The small country of Lithuania, situated in northern Europe along the south-east shore of the Baltic sea, has moved into the spotlight since it doubled for 1980s Ukraine in Sky and HBO’s award-winning series Chernobyl.
“We needed somewhere that looked Eastern European, had good crew, a viable power station, was cheap to shoot in, and had a proper money trail. Lithuania ticked all those boxes,” explains Rob How, the series’ UK line producer.
He praises the locals, who were very supportive when the production shut down streets in the capital Vilnius. This was thanks partly to the help of local outfit Baltic Film Services, which has since supported several more international projects as interest in the territory has grown. Raising the country’s film incentive from 20% to 30% has also helped.
Sky and HBO returned to Lithuania to shoot Catherine The Great, starring Helen Mirren. “We went to Lithuania because there is a sizeable tax credit, construction is cheaper than being in the UK, and we knew Rundale palace in neighbouring Latvia was available,” says Christine Healy, head of production at New Pictures, co-producers of the series. “Getting permission to shoot in both countries was easy thanks to the help of Baltic Film Services.”
Other high-profile projects include Netflix’s English-language series Young Wallander, which filmed in north Vilnius at the end of last year. The majority of the shoot was based in the residential district of Seskine, which doubled for Malmo, Sweden. “We scouted and debated several districts in Vilnius, but the director decided to go for Seskine based on how strong an impression the surroundings made on screen,” says Jonas Spokas, CEO of Baltic Locations and the supervising location manager for Young Wallander.
Netflix also finished filming season four of Stranger Things in Vilnius just before the coronavirus shutdown in March. The show was filmed at the former Lukiskes prison and other locations in Lithuania.
Despite riding the first wave of Covid-19 relatively well, by October case numbers were rising in Lithuania. Productions are continuing with Netflix’s Swedish crime drama series Clark, directed by Jonas Akerlund and starring Bill Skarsgard, shooting with protocols in place.
First person to contact
Jurate Pazikaite, director, Vilnius Film Office firstname.lastname@example.org
Vilnius Film Cluster is the main production facility with a base for nearly two dozen audiovisual companies. It has a soundstage of 1,100 square metres and a 350 square metre greenscreen. Kino Studija (colloquially referred to as Martynas Studio) is situated just outside Vilnius. It was used for Chernobyl and is now a viable studio space. “We turned it into a backlot, converting the interior into sets with connected power, cleared parking areas, and turned factory offices into production and art departments and accounting offices,” explains Rob How, the series’ UK line producer.
Lithuania’s crew base is growing in size and experience and “within a couple of years will match those of the more established Eastern European hotspots like Budapest and Prague”, adds How.
There is a good level of basic equipment available with further hardware easily sourced from surrounding countries. More specialised equipment will need to be brought in from abroad. Lithuania’s art and set construction departments are very good and cost-effective.
Vilnius Film Office provides production support in the capital. Regional service companies are all English-speaking, and producers talk of the impressively fast internet connections wherever you shoot.
Vilnius is the key focal point for many productions that come to Lithuania due to its multifaceted history, offering gothic, renaissance, baroque and neoclassical architecture, and a highly skilled film-industry workforce.
Elsewhere, the country has a variety of landscapes, from national parks with vast oak and pine forests, to fresh and salt waters and sand dunes. The western Neringa municipality is particularly stunning, with its rolling dunes and evergreen forests.