Spotlight on Vilnius, Lithuania

KFTV speaks to local and international production figures, including the director of Stranger Things, about their expereinces filming in the Lithuanian capital 

By Chris Evans 30 Nov 2020

Spotlight on Vilnius, Lithuania
Catherine the Great filmed in Vilnius. Credit: Vilnius Film Office

Vilnius, the capital of the small country of Lithuania, situated in northern Europe along the south-east shore of the Baltic sea, has moved into the spotlight since it doubled for 1980s Ukraine in Sky and HBO’s award-winning series Chernobyl

Since then it has also played host to a number of other high profile series and films, including Sky and HBO’s Catherine The Great, starring Helen Mirren, Net­flix’s English-language series Young Wallander, and just before lockdown, the streaming giant managed to finish filming season four of Stranger Things around the city

However, despite initially coping well post-lockdown, Lithuania has seen case numbers increase over October and November. But productions haven’t come to a standstill, with international projects arriving from Finland, Norway, Sweden, UK and France since August, including Netflix’s six-part Swedish crime drama series Clark, directed by Jonas Åkerlund and starring Bill Skarsgård, which is shooting in the city.

Another that’s just finished shooting in Vilnius is the Nordic Entertainment Group (NENT) series Max Anger, co-produced by UK outfit Twelve Town, about a Russian expert and former special ops soldier who goes looking for a missing colleague in St Petersburg.

“As local authorities we‘re working closely with filmmakers by helping organize shootings in public spaces and public institutions, issuing permits quickly, with no deadlines, trying to adapt to a new situation as this time is challenging for all of us,“ says Jurate Pazikaite, managing director of the Vilnius Film Office.

Why Vilnius?

Vilnius is the key focal point for many of the productions that come to the country due to its multifaceted history, offering gothic, renaissance, baroque and neoclassical architecture that provide perfect backdrops, and a highly skilled film industry workforce. 

“Offering an abundance of compelling locations, from moody dark alleys and disused prisons to shining trendy restaurants, Vilnius provides the wide-ranging look and feel productions are after,“ says Pazikaite. “Diverse historical backgrounds are imprinted in the city’s surroundings, making Vilnius a go-to location for shooting films depicting various periods.“

Alexander Tanno, head of Nice Drama (A NENT Studios company), co-producers of Max Anger

“We had out challenges shooting in Lithuania. But what I can say is that it worked well as a stand in for St Petersburg 1996, which is when our show takes place. Moreover, the size of Vilnius both worked in our favour and to our disadvantage. It worked well because it was easy to get around and we weren’t stuck in traffic or had to spend loads of time getting around (which was the case for example in Kiev where we shot a few scenes). Moreover, so far – since we haven’t completed the process yet, the tax credit system has worked well for us. The tax credit as well as the need to ‘fake’ St Petersburg were the two contributing reasons for us choosing Lithuania.  

Shawn Levy, director of Netflix‘s Stranger Things series four

“My adventure in Lithuania in bringing the reveal of the ‘American’ to life has been a huge challenge but an even bigger inspiration, and we are so thankful to the city of Vilnius and the beautiful country of Lithuania for their hospitality.“

Jonas Spokas, CEO of Baltic Locations and the supervising location manager for Young Wallander

“The majority of the shoot was in the residential district of Seskine in Vilnius, doubling for Malmö, Sweden. We scouted and debated several Vilnius districts, but the director decided to go for Seskine based on how strong of an impression the surroundings of it made on the screen.” 

Highlight: Kino Studija (colloquially referred to as Martynas Studio)

This impressive complex situated just outside Vilnius was used for Chernobyl and is now a viable studio, including a warehouse area of nearly 2,000 square meters, 4 hectares of backlot, and nearly 1,000 sq m of production office space.

Rob How, Chernobyl series’ UK line producer

“We turned it into a backlot, converting the interior into sets with connected power, cleared parking areas, and turned factory offices into production and art departments and accounting offices. It’s a great space for productions to build sets.”

Key facts

  • Lithuania offers a 30% rebate - International productions should spend at least $46,500 (€43,000) and shoot for at least three days in Lithuania to qualify for the support and must work with a local co-producer. 
  • Vilnius Film Cluster is the main production facility with a base for nearly two dozen audio-visual companies. It has a soundstage of 1,100 square metres and a 350 square metre greenscreen.
  • Lithuania is a small country with good road and rail links. There are direct flights to Vilnius from the main European capitals.

This profile is part of our new International Production Guide 2021.

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