With economic growth running at more than 4% over the last ten years, Serbia is a country on the road to recovery. And one business contributing to that growth is its audiovisual sector.
Serbia has a long tradition of great TV and film work and was a popular filming location in the 1980s when part of Yugoslavia. The Balkans War interrupted that, but now Serbia is making the most of its many assets. With great locations, hard-working crews and talented craftspeople, it has again established itself as a real alternative to other Eastern European locations.
Serbia’s efforts are helped by strong government support, the excellent Serbian Film Commission and competitive pricing. Like Romania and Bulgaria it can typically do a job 20-30% cheaper than the more established countries in Eastern Europe.
Aside from price, capital Belgrade is proving to be a popular experience with visitors because of its café culture and dynamic nightlife. It is also easily reached by plane from capital cities, such as Vienna, Rome, Munich, Paris and Zurich.
Ralph Fiennes was heading to Serbia in the late summer of 2017 to direct The White Crow, a biopic of iconic Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev.
Pierce Brosnan's feature November Man used Belgrade for a nine week shoot in the summer of 2013.
Ralph Fiennes’ decision to shoot Coriolanus (2010) was a huge shot in the arm for Serbia. At the time, the film’s production team said Serbia was 20% cheaper than Hungary and the Czech Republic and 50-60% cheaper than in London or Paris. This cost reduction didn’t harm the end result, with Fiennes citing good support from the Serbian authorities. Indeed, acclaim for Coriolanus created the momentum for incentives to be introduced. Other films wooed by the Serbs include the recent thriller Lockout starring Guy Pearce. Pearce’s take on Serbia was that: “There was a very multicultural cast and crew. The Serbs spoke good English so they were most accommodating.”
Note: The Serbians were so keen for Fiennes to film Coriolanus in their country that they let him a) film in their parliament and b) use interior ministry soldiers to serve as extras.
Serbia was among the countries used for the major TV drama series The Last Panthers, which centres on the emergence of the notorious criminal gang following the Balkan War. Produced by Haut et Court and Warp Films, the big-budget series is backed by Canal+ and Sky Atlantic.
TV productions to have visited Serbia include the 12-part series Titanic: Blood and Steel, which used the town of Kragujevac to imitate Ireland in the early 20th century. As for commercials, leading service providers like Le Spot, Red, Emote and Doktor and are kept very busy year round. Red has provided services for over 400 commercials in the last seven years with clients including T-Mobile, Interbrew, Unilever, P&G and Pepsi. Credits for Doktor include Swatch and Kraft Foods while Le Spot has made ads for Carlsberg, Nescafe and Coke among others.
The Serbian Film Commission calls Belgrade “one big backlot. The city government encourages filming with a low-key approach, limited bureaucratic requirements, and a willingness to engage production to make things work.”
Details about visas and permit requirements across the country can be found on the Serbian Film Commission website.
Serbia has a range of studios – but two are particularly well known. The first is a state of the art complex built by private firm Pink Film International (PFI). PFI’s site has nine sound stages and a 12-hectare lot based around 10 minutes from Belgrade International Airport. It offers “complete production and production support services for film, television, commercial and music video productions.
The other famous studio is Avala, a state-owned complex that has hosted hundreds of productions since it was established in 1945. The bad news is that Avala went bankrupt in 2011. But the good news is that the government wants to revitalise the complex (though this will probably require it to be privatised).
From the bustling city centres of Belgrade and Novi Sad to the banks of the scenic Danube River, Serbia has a wealth of urban and rural locations. Rugged mountains, beautiful valleys, monasteries, castles, vineyards and villas… there’s a lot to choose from. In terms of architecture, Serbia features a wide range of styles, from Habsburg to Socialist and from Roman and Medieval to contemporary. When Ralph Fiennes brought Coriolanus to Serbia, part of the appeal was a communist-era block of flats in a factory town on the outskirts of Belgrade.
Serbia is a fairly compact country, which means it is not hard to reach most locations. At the same time, it is a useful jumping off point for neighbouring territories likes Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Albania. This is important because Serbia itself is land-locked. By using Macedonia, Serbian companies get access to the superb Adriatic cost with its fjords, islands and beach locations.
According to the Serbian Film Commission, the country has “a range of companies that specialise in high-quality equipment rentals. Most offer immediate rental for standard equipment and can easily procure non-standard equipment from across Europe”. Companies that handle requests include Cineplanet, Vision Team and ZeromaX. As an example, Cineplanet “offers state-of-the-art cameras in all the major formats, lighting and grip equipment together with accessory lines for each, backed by a technical support & service-oriented approach.” They are also official distributors of Kodak Motion Picture Film products. Recent Cineplanet credits include Titanic Blood and Steel.
As for talent, there are good crews and varied casts. One positive benefit of the Avala studio’s track record is that Serbia has great production designers, wardrobe and set builders. Moreover Serbia has high-tech post-production facilities.