No longer just a ‘production hub to watch’, Serbia is standing shoulder-to- shoulder with its popular neighbours — Hungary, Romania and Croatia among them — thanks in part to an incentive of 25% with no per-production cap — which can increase to 30% if a film spends at least $4.9m (€5m).
In total, a record 12 US projects — out of 36 films, TV series and high-end TV commercials — shot in the country in 2021. Recent productions include Netflix’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery starring Daniel Craig, UK-Ireland crime series Miss Scarlet And The Duke, and Legendary Entertainment’s The Machine starring Mark Hamill and Bert Kreischer. “We received great support from the local community as well as the many Serbian film professionals that served as members of the cast and crew,” says The Machine’s producer/director Peter Atencio.
Among those filming in 2022 are UK drama Fair Play, produced by Star Thrower Entertainment and T-Street, starring Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich, and sci-fi fantasy The Ark, created and written by Dean Devlin, which shot at PFI Studios in the spring and accessed the local incentive.
“The Ark is the first sci-fi show to be produced in Serbia and it is fantastic recognition for all the Serbian filmmakers and facilities,” says Jonathan English, founder of Balkanic Media, who is overseeing production of the series having previously worked as a co-producer on The Machine.
Boost in productivity
Serbia has the advantage of not only low production costs — roughly 30% less than the Czech Republic — but also the quick turnaround of its 25% incentive. “The cash rebate is one of the benefits of filming in Serbia,” says English. “It pays out within 90 days of submitting the final audit and is very reliable. This has become a cornerstone for most of the international productions choosing Serbia.”
Balkanic Media and UK financier Head Gear Films also offer a $25m credit facility to back film and TV series shooting in the country. The fund cashflows the cash rebate and offers debt and gap financing for Balkanic Media-serviced productions and its own original content. There is also a great deal of studio construction and expansion going on: Czech architecture company Sebre, for example, is planning to transform Serbia’s Avala Film Studios into a ‘Hollywood-style’ complex. The site already has four soundstages, which will be reconstructed, as well as a backlot and 180-degree green screen, and will add workshops, administrative spaces and concert and exhibition halls. Sebre is taking inspiration from other leading European studios, such as Studio Babelsberg.
Meanwhile, Firefly Productions is building a new studio 20 minutes from central Belgrade, which will comprise three soundstages (two of 2,000 square metres and one of 800 square metres) plus 10 acres of backlot, production offices, water tank and related facilities. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2022, with the studios fully operational by March 2023. Firefly is looking to take advantage of the facilities by developing international co-productions. Projects include supernatural Second World War series Constantine’s Crossing, based on the novel by Dejan Stojiljkovic about the Nazis’ hunt for relics that belonged to the Roman emperor Constantine the Great. The series reflects the high ambitions of the production company founded by Ivana Mikovic and Boban Jevtic (co-writer of Constantine’s Crossing), with dozens more series in development and production, and a new UK office to get behind English-language productions.
Meanwhile, Serbian equipment company Vision Team is adding four new studios (ranging from 1,200 to 2,000 square metres) to its existing film and TV complex in Belgrade. The site already consists of three modern studio facilities covering more than 23,000 square metres. Vision Team recently started independent production of features and TV series, so can work on projects with international producers. Beyond the capital Belgrade, locations range from gentle hills and rivers in the centre through to the Dinaric Alps in the west and Carpathian and Balkan mountains in the east.
Beyond Belgrade, Serbian locations range from gentle hills and rivers in the centre of the country through to the Dinaric Alps in the west and the Carpathian mountains and Balkan mountains in the east.
While in the south-east, the Jelasnicka gorge with its imposing 100-metre rock formations played host at the end of last year to climbing drama The Ledge, produced by UK outfit Evolution Pictures and Belgrade-based Red Production.
“Serbia is versatile on a super scale because of the money in development, more brutalist architecture than anywhere else I’ve seen, and it’s unspoilt,” enthuses Turner. “You can have art deco architecture in one place, then just a few miles down the road you’ve got mountains, snow and beautiful parks. It’s a canvas.”
Another experienced location manager, John Rakich (Netflix’s Grand Army and Jupiter’s Legacy) agrees: “Serbia is becoming popular with European filmmakers because it’s like Croatia without the tourists.”
“There’s so much there to explore. It’s an exciting up-and-coming country that I want to be successful because it has so much to offer,” concludes Turner.
PFI Studios near Belgrade has eight soundstages, ranging from 600-1,800 square metres, and a 12.5 hectare backlot, which includes Venice, Monte Carlo and Washington DC street sets. Firefly is building a new studio complex, while Avala Studios and The Vision Team complex is being transformed and expanded. Filmmakers usually bring their own heads of department, but quality crew can be hired locally. Specialist production equipment can be imported from elsewhere in Europe.
Belgrade is accessible from 60 cities and ports — via the Danube river — throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and is no more than a two-hour flight from most of them. Nikola Tesla International Airport is the main entry point, 20 minutes from Belgrade and a 55-minute drive from the city of Novi Sad. Air Serbia is the national carrier and services 29 destinations throughout Europe — it is one of two-dozen international airlines that operate in the country.
First person to contact
Milica Bozanic, executive director, Serbia Film Commission @ firstname.lastname@example.org
Belgrade is accessible via the Danube river from 60 cities and ports throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa. It is a two-hour flight from many of them.
First person to contact
Milica Bozanic, executive director, Serbia Film Commission