Great studios and financial incentives are drawing big names into Serbia

Liam Neeson, Guy Pearce and Mark Hamill all shooting in the Central European country

By Chris Evans 23 Jul 2021

Great studios and financial incentives are drawing big names into Serbia
The Ledge shot at Jelasnicka gorge. Credit: Mark Windon

The landlocked south-east European country of Serbia is an international production hub to watch. It has an incentive of 25% with no per-production cap — which can extend to 30% if a film spends at least $6.1m (€5m) — and a growing crew base.

Martin Campbell’s action thriller Memory, starring Liam Neeson and Guy Pearce, is set to shoot in the country in August. The project is being financed and produced by US outfit Black Bear Pictures with Cathy Schulman’s Welle Entertainment.

Legendary Entertainment’s The Machine, starring Mark Hamill and Bert Kreischer, started filming in May. “We are so grateful for the warm welcome and support we’ve received from the local community as well as the many Serbian film professionals that are also serving as members of the cast and crew,” says the film’s producer Peter Atencio.

Serbia has the advantage of not only low production costs — roughly 30% less than the Czech Republic — but also the quick turnaround of its 25% incentive.

“The cash rebate is one of the benefits of filming in Serbia,” says Jonathan English, founder of local outfit Balkanic Media, which is co-producing The Machine. “It pays out within about 90 days of submitting the final audit and is very reliable. This has become a cornerstone for most of the international productions choosing Serbia.”

Balkanic Media and UK financier Head Gear Films also offer a $25m credit facility to back film and TV series shooting in the country. The fund cashflows the country’s cash rebate as well as offers 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, last summer as production resumed after the Covid‑19 shutdown.

“We had extensive Covid-19 protocols in place, which helped to keep the cast and crew safe,” explains English, who is producing the series. “Most of the crew are Serbian, even heads of department, and the country is extremely competitive for rates and costs.”

PFI Studios has eight soundstages ranging from 600 square metres to 1,800 square metres, and a 12.5 hectare backlot, which includes a replica of San Francisco City Hall in front of a 2,000 square metre lake, and Venice, Monte Carlo and Washington DC streets. Avala Studios is six kilometres from Belgrade and has four soundstages, although three have long-term rental agreements. There is also a 180-degree greenscreen and additional production facilities.

Serbia is set to receive a further boost with the construction of a studio just 20 minutes from central Belgrade. Instigated 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. Part of the complex is expected to open later this year.

Firefly is looking to take advantage by developing internationally co-produced TV productions. These include the crime thriller Gorilla alongside US outfit Gorilla Enterprises; a six-part drama series called Frust with Hungary’s Joyrider, directed by Danis Tanovic; and Fatal Ally, based on the bestselling spy novel by UK journalist Tim Sebastian.

Beyond the capital Belgrade, locations range from gentle hills and rivers in the centre through to the Dinaric Alps in the west and the Carpathian and Balkan mountains in the east.

While in the south-east, the Jelasnicka gorge with its imposing 100-metre rock formations played host at the end of last year to climbing drama The Ledge, produced by UK outfit Evolution Pictures and Belgrade-based Red Production.


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