Jodie Foster has been spotted dipping into Iceland’s only arthouse cinema, Reykjavik’s Bio Paradis, several times in 2022 and 2023. Foster had been living in Iceland for True Detective: Night Country, season four of HBO’s crime drama, based in the country from June 2022 to April 2023.
The show’s move to Iceland, doubling for Alaska, is not only notable for star-spotting reasons. Luring in this big production — the largest in Iceland’s history — finally convinced the government to bump up its rebate from the previous 25% to a long lobbied for 35% for bigger shoots.
True Detective shot at various locations in the north and south of the country, as well as around Reykjavik. The production took advantage of two studio complexes on the outskirts of the capital: Fossa Studios and Baltasar Kormakur’s RVK Studios. Both spaces are especially energy efficient thanks to Iceland’s famous geothermal heating.
Truenorth is the Icelandic partner on True Detective — the company also worked on Netflix’s Gal Gadot spy film Heart Of Stone, FX’s mystery series Retreat, Hulu’s Washington Black series and Sony’s Kraven The Hunter. Other recent shoots include Netflix’s The Witcher: Blood Origin, Paramount/eOne’s Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves and Danish filmmaker Ulaa Salim’s Eternal.
Iceland’s production sector is busier than ever, with government figures released in December 2022 noting the turnover of the film and TV industry has increased by 85% over the last five years. This is especially impressive given the statistics include the pandemic years, when Iceland remained open for business. Turnover for film and TV is about $219m (isk30bn) annually, with about 4,000 people in the small nation working in film production.
Iceland has, for decades, had a very healthy industry, thanks to a rebate first introduced in 1999 — one of the earliest in Europe — and welcoming a wide range of productions including Game Of Thrones, Succession, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty and Prometheus. The new 35% rebate was unveiled in May 2022 — all productions qualify for the 25% but special criteria must be met to secure the full 35%. The reimbursement is not capped, and it is estimated there will be more than $44m (isk5.7bn) for reimbursements in 2023.
True Detective also used RVK Studios’ stage one to build an Arctic research station at the centre of the plot, the biggest set ever erected in Iceland. Kormakur has shot some of his own projects at the facility, including Trapped and Katla for Netflix, as well as part of his new feature Touch, while the studio also hosted scenes for Netflix’s Luther: The Fallen Sun.
UK producer Mike Goodridge of Good Chaos has filmed twice in Iceland: near Myvatn in the north for Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson’s first English-language feature Northern Comfort, and then at RVK Studios for Kormakur’s Touch.
“Both shoots went incredibly smoothly,” Goodridge recalls. “The crew is so experienced and amazing to work with. One thing I love about working with Icelanders is that they aren’t creating drama — there’s lots of pragmatism and dedication to their craft.” He adds that RVK Studios is “an absolutely top‑notch soundstage” and that the Japanese cast for Touch loved Reykjavik, with its cosmopolitan shops and restaurants only a 10-minute drive from the studio. “It’s very easy to shoot there.”
Iceland offers an abundance of striking filming locations, including black volcanic beaches, white glaciers, volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and lava fields.
"You can duplicate everything in Iceland, including Mars. We have canyons in the north east, which blow peoples minds, but also cities that can double for Chicago," says location manager Alfred Gislason, who worked on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Oblivion.
"The contrast of the Icelandic nature and sheer beauty can be overwhelming many times for the directors and the creatives when going on a location scout. It's like taking kids to the toy store. They want everything, and then change their selection again and again," says Bui Baldvinsson at experienced local production servicer providers Hero Productions. "Accessibility to our glaciers and ice caves can be fairly easy with the correct transportation and short distances between locations is what makes Iceland perfect for filming."
"We shot Love on Iceland all over the country at the glaciers and lagoons," says US producer Andrew Gernhard. "We were able to capture the country in all its glory. We even took helicopters to an ice cave without any problems."
Getting permits is generally straightforward, but can be a challenge in protected locations, which is why it's best to "team up with a local production service provider who can assist you with the incentive applications and location permits, saving your project a lot of time and money," says Hrefna Hagalin at local production service providers Arctic Productions, who have been assisting with commercials, documentaries and a Japan TV travel show that filmed in the ice caves on Vatnajökull glacier.
Iceland has also doubled as the Himalayas, the Pacific Island of Iwo Jima, Siberia, Greenland, Antarctica, various Scandinavian locations, post-apocalyptic earth, and much more, Film in Iceland film commissioner, Einar Hansen Tomasson tells KFTV.
Baltasar Kormakur’s RVK Studios, on the outskirts of Reykjavik, has three soundstages, including a huge stage one that is 34,400 square feet with a 60-foot ceiling. Just down the road is Fossa Studios, which has two soundstages and office space totalling 6,100 square metres.
Further infrastructure in Iceland includes visual-effects company RVX, post-production house Trickshot and equipment rental specialist Kukl. Crews are hard working, highly skilled and speak perfect English; nevertheless, most studio productions bring their own heads of department. Leading production service companies include RVK Studios, Truenorth, Pegasus Pictures, Sagafilm, Hero Productions and Polarama, among others.
"Experienced production service companies and crews are ready to assist in Iceland. Their portfolio includes an impressive range of smaller-scale productions to Hollywood blockbusters. The full range of professional services available includes assistance with locations, crew, equipment, casting, studios, permits if needed, postproduction, VFX and more. Icelandic production service companies have serviced 5-10 large-scale international production yearly," says Film in Iceland's Hansen Tomasson.
"The VFX industry is strong in Iceland, with local companies gaining international awards like the BAFTAs,“ he adds. “Importantly, Iceland now offers over 8000m2 of sound stages. There are two studios operational in Iceland which meet world-class standards."
Iceland’s compact size makes it easy to traverse via road or air — it is only 40,000 square miles (smaller than Colorado). Filmmakers can find stunning waterfalls, glaciers, mountains and lava fields just a few miles outside capital Reykjavik.
First person to contact
Einar Hansen Tomasson, Iceland film commissioner: email@example.com