Filming in Estonia: Christopher Nolan's Tenet boosts profile of the country

A 30% rebate and stunning locations are drawing international producers in

When The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan turned up in Tallinn in June this year to shoot his latest major blockbuster, Tenet, there was a real buzz around the city. The Warner Bros. production was clearly going to boost Estonia’s standing on the global production map.

Impressively, the busy Laagna Road running through Tallinn was partially shut down for a few days to allow filming. Not quite as long as the three or four weeks that the production team originally hoped for, but still a great feat. “Co-operation between the City of Tallinn and Funfair Films Limited has been successful thanks to direct communication between the filmmakers and representatives of various officials,” enthuses the film’s co-producer Thomas Hayslip of Funfair Films.   

Indeed, Estonia’s various government departments and its Film Institute have gone out of their way to accommodate the spy thriller, starring Michael Caine, Robert Pattinson and Kenneth Brannagh. The government even approved a one-time rise in the amount of funding available through its 30% rebate for the film. Tenet was approved for €5m ($5.5m) on its projected €16m spend in Estonia; previously available funding was capped at €2m.

This preferential treatment is not extended to all international productions that shoot in the Northern European country, but the 30% incentive is still a major draw. As is the speed with which it’s delivered. The report on costs is audited within 30 days of the submission and the payment is made up to 10 days after that.

The scheme is open to feature films with a budget of at least €1m and minimum local spend of €200,000, and high-end TV dramas with a budget of at least €200,000 per single episode (minimum spend €70,000), as well as animations and feature documentaries.

Combining the incentive with the stunning variety of locations on offer, including manor houses, castles and vast amounts of forest, it is easy to see why so many international producers are keen to shoot in the country.

“The incentive was one of the pivotal points for us shooting in Estonia, but we were also drawn to the locations, shooting in more than 40 across the country,” enthuses Brigita Rozenbrika, producer at US outfit The Factory to KFTV, about their cold war drama, Firebird, which recently filmed for two months in Estonia.

Based on a true story set in the 1970s Soviet Air Force, Firebird revolves around a dangerous love triangle between Sergey (Tom Prior), a troubled young conscript, his best friend, Luisa (Diana Pozharskaya), an ambitious secretary to the base commander, and daring fighter pilot Roman (Oleg Zagorodnii).

“We shot roughly half of the time in the countryside, places like Sompa in Kohtla-Järve, Narva and Pärnu, and the rest of the locations were in Tallinn,” add Dankuro Asanuma and William Randall-Coath from UK outfit No Reservations Entertainment, co-producers on the project.

Tallinn’s well-preserved mix of old medieval locations coupled with Soviet era monumental architecture proved particularly useful as a backdrop, and filming there was pretty straightforward. “The local government authorities were very easy to deal with and transparent”, insist the Firebird producers.

Much like with accessing the incentive, getting permits is usually quick and easy, partly thanks to the fact that “we are obsessed with technology and e-everything. Most things can be sorted online and red tape is minimal,” insists Nele Paves, Film Commissioner at the Estonia Film Institute, to KFTV.

Crew and cast came from 13 different countries, but the majority of heads of department and crew were local. “They did a fantastic job, especially the older generation of filmmakers who have a thorough schooling from the Soviet film industry times, making them very reliable and able to solve the toughest of situations efficiently,” insists Firebird director, Peeter Rebane.

The one main issue they found was dealing with catering, pointing out that there are few specialised companies in Estonia who know what is really needed on a film set 24/7.

Furthermore, bearing in mind the relatively small size of the industry, if there are several major productions shooting at the same time then finding sufficient numbers of crew could be a problem. “Depending on the scale, as of now we can service 1-3 major productions at the same time,” says Paves.

So far, this hasn’t been a problem as the productions have been spread out, both in terms of dates and locations. For example, Henrik Ruben Genz’s World War I drama, Erna at War - a co-production between Denmark’s Nimbus Film, Belgium’s Entre Chien & Loup and local outfit Nafta Film – shot from September this year in and around Tartu, the country’s second largest city. The site was deliberately chosen as it’s where real WW I trenches were excavated.

Esko Rips at Nafta Film is confident that the production will not only put a spotlight on Estonia, but that it “will soon be followed by new, bigger projects.”

To further entice them, a major new studio facility, Tallinn Film Wonderland, is being built with three soundstages. It is expected to open in April 2020 and will be the largest studio complex in the Baltic region.

Filming in Estonia: Christopher Nolan's Tenet boosts profile of the country
Filming in Estonia: Christopher Nolan's Tenet boosts profile of the country

When The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan turned up in Tallinn in June this year to shoot his latest major blockbuster, Tenet, there was a real buzz around the city. The Warner Bros. production was clearly going to boost Estonia’s standing on the global production map.

Impressively, the busy Laagna Road running through Tallinn was partially shut down for a few days to allow filming. Not quite as long as the three or four weeks that the production team originally hoped for, but still a great feat. “Co-operation between the City of Tallinn and Funfair Films Limited has been successful thanks to direct communication between the filmmakers and representatives of various officials,” enthuses the film’s co-producer Thomas Hayslip of Funfair Films.   

Indeed, Estonia’s various government departments and its Film Institute have gone out of their way to accommodate the spy thriller, starring Michael Caine, Robert Pattinson and Kenneth Brannagh. The government even approved a one-time rise in the amount of funding available through its 30% rebate for the film. Tenet was approved for €5m ($5.5m) on its projected €16m spend in Estonia; previously available funding was capped at €2m.

This preferential treatment is not extended to all international productions that shoot in the Northern European country, but the 30% incentive is still a major draw. As is the speed with which it’s delivered. The report on costs is audited within 30 days of the submission and the payment is made up to 10 days after that.

The scheme is open to feature films with a budget of at least €1m and minimum local spend of €200,000, and high-end TV dramas with a budget of at least €200,000 per single episode (minimum spend €70,000), as well as animations and feature documentaries.

Combining the incentive with the stunning variety of locations on offer, including manor houses, castles and vast amounts of forest, it is easy to see why so many international producers are keen to shoot in the country.

“The incentive was one of the pivotal points for us shooting in Estonia, but we were also drawn to the locations, shooting in more than 40 across the country,” enthuses Brigita Rozenbrika, producer at US outfit The Factory to KFTV, about their cold war drama, Firebird, which recently filmed for two months in Estonia.

Based on a true story set in the 1970s Soviet Air Force, Firebird revolves around a dangerous love triangle between Sergey (Tom Prior), a troubled young conscript, his best friend, Luisa (Diana Pozharskaya), an ambitious secretary to the base commander, and daring fighter pilot Roman (Oleg Zagorodnii).

“We shot roughly half of the time in the countryside, places like Sompa in Kohtla-Järve, Narva and Pärnu, and the rest of the locations were in Tallinn,” add Dankuro Asanuma and William Randall-Coath from UK outfit No Reservations Entertainment, co-producers on the project.

Tallinn’s well-preserved mix of old medieval locations coupled with Soviet era monumental architecture proved particularly useful as a backdrop, and filming there was pretty straightforward. “The local government authorities were very easy to deal with and transparent”, insist the Firebird producers.

Much like with accessing the incentive, getting permits is usually quick and easy, partly thanks to the fact that “we are obsessed with technology and e-everything. Most things can be sorted online and red tape is minimal,” insists Nele Paves, Film Commissioner at the Estonia Film Institute, to KFTV.

Crew and cast came from 13 different countries, but the majority of heads of department and crew were local. “They did a fantastic job, especially the older generation of filmmakers who have a thorough schooling from the Soviet film industry times, making them very reliable and able to solve the toughest of situations efficiently,” insists Firebird director, Peeter Rebane.

The one main issue they found was dealing with catering, pointing out that there are few specialised companies in Estonia who know what is really needed on a film set 24/7.

Furthermore, bearing in mind the relatively small size of the industry, if there are several major productions shooting at the same time then finding sufficient numbers of crew could be a problem. “Depending on the scale, as of now we can service 1-3 major productions at the same time,” says Paves.

So far, this hasn’t been a problem as the productions have been spread out, both in terms of dates and locations. For example, Henrik Ruben Genz’s World War I drama, Erna at War - a co-production between Denmark’s Nimbus Film, Belgium’s Entre Chien & Loup and local outfit Nafta Film – shot from September this year in and around Tartu, the country’s second largest city. The site was deliberately chosen as it’s where real WW I trenches were excavated.

Esko Rips at Nafta Film is confident that the production will not only put a spotlight on Estonia, but that it “will soon be followed by new, bigger projects.”

To further entice them, a major new studio facility, Tallinn Film Wonderland, is being built with three soundstages. It is expected to open in April 2020 and will be the largest studio complex in the Baltic region.

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