Letter from Prague

When it comes to venues for filmmakers these days, Prague is like a honey-pot to a bumblebee. And it's hardly surprising considering the backdrops available and in the Old Town and Mala Strana, adorned by it's baroque and gothic architecture and it's narrow twisting lanes. You are more likely to have heard of big-screen spectaculars such as Milos Forman's "Amadeus" and "Mission Impossible" with Tom Cruise, but every week here in the Czech capital there are literally dozens of film producers and TV crews aiming to take advantage of what Prague has to offer them.

And not just Prague... many productions are filmed outside the capital such as a new World War epic II starring Bruce Willis that is being filmed around the country at this very moment. So, you see, it's isn't just the wonderful Prague architecture that appeals to the director - there is something else, something equally important - well actually perhaps much more important - low production costs.

I mention this because the same applies to the actors and the extras. Casting is becoming a little cottage industry here in Prague, with most of the faces and bodies - for that's all they are in reality - being needed for commercials or low-budget TV and film productions. A couple of years ago I was tempted by a friend to go along to a couple of casting sessions at one of the several agencies here. I got the part... I had to be the best man at a wedding where the bride was suffering from a heavy cold and well... on came the remedy and all was OK, that kind of thing. There was a French director, it was really good fun and only one days work for money that wasn't to be sniffed at.

I stupidly went along to a few more, thinking that it was easy to get the parts. Of course, it had been beginners luck, and I got nothing. It was the same old faces every time - I still go for drinks with a few of them now, although most people there were not really my cup of tea. Then I moved flat, didn't pass on the number to the new agencies and that was that.

Until the other week. Somehow, one of the agents had got hold of my mobile number and were offering the equivalent of $1,500 US dollars for one day's work on a Sony commercial to be filmed in Prague - would you please come to the casting Mr. Smith. Sure, why not, I thought, neglecting to ask how they got my number.

I arrived about 5 o'clock in the casting office, just up the road from the radio building in Zizkov. I had to wait for another man to appear, and I assumed this was because we were expected to interact with each other in some way. Eventually he arrived - a confident looking businessman in a suit... he looked about 35. We'd been in the casting room all of three seconds before the blond girl with the camera asked us to remove our clothes. I thought that I must have misheard and just responded with a knowing smile. The other chap, meanwhile, hadn't taken it so ambiguously and was already down to his red and white boxer shorts.

She was serious. So was I - "Would you do this for the same money?" I asked her. She hesitated and mumbled some response. They were very disappointed when I walked out of the door - fully clothed - expressing regrets that this really "wasn't me". So, no more casting ever again. Still, for the life of me I can't imagine what sort of Sony advertising campaign would feature two naked men!