Barrandov film studios celebrate 75th birthday

Barrandov studios

On Thursday, Prague’s Barrandov film studios celebrated their 75th birthday. Over the past three-quarters of a century, the studios have housed over 2,500 film shoots. It all started with the thriller ‘Vrazda v Ostrovni ulici’ (Murder on Ostrovni Street) – the first Czech film to combine dialogue with music. In more recent years, international blockbusters like the James Bond film Casino Royale have been shot on location in Barrandov’s hallowed halls. To mark its anniversary, I spoke to Norbert Auerbach, former head of Hollywood studio United Artists, who grew up at Barrandov, and who returned there nineteen years ago. I asked him how the Barrandov of 1933 compared to the Barrandov of today:

“Basically, nothing has changed except that instead of having three stages, there are maybe eight stages. I don’t know exactly whether it is eight or nine. And that is about the only thing that has changed, as a matter of fact, when you look at what we call the old buildings of Barrandov, they look much more modern than the new buildings. Because a lot of the halls were built during the war by the Germans, who fully occupied the studio at that particular time, and did a lot of filming there.”

Can you tell me about some of your earliest memories of Barrandov? For example, were there lots of great props and costumes to play with, did you meet any famous actors?

“You know, that did not particularly interest me at that age. What interested me were the outdoor structures that were there. With the son of the doorman I used to play at being pirates, soldiers, whatever we wanted. And yes, once in a while I would go with my father when they were shooting a film that he was financing, or that one of his companies was financing. I went to visit the set and I became familiar with the filming procedure. Again naturally because of who I was, even though I did not realize it at that particular time, people were very nice to me. And I went to see the pretty ladies and sat on their knees, but this was not to admire their beautiful legs, but because they were giving me chocolates.”

In the course of your career you have worked both in Hollywood and here in Barrandov. How do you compare the atmosphere of the two?

“Well, the big difference, not talking about the price, is that Hollywood is strictly a commercial operation. In the Czech Republic, as well as in many other countries, especially in Europe, film is still regarded as a cultural activity. And very often the creative people who are involved in making films consider themselves artists, who yes, want to get paid well, but do not think of what we thought of in our American activity, and that is that the most important person for us is the guy who buys the ticket.”