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Overview and productions

Iceland had its latest close-up at the 2021 Oscars ceremony, when ‘Husavik — My Hometown’ was nominated for best song. Viewers worldwide watched a performance from the harbour of the tiny fishing village in north Iceland where Netflix shot scenes for Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga.

Iceland is a film-friendly hotspot and this small nation of only 350,000 people has been the most booming Nordic shooting territory since its incentive was launched in 2001 — it now stands at a 25% rebate for qualifying spend.

The country also boasts stunning other­worldly locations — from glaciers to waterfalls and more — a location midway between the US and Europe, and skilled, hardworking crew. “The diversity of our nature is what attracts so many people — you can have different worlds without travelling far,” says Iceland’s film commissioner Einar Hansen Tomasson.

The territory has also fared well during the pandemic, both for its general population and with little pause in productions in 2020 or 2021. “It’s a big country with few inhabitants so international producers know there aren’t crowds,” suggests Tomasson.

Prolific local filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur had a busy year producing Netflix’s feature film Against The Ice, show-running the third season of Trapped, and directing his new Netflix series Katla. The latter is shot partly on the south coast near the titular volcano, and partly at his facility Reykjavik Studios, a 215,000 square feet complex located a 15-minute drive from the centre of the capital. The shell of a former fertiliser factory has been turned into an open studio with a 16-metre-high ceiling and a floor heated by geothermal water pipes.

Kormakur is in talks for major US studios to use the space later in 2021. “There is a lot of interest [from international producers] in Baltasar’s studio,” says Tomasson, who adds that an investor group is also exploring further studio infrastructure.

Iceland’s biggest incoming production in 2020 was US reality competition show The Challenge: Double Agents, for Viacom/MTV, which featured a crew of about 200 people. It did not record a single positive Covid-19 test during its entire six-week shoot (more than 3,000 Covid tests were taken). Pegasus Pictures, the production service company that handled Game Of Thrones, worked on the shoot, with the production headquarters based in the south of Iceland near Thingvellir national park.

Robert Eggers’ The Northman sent its second unit to shoot in Iceland, while the main shoot was in Ireland.

“It looks good for 2021-22, I’m optimistic this will be a good year,” says Tomasson. “There is a lot of interest, a lot of emails and calls, not only from the US but from other places. India has been in touch about a number of projects. Also from elsewhere in Europe and Asia.”

Skilled crews are accustomed to working 12-hour days, six days a week. “We have seen with a series like Game Of Thrones, HBO was always cutting down on the crew they brought in, as they found the crew in Iceland was very talented,” Tomasson asserts.

There are hopes the incentive could grow from 25% in future years to become even more competitive, but for now Iceland’s incentive is stable and being renewed at the end of 2021. “We always make sure there is no gap in the legal framework,” says Tomasson. “There is full cross-political support.”

Producers praise the straightforward nature of the incentive — paperwork is simple and payments sometimes come through within three months.

Infrastructure and crews

Reykjavik Studios has hosted shoots of local series such as Baltasar Kormakur’s Trapped and Katla, and expects US studio shoots later in 2021. Crew are hard-working, highly skilled and speak perfect English — still, most studio productions bring their own heads of department. Leading production service companies include Truenorth, Pegasus Pictures and Sagafilm. Hero Productions is also a respected local service provider and production company working with smaller indie productions and commercials. Iceland is one of the most Covid-safe countries in the world as of mid-2021, and has clear safety protocols in place.

Size matters

Iceland’s small footprint make the country easy to traverse via road or quick internal flights — it is only 40,000 square miles (smaller than Colorado). Even just a few miles outside of Reykjavik, Iceland offers landscapes where filmmakers can find stunning waterfalls, glaciers, mountains and lava fields. International flights arrive at Keflavik airport, a 45-minute drive to Reykjavik. 

First person to call

Einar Hansen Tomasson, film commissioner

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