.
“The best kept secret is Georgia. It blows anywhere else out of the water in terms of value for money, highly motivated committed crews, amazing landscapes and cities to shoot and a healthy governmental supportive approach, not only in terms of finance but access and help with military hardware, well trained extras and a generally can do attitude. The tax credit works brilliantly and the Film Fund is able to invest and there are regional funds too," Mike Downey, producer and president of the European Film Academt tells KFTV.
Georgia hasn’t hosted many high-profile international productions as yet, but a few examples of projects that have visited the country are: 5 Days of August by Renny Harlin; Chantrapas by Otar Ioseliani; Since Otar Left by July Bertuceli and Aviatrix of Kazbek by Ineke.The country also hosted the Indian film Kanche.
"In the last 10 years I have made more than half a dozen films in Georgia and Tbilisi and have never been let down. With my partner Vladimer Katcharava of 20 Steps production we worked on Lost in Karastan, starring Matthew Macfadyen and Noah Taylor; How To Fake a War directed by Rudolph (son of Werner) Herzog, starring Katherine Parkinson, as well as local production hits, Dede, Shindisi Heroes, and The President by Mohsen Makhmalbaf,” says Downey at the EFA.
In terms of permitting, the GNFC says the general rule is that “you don't need a permit to film in Georgia”. It goes on to say that there are “no filming restrictions in Georgia. Except for the places of strategic importance, in that case we will have to refer the address and ask for a permission”.
The film-friendly regime means places like the subway and airport can be used for filming. Emerge Film Solutions warns, however, that producers should plan ahead if they want access to special locations or are planning complex shoots. “More complicated shoots requiring street closures or large setups can usually be permitted within 3 days. The police department assists with traffic control. Permits for filming ancient churches and monasteries are possible but require more lead time.”
Georgia is not especially well-known for its studios. But it does boast Kartuli Pilmi, also known as J.S.C. Georgian Film. Founded in 1921, the studio is one of the world's oldest film studios and claims to have produced “800 feature, made-for-TV and short films, 600 documentaries, and 300 animation movies. During Soviet times, the studio was one of the most active places for film production”.
Sitting on 24 acres of prime land in Tbilisi, it offers several sound stages, recording and editing facilities, various production services, modern equipment and professional crews.
Recent productions to have been based out of the studio include Michel Hazanavicious’ $30m war drama The Search, which competed in Cannes during 2014. Other studios reported to be up and running in Georgia include Caucasian FILMODROM, Studio CGC (Caucasus Global Cinema), Studio Films House and the Georgian Film Joint-Stock Company. But it would be best to check in with the GFC on this subject.
Georgia is known for its beautiful mountains, Black Sea coastal region and orthodox churches. Key locations of interest include the Caucasus Mountains, where you’ll find mountaintop churches, picturesque villages and ski resorts.
There are also national parks such as Borjami-Kharagauli, Lagodekhi, Vashlovani and Tusheti. Capital Tbilisi has interesting locations including the Old Quarter, Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Holy Trinity Cathedral, Sioni Cathedral and Narikala Fortress. Legacies of the Soviet era are formidable-looking apartment blocks and the unusual Bank of Georgia HQ.
Georgian Film Studio says “Georgia’s diverse landscape is rich with locations: mountains, deserts, subtropics, seashore; places that look (post) Soviet, Eastern European, Middle Eastern, even Afghanistan-like; old castles (type Svaneti or Tusheti in Google), dramatic views matching those of New Zealand, and easy and inexpensive access to the national parks, subways, train stations, and airports.” In terms of climate, Georgia generally has hot summers and mild winters with snow common in mountain areas.
The best months to film are May, June and September because they offer long shooting days without the heat and humidity of July and August. The country has good roads though travelling in the mountains can be slow.
Because of its long cinematic tradition, Georgia has decent English-speaking crews though some specialist talent will need to be flown in. The country also has all the standard camera, grip and lighting equipment that a production is likely to need.
If specialised gear needs to be brought in from abroad, it’s fairly easy to get through customs compared to neighbouring countries. The industry is, however, quite small – so if you are aware that big productions have already gone into Georgia before you it might limit what is available.
For onscreen talent, Georgia can offer a large pool of caucasian and Middle Eastern-looking extras.