The landlocked south-east European country of Serbia is becoming a leading international production hub. It has an incentive of 25% with no per-production cap — which can extend to 30% if a film spends at least $5.9m (€5m) — and a growing crew base.
Big projects to shoot here in the last few years include EuropaCorp’s Anna, Paramount Pictures’ horror film Crawl and Andrew Levitas’s Minamata starring Johnny Depp.
“A few years ago, international productions looking at Eastern Europe would have gone to places like Prague or Budapest, but now Serbia has really established itself and is doing wonderful work,” says UK-based location manager Georgette Turner, who is working on two as-yet-undisclosed projects, currently seeking financing, which are due to shoot in Serbia. One will double the country for Russia, the other for Ukraine.
Turner points to the low production costs — roughly 30% less than the Czech Republic — and the quick turnaround of the 25% incentive. “Their turnaround is about five days, so their 25% is actually worth more like 28%, because you’re getting the money so quickly,” she says. “Compare this to other places where, if I have to wait six months for the 25% tax break, it may well be worth only 18% after I’ve paid off the loans I’ve been given against my cashflow.”
Balkanic Media and UK financier Head Gear Films have unveiled a $25m credit facility to back film and TV series shooting in the country. The fund will cashflow the country’s cash rebate as well as offer debt and gap financing for Balkanic Media-serviced productions and its own original content. Balkanic returned to filming The CW series The Outpost mainly at PFI Studios, just outside Belgrade, over the summer as production resumed after the Covid-19 shutdown.
“We have extensive Covid-19 protocols in place, which have really helped to keep the cast and crew safe,” explains Jonathan English, the show’s producer and founder of Balkanic. “Most of the crew are Serbian, even heads of department, and the country is extremely competitive for rates and costs.”
Serbia is set to receive a further boost with the construction of a studio just 20 minutes from central Belgrade. Set up by Firefly Productions, the complex will comprise three soundstages (two of 2,000 square metres and one of 800 square metres) plus a backlot, production offices, water tank and related facilities. It was due to open this summer but has been delayed due to the pandemic.
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.
“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 – based near Belgrade, offers eight soundstages, ranging from 600 square meters to 1,800 square meters, and a 12.5 hectare back lot, which includes a replica of San Francisco City Hall in front of a 2.000 square meter lake, and Venice, Monte Carlo and DC streets.
Avala Studios – situatedjust six kilometers from Belgrade and offering 4 stages, although three of them have long term rental agreements. There’s also a 180 degree green screen and additional production facilities.
Firefly Productions is constructing a studio, just outside Belgrade centre in Pancevo, which will comprise three sound stages, two of 2,000 square meters and one of 800 Square meters, plus a backlot, production offices, a water tank and related facilities.
International filmmakers usually bring in their own heads of department, but quality crew can be hired locally. Specialist production equipment can be easily imported from elsewhere in Europe if needed.
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.