Croatia has been growing in popularity as a filming location over the last few years. Great locations, hard-working crews and low production costs are all reinforced by a government-backed incentive programme that came into effect in 2012.
The process of shooting in Croatia is made easier by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre (HAVC), which was set up in 2008 to “stimulate a successful, vibrant audiovisual industry.” Its remit ranges from supporting production, distribution, exhibition, marketing and promotion, to professional training and supporting the national film archive through public subsidies.
As explained below, Croatia is particularly popular with commercials producers but has also seen a major boost from the arrival of HBO’s fantasy TV series Game of Thrones. Series 4 of the show was one of the first productions to take advantage of the new incentives referred to above.
In terms of the macro-economic picture, Croatia has just about returned to growth after three or four years in recession. It has also recently joined the EU, which means business links with the rest of the continent should improve. It wants to adopt the Euro, but there is no set timeframe on when that will happen.
When it comes to locations, superb beaches with azure seas, Roman ruins, castles, vineyards and snowy peaks are testament to the variety and versatility of Croatia’s landscapes. When it comes to the cost of shooting in Croatia, Emerge Film Solutions says: “On average Croatia costs 10% less than Czech or Hungary for old world looks and 20% less than Italy for Mediterranean looks”. The Croatian Kuna offers a favorable exchange rate, however the need to travel all local crew and equipment from Zagreb can add significantly to costs.
Domestically, the country is not especially bureaucratic, but there are some labour law issues that producers find unhelpful and are lobbying to change. It’s also wise to avoid popular locations in the height of summer because they are packed. This makes it harder to secure the necessary film permits.
Dubrovnik got a major international profile boost standing in for Westeros capital King's Landing in multiple seasons of Game of Thrones. More recently, the city doubled for medieval Nottingham in Otto Bathurst's film version of Robin Hood and stood in for the Holy Land city of Acre in History Channel's scripted drama Knightfall. Scenes for Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi were also shot in the city, doubling Dubrovnik for an alien planet.
Elsewhere in the country, the island of Vis stood in for a Greek island in musical sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and the island of Pag doubled for the North American arctic in TV drama The Terror.
No official permission is required for feature film shoots or any other type of production other than permission from the owner or the authority responsible for the location in question. Some locations are possible to permit in as little as 24 hours. In peak tourist season, popular tourist locations can be more tricky to control but it is still possible with enough lead time.
Despite the largely straightforward process that is permitting in Croatia, all productions filming in Croatia are obliged to register with HAVC by filling out the standardised form, which can be obtained from HAVC or downloaded here.
HAVC recommends teaming up with a local production company “as local know-how of policies and procedures will greatly reduce the time spent on preparing and executing your project”. A Croatian partner can also help with obtaining funding, sourcing production services and providing local knowledge/contacts.
The Jadran Film Studio is the most famous studio. Founded it 1946, it grew to become one of the biggest and most notable studios in central Europe during the 1950s and 1960s, hosting around 145 international productions including Orson Welles’ 1962 adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial. Things have been quieter since then but it is still a valuable part of the Croatian film and TV industry, offering five sound stages and various other buildings/offices.
Aside from Jadran, HAVC says: “In addition to a few smaller studios, there are a number of warehouses and open lots throughout the country that are regularly adapted by local production companies for large-scale shoots.”
Jadran has some post-production facilities but companies still generally prefer to do their post outside Croatia. Budapest in Hungary and Vienna in Austria are nearby alternatives.
Croatia is a beautiful country that has not yet been over-used by the international production community. Highlights include the coastal cities of Dubrovnik and Split though the entire Adriatic coast is beautiful and distinctive.
Aside from the coast and beaches, other features include castles and palaces, cobblestone streets, snowy mountains, remote forests and rivers. For lakes, waterfalls and traditional forests there is Plitvice Lakes National Park. Other national parks Kornati and Brijuni and the towns of Groznjan and Motovun make for perfect hilltop villages.
In terms of architecture, there is a mix of Roman, medieval, Renaissance and Baroque, as well as 19th-century Austro-Hungarian architecture and eclectic post-WWII design.
Examples of what is on offer can be found at Scouting Croatia, which have an extensive library of gorgeous locations. Their experience in the field and in-depth knowledge of the regions has helped many a production secure suitable locations.
When it comes to logistics, capital Zagreb is the main production centre so crew, equipment and talent need to travel from there. From Zagreb, beaches are a 1.5 hour drive and it’s possible to go from coast to mountains in around four hours. Dubrovnik is a six-hour drive from Zagreb but there is the option of a 40 minute flight.
Croatia has around 1,400 km of motorways (mostly toll roads) connecting Zagreb to other regions.
As for climate, expect hot, dry summers and cold, humid winters. The coastal regions have a Mediterranean climate while the mountains see a lot of snow during the winter.
Croatia has a good infrastructure, offering video cameras, sound, lighting and grip equipment. There are also equipment rental houses with experience in domestic and international productions. A good example is Zagreb-based Tuna Film. If kit isn’t available locally it can be brought in from Germany.
Crews are talented, reliable and efficient and there is a growing range of skills available within the country according to the HAVC: “With the influx of international productions, Croatia’s offer of experienced English-speaking assistant directors, actors, cinematographers, production and costume designers, key technicians, animators and location managers is on the rise. There are also a number of local casting agencies whose comprehensive databases contain detailed profiles of talent and extras of a wide range of looks, skills and experience.”
Croatia also has a lot of companies that can service productions. A few names include Embassy Films, Val Produkcija, Bakom Productions, Formula Film, MP Film Production and Kabinet, which mainly specialises in commercials production. Embassy’s recent credits include the before mentioned Game Of Thrones. Another company to keep in mind is Red Production, which has offices in Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Greece and Albania.
It is not unusual for service providers in the region to be able to offer production and location services which cover multiple Balkan countries.