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Filmed in Iceland – behind the scenes of Arctic

ArcticIndependent movie Artic filmed on location in Iceland to tell the story of Mads Mikkelsen’s plane crash survivor struggling to stay alive in a frozen wilderness.

Director Joe Penna and his team chose key filming locations within manageable distances of Reykjavik as their limited budget meant they had to be particularly careful with their spending.

The team worked with service company Pegasus.

Production focused on Fellsendavatn in the country’s south central highland region, around 100 miles from Reykjavik, and in the more mountainous Nesjavellir and Bláfjoll areas closer to the city.

The locations themselves were filmed largely without changes. A wrecked plane and a crashed helicopter were used as on-location set builds and at various times the crew had to dig trenches in the snow and create a hole for ice-fishing scenes.

Variable snowfall and ever-changing weather became the biggest daily challenges over the month-long shoot, threatening continuity and affecting the production schedule. Efforts to film the story in sequence were quickly adapted to shooting what would work in each day’s conditions.

Einar Sveinn Thordarson is director of marketing at Pegasus and was a co-producer on Arctic.

“Snowclearing of roads was also a challenge since we were in fairly remote areas and had to get a lot of gear and set pieces in,” Thordarson tells KFTV. 

“Overnight it would sometimes change drastically so the diggers had to be on standby. We did get a lot of snowfall that winter. Stormy weather was a part of the script, so we worked in all conditions, which was tough on the crew and Mads, but he was a real trooper and we have great respect for him.”

Arctic

Iceland has been a popular filming location for years and Pegasus has been at the forefront of that appeal having worked on seven seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones. 

Thordarson highlights the variety of rugged wilderness visuals available within a relatively short distance of Reykjavik.

“Most of the work coming here is location-specific and we have quite a variety of looks within short distances,” he tells KFTV.

“We have glacier lagoons and calving glaciers, as well as the glacier tops themselves, and just on the other side of the main road you have black sand beaches all interwoven with green mountains and the occasional geothermal, rhyolite areas with pinkish and yellow colours. Lava fields and volcanoes lend themselves to surreal-looking lunar type landscapes." 

Arctic

“On the glaciers we work with super jeeps and not helicopters, which cuts helicopter costs.”

Thordarson concedes that the impact of international tourism to Iceland in recent years has become a challenge to be managed by the country’s production industry as it impacts logistical elements like crew accommodation options. Iceland also sometimes faces issues on pricing, although recent exchange rates have favoured the country.

On the subject of international competition, Thordarson identifies New Zealand as the established production hub with similar wilderness location options. However, he says the two countries rarely compete directly for film or TV shoots and their opposite seasons favours both.

Among the bigger films to have shot in Iceland in recent years has been Fast & Furious 8, which shot car chase scenes on a frozen lake, doubling the country for an ice-covered Barents Sea. 

See KFTV's production guide for more on filming in Iceland

Images: Helen Sloan